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Science Surgery

The Golden Throne (Museum no. 2518 (IS))

The Golden Throne, Museum No. 2518 (I.S.)

The Golden Throne, Museum No. 2518 (IS) (click image for larger version)

This magnificent throne, formerly used by HM the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, can be viewed in The Nehru Gallery of Indian Art, 1550-1900 (room 41). It is embossed sheet gold over a wood and resin skeleton and was made by Hafiz Muhammad of Multan around 1818.

Nearly twenty years ago a request was received to assay the gold content of the decorative sheet. With much trepidation a small sample of the metal was removed for atomic absorption analysis from the underside of the throne. The analysis showed the sheet metal to be pure gold. The 'bloom' that appeared on the surface of the sheet gold that prompted the analysis, was attributed to a lacquer applied in the 1960s.

With the advances in analytical chemistry that have been made over the intervening period it is now possible to undertake this type of analysis without the removal of any material from the object. This technique of analysis is called energy dispersive x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy - or EDXRF for short.

Display Case Collaboration

A collaborative project on display cases has been established between the V&A, the Opificio delle Pietre dure e Laboratori di Restauro, Florence and Laboratorio Museotecnico Goppion S.R.L., Milan.  This research will focus in turn on the various aspects of display cases - security, environment, display, maintenance, construction, business issues, integration, services.

It is unusual for a museum to regard display cases as assets in their own right and there are no audit trails for these large, expensive pieces of equipment. The V&A has display cases from the late nineteenth century through to modern day purchases, constructed from different materials and selected for aesthetic or security reasons.

The Museum currently has in the region of 4000 cases. This is a replacement cost in the region of  £20 million (current market value) and such an investment surely warrants a maintenance programme similar to an air-handling plant: that is a regular sequence of checks on their performance. We are now looking at devising a planned maintenance scheme for display cases.

Preliminary results, from a limited number of museums, shows that a planned maintenance and cleaning programme of the interior of display cases is generally absent. Their external surface is usually cleaned daily, depending on staff availability, yet their interior is cleaned only when the object contained inside is removed for ordinary maintenance, for loan, or when dust is really evident! 

An understanding of the effect the cleaning agents can have on objects appears to be missing. An investigation of cleaning materials currently in use in museums is underway. A more detailed article on our findings will be presented later in the year.

Award for Innovation

The 1998 Jerwood Award for Research and Innovation has been won by David Ford of the V&A's Science and Information Section and Stuart Adams of Queen Mary and Westfield College.

The collaboration has resulted in a cost-effective method for monitoring and analysing particulate matter in museums and other cultural properties. The package consists of glass slides (for deployment) and a gloss meter (for interpreting the slides). This kit enables museums to choose to carry out the work independently or use the service provided.

The award ceremony was held in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, last December. At the ceremony Loyd Grossman, a commissioner for the Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC), commented that 'in the UK we enjoy the highest standards of Conservation in the world and the winners are living proof of the talent, expertise, and dedication displayed'.

The initial study, which resulted in this collaboration, was published in an earlier edition of the Conservation Journal (No 22 p.19-21). The team will continue to expand the research into new areas.