These case histories illustrate the range of our work on artefacts and objects.

Artefacts conservation covers a wide variety of materials, object types and historical periods. Typical collection areas include archaeology, social history, the applied arts, military collections, and coins and medals.

Items might derive from the Neolithic period to the 20th century and all points between. Materials include metals, ceramics, glass, stone, wood, leather, bone and ivory, and modern materials such as plastics. Objects may be made of single materials but more often they are composite, made of several different materials, in states of preservation from poor to excellent.

Chair made of Cannel Coal

The National Coal Mining Museum for England consulted the Scottish Conservation Studio with regard to the conservation of a chair made from a fine form of coal called cannel coal. This jet-like material has a beautiful lustre and was used to make jewellery, buttons, and even furniture such as this chair. To make the chair, large pieces of cannel coal have been carved into shape and joined with hand-made iron fixings.

The chair's front leg was detached and needed repair. The detached leg was badly cracked and fragments of old adhesive were trapped deep in the break, preventing it from closing. The break was incomplete, limiting access to the damaged area, so efforts were made to clean the join as far as possible. Then the break was coated with a low-viscosity epoxy resin and clamped to return it to its correct position. Repairs were made to the damaged fixing and the leg was successfully reattached.

While the chair can no longer safely take the weight of a person, it can be handled, moved, stored and displayed with confidence after the completed conservation work.

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The leg was repaired with epoxy resin and lots of clamps
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The iron fixing was repaired with epoxy putty

Musical Instruments from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland wished to put some of their collection of historic brass and silver instruments on display in the foyer of their building in Glasgow. These items had been donated by a benefactor who had owned a company that manufactured brass instruments, and had also collected historic brass instruments. Unfortunately over many years of storage the instruments had become very tarnished, and in some cases deeper cleaning was required to remove corrosion and old repairs. The Scottish Conservation Studio was asked to provide treatment proposals for the cleaning and polishing the instruments for display, but they did not have to be playable.

The instruments had to be dismantled and while this was usually straightforward, in some cases the parts were firmly stuck together and required gentle persuasion to come apart. They were cleaned with a combination of chemical and physical methods. Tarnish on brass can be very hard and difficult to remove from complex surfaces using only traditional hand polishing methods, but it was found that immersing the parts in a mild cleaning solution was effective in making the subsequent hand-polishing phase easier to undertake. Tarnish on silver or silver plate is usually easier to remove, but in some cases where the silver was very badly tanrished, the same chemical cleaning process was found to be helpful as a first step. Gilded areas were very carefully cleaned and polished as the gilding is so thin and easily damaged.

 After cleaning the instruments were waxed, lubricated and reassembled according to simple guidelines provided by the RCS and its expert curator and archivist.

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Conservation of a Ceremonial Casket from the Carnegie Birthplace Museum, Dunfermline

During his lifetime the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was awarded the freedom of many towns and cities that he had aided with generous gifts towards the erection of libraries and other socially beneficial institutions. The freedom certificates and ceremonial keys were often contained in elaborately-worked caskets that featured symbols or scenes relating to the city in question. The ceremonial caskets and their contents are now in the care of the Carnegie Birthplace Museum in Dunfermline where they are popular items for exhibition.

The Scottish Conservation Studio was requested to conduct a survey of the caskets and advise on their condition and provide estimates for conservation. Once the advice was received, a programme of conservation was planned, with those caskets most in need, or most in demand for exhibition, prioritised for conservation.

One casket selected for conservation was that of Waterford, a city in Ireland. Made of finely carved black bog oak with decorative silver plaques and surmounted by carved oak figures playing a silver harp, the casket was no longer in exhibitable condition due to the detachment of some wood and silver elements, and the tarnishing of the silver.

The wooden parts were cleaned of their old adhesive and clamped back into place with a reversible adhesive. The silver parts were cleaned and polished and the sculpted figures were set back into place using epoxy resin tinted with flake silver to match. The metal surfaces were coated with Renaissance wax to protect them from handling and reduce the rate of future tarnishing.

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The silver harp was repaired with epoxy putty coloured with real silver powder
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A detail of the carved figures after replacement on top of the casket

Reliquary for the Skull of St Patrick

The Hunt Museum of Limerick owns an important reliquary, said to be designed to hold the skull of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Of uncertain date, but possibly 15th Century, and of very fine workmanship, the reliquary was lent in 2015 to Downpatrick Museum for an exhibition celebrating the life of St Patrick.

The reliquary had a very dull and tarnished appearance and the curator of Downpatrick Museum, Mike King, asked the Hunt Museum for permission to clean it for display. The Scottish Conservation Studio provided a treatment proposal and estimate for conservation, and this was accepted by the Hunt Museum. The work was carried out on-site at Downpatrick Museum.

The reliquary was indeed very tarnished, and was cautiously cleaned using a mixture of chemical cleaning and traditional hand polishing. This revealed that some areas such as the hair and collar were heavily gilded, and these were very gently cleaned to bring up the subtle sheen of the gold.

On completion of the cleaning and polishing, the surfaces were cleaned with water and solvents and given a final polish with a soft cloth. The reliquary should be handled with gloves in future as it is vulnerable to tarnishing caused by handling with the bare hands.

The conservation work was funded by the Hunt Museum and the Friends of Downpatrick Museum. The Directors of the Hunt Museum were pleased with the conservation work and a few months later Will was invited to Limerick to undertake a condition survey of about 200 silver and silver-gilt objects from the museum's wonderful collection of art, craft and archaeology.

