Conservation of a Tea Caddy, Part 1

Dan Mifsud is a career changer, having studied and taught design for many years he has returned to his specialism and is currently completing the Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies specialising in Furniture.

The tea caddy has been kindly loaned for conservation by the Museum of the Home.

Context

The box was part of a large collection of tea caddies loaned to the museum in the late 1950s and formally acquired in 1976. It is believed to be an amateur piece, probably made by a prisoner of war during the Napoleonic wars (1797 – 1815).

Current research suggests the box was converted to a tea caddy in more recent years, possibly just before the tea caddy was loaned to the museum in the 1950s. The indiscriminate application of the internal foil lining, and on the surface of a replacement lock supports this theory, as does the ill-fitting internal lid that doesn’t match external detail.

Condition

Behind the delicate pierced bone panels is a plastic film applied to the surface of the gold leaf. It is not clear why this film has been added. Many of the bone panels have been significantly damaged, possibly as a result of removing the panels to apply the plastic film.

Further damage has occurred, potentially as a result of a lock that has been added to the box. Here the missing elements have been replaced with what appear to be ivory piano keys. Permission has been requested to take samples of these materials for analysis by XRF and FTIR Spectroscopy.

Interpretation

The museum originally planned for the box to be displayed in a section of the new Home Galleries, exploring homemade and amateur works from the collection, provisionally titled ‘Hobbies and Handicrafts’. However, this section has since been dropped from the exhibition, so new possibilities are being explored including a temporary display on handicrafts.

The discovery that the box has been modified and the application of piano keys as a repair solution, reinforces the handicraft theme adding a further layer to the story that enriches the history of the object.

The handicraft narrative prevents major interventive work. However, there is much to be learnt from contextual research, material analysis, ethical decision making, and importantly valuable interventive repairs, cleaning and consolidation work in order to bring the object to a ‘displayable condition’.

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Figure 1: Wooden substrate, veneered with incised bone plates, fretted bone panels backed with gold leaf, and ivory piano key escutcheon and surround.

Figure 2: The indiscriminate application of the internal foil lining suggests that this was applied at a later date.

Dan's next blog post, Part 2, will discuss analysis and treatment of the tea caddy.

Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies

The Graduate Diploma provides the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience necessary to start your career as a conservator and to begin to develop an area of specialisation.

Find out more about the Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation here.