“It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
This blog post by Janine Fox, from the Museum’s Move Project Team, looks at one of the more unexpected items in our collections.
Gathering and keeping shells from the beach is something many of us might remember from our holidays. But how many of us have turned these keepsakes into a personal and educational collection – classifying, mounting, cataloguing and displaying them?
In store we discovered a cabinet of shells (Inv. 12714) containing a collection belonging to Robert T. Gunther, the first Curator of the Museum of the History of Science. The cabinet contains sixteen drawers filled with sea shells and specimens collected along the coast, totalling over 1500 items. Many of the shells have been mounted onto boards labelled with the locations they were collected. Places include Posillipo, Woolacombe and Tenby. In the drawers were also examples of bones and fossils found along the coast and reference books for identifying the shells along with some documents relating to the Gunther family.
The cabinet is now packed and ready for the store move. This has been an epic task taking four days to complete. We first cleaned and photographed the cabinet and each drawer as we found them in store. Some of the shells were loose as the old glue had failed and many items were grouped together. A photographic record means that the Museum can put back the shells in the exact same locations in the future should they wish.
Annie and I packed the contents of each drawer into its own acid free box. The shells are lightweight so we used wire stitched card boxes. The boxes were lined with bubble wrap, which will help absorb shock and then acid free tissue paper so that the items are buffered with conservation grade material. A mixture of methods were used to contain and protect the shells within each box.
To prepare the drawers we lined each with bubble wrap pads covered in acid free tissue paper and a layer of plastazote (a type of inert foam) underneath the glass, again to help with absorbing vibrations. The drawers were inserted back into the cabinet; those which had some movement were secured with card and a pad was placed in-between the door and the drawers to cushion any movement from the front. The door was secured closed with cotton.
The cabinet was placed on a pallet topped with a conservation grade corrugated plastic and plastazote and then soft wrapped with acid free tissue. All the packed parts were labelled and with the object inventory number and weight. The pallet was moved to a temporary store room with our pallet truck, where it will stay until the big move.
The Museum is undertaking a large project to pack and move its reserve collection. We will continue to post updates of the MHS Move Project on Inside MHS. Follow us to see what we get up to. You can also find us on Instagram and Twitter using #mhsmoveteam and #mhsstores.