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Carefully removing old polish and tarnish from the hair with a wooden tool
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Cleaning and polishing in progress in the workroom at Downpatrick Museum
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The collar is beautifully formed and heavily gilded
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The supporting lions were the last element to be cleaned and polished

War Memorial from Anwoth Church, Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway

A war memorial plaque originally from Anwoth Parish Church, Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, made of copper sheet. The copper is about 1mm thick, and measures 1530mm (60 inches) by 1000mm (39.25 inches). It was erected soon after the end of the Great War and commemorates in particular Lt Frank William Saunders, Minister of Anwoth Church, who joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and fell in action on the 1st August 1918. The shape of the memorial indicates there might well have been a portrait medallion of Lt Saunders occupying the central area, as this is blank other than holes for fixings. There are 35 other men named, with their ranks and regiments. The parish records show that the war memorial was made by the firm of Belfrage and Bentley in Glasgow, and was much approved of when it was erected in the church. The use of copper sheet for a war memorial is rather unusual, as almost all memorial made of metal use bronze or brass rather than copper. The back of the memorial is black with bitumen or a similar material, likely to have been applied during the manufacturing process.

It would appear that the memorial was removed from its place in Anwoth Church after WW2 when it was replaced by a similarly-designed marble memorial that commemorated the fallen from both wars, and gave somewhat less pride of place to Lt Saunders, though he is still the first named due to his former position as Minister of the church.

The copper war memorial was rescued in 2015 from a skip of scrap metal that had been taken away when Anwoth Church was deconsecrated and sold, and was handed to members of the local community who thought it would be good to restore the memorial and place it with others from Anwoth Church that had been moved to Girthon Parish Church in Gatehouse of Fleet. The project was led by Dr David Steel and colleagues at the Gatehouse Development Initiative who successfully sought funding for its conservation from the War Memorials Trust.

The copper war memorial was very soiled, tarnished and corroded. There were many areas of physical damage including scratches, nail holes and cracks in the edges of the copper. The memorial was cleaned using a combination of physical and chemical methods to get back to bright copper. The physical damage to the memorial was repaired by an expert coppersmith, Rodney French of Lonsdale and Dutch, based in Howe Street, Edinburgh, by hammering and soldering and patching the copper as required. After washing to remove solder residues, the memorial was patinated with a special mix of chemicals to obtain a deep brown patina. Renaissance Wax was applied to protect the patina against casual handling. The memorial's final appearance is a glossy brown colour and although the damage of the past cannot be entirely erased, it looks very fine in its new position.

On its return to Gatehouse of Fleet the memorial was mounted and framed and re-erected on the church wall, with the addition of a photograph of Rev. Saunders where the roundel portrait would have been. During the Remembrance Day service on 13 November 2016 a special ceremony was held to rededicate the conserved memorial in the presence of Richard and William Porter, the great-grandsons of the Rev. Saunders. Links to the story of the war memorial on other websites are here and here.

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Surface cleaning to remove dirt, tarnish and corrosion products
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Rodney French reshaping damaged areas of the copper
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Preparing to repair the largest crack in the copper
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The memorial, cleaned and repaired and ready for repatination
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Working up the new patina
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Will with Dr David Steel of the Gatehouse Development Initiative at the re-dedication of the memorial on Remembrance Sunday 2016. The marble memorial which replaced the copper memorial may be seen to the right.

War Memorials at The Glasgow Academy

The Glasgow Academy is a private school in Glasgow. As part of a refurbishment project it was decided to improve the state of the Academy's war memorials which are situated opposite each other on mezzanines high above the school library. The First World War memorial is made of fine hardwood timber in a classical style with more than 300 names of Academy staff and former pupils written in gold paint. The Second World War memorial is more modern in style, with a fairly plain hardwood frame that holds four copper panels heavily incised with the names of the fallen, with the carved, painted and gilded crest of the Academy in the centre.

Will Murray visited The Glasgow Academy together with his colleague Ian Darroch of Louis James Furniture of West Linton. Will and Ian have worked together on a number of specialist conservation projects where Ian's skills in cabinetmaking and timber restoration have proved invaluable. After close inspection and testing, the Studio provided a quote for conservation work that was aimed at improving the condition of the memorials and making them more readable. A grant for the works was sought from the War Memorials Trust.

Following the approval of the grant, the Academy's architects, Mosaic Architecture and Design, arranged for scaffolding to be built to allow safe access to the memorials for the conservators. Will and Ian worked on the memorials for two weeks, and removed dust, dirt, old paint, and soiling of various kinds. Some of the timber was sufficiently stained or watermarked that it had to be carefully refinished and protected with traditional shellac polish. The gold letters on the First World War memorial were individually swabbed to remove a thin brown coating that had grown over the years, and the result was much brighter and better-defined lettering that could be more easily read from a distance. The copper panels on the Second World War memorial had been affected by water marks and the resulting greenish spots were individually and gently cleaned off the patinated copper with bamboo sticks which proved to be hard enough to remove the green spots but not so hard as to scratch through the thin patina.

After final burnishing and waxing, the scaffolding was taken down to reveal the memorials in their refurbished state, and it was generally agreed that a significant improvement had been made. Will and Ian would like to thank The Glasgow Academy's General Manager, Dr Bill Kerr, and his staff, for their assistance and hospitality during the conservation project.


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Scaffolding for the First World War memorial


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Will Murray cleaning the gilded lettering on the First World War memorial


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The First World War memorial, after treatment


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The Second World War memorial, prepared for conservation work


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Ian Darroch refinishing water-damaged timber surfaces on the WW2 memorial



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The Second World War memorial, after conservation