This Friday’s blog comes to you from Ruth, the LHSA Manager.
I originally trained as a fine art conservator, and as a manager of an archive I draw on that training when we repair individual items as well as when providing wider collections care for all the material in LHSA. The foundation for making sure that collections care is appropriate and to the highest standard possible is in knowing what you have in your collections, what those collections are made of and, therefore, what they may be particularly vulnerable to so you can work to ensure their stability for the future.
A couple of Fridays ago we had a demonstration of a piece of equipment that can help us understand what an object is made of by identifying the elements in it: a portable x-ray diffraction spectrometer…
We got a brief introduction into the science behind the equipment – x-rays displace inner shell electrons in the object you are analysing and that displacement is measured to identify the element(s) present. Once you know what elements are there you can start to work out what the object is made of. And we got some practical demonstrations of this….
We started on something slightly less significant – an office mousemat! – and from there we moved on to some real collection items to see how we might use the equipment in practice. Scans of a bound volume with metal decoration showed that the metal was brass and therefore not likely to be a more modern addition, and scans of a flute showed that though it had been described as crystal when it had been originally manufactured and sold, there was no lead present, so we’ll have to describe it as a glass flute from here on!
We do a lot of materials identification during the course of our work with rare and unique collections, and it was really interesting to see the options that such a sophisticated piece of equipment like this can offer.