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Good things in “stor-age” for the USS Monitor collection

We were all waiting for Will to write this blog because he put so much effort into advocating and getting new cabinets for “Our Little Monitor” collection (shout-out to Anna Gibson Holloway and Jonathan W. White for their new book! Get it here if you haven’t yet). But Will’s time is sparse these days, and writing blogs usually does not make it to the top of his priority list…Too bad, these brand new storage cabinets are his babies and the Monitor collection will forever be thankful!!

But hold on… why exactly did we need new cabinets you ask?!

Excellent question! These are no ordinary cabinets though…they are “Delta” cabinets that are museum specific storage equipment able to maintain a hermetic seal and therefore, a microclimate!! This is very exciting news, for it now allows us to achieve two fundamental elements of our mission as a museum:
1) Provide adequate microclimate storage for the artifacts
2) Enhance and simplify public access to the USS Monitor collection

Allow me to develop a tad further on these points:
1) Materials are fussy. Metals, even after conservation treatment, should be stored at a relative humidity (RH) below 10% (+/-5%). Meanwhile, organics (wood, leather, rope, etc.) will remain stable at a RH of 50% (+/-5%). Since these cabinets are able to maintain a hermetic seal, these goals are now realistic and achievable. Until now treated Monitor objects were stored in polyethylene bags, in which a desiccant was added to keep RH where required. However humidity levels were difficult to control (there were so many bags!!), in addition to making objects difficult to access and monitor for possible degradation signs. The new Delta cabinets allow us to eliminate individual artifact storage bags, while providing a much better environmental control and easier monitoring of the collection. In addition, this rehousing effort results in the separation of the collection based on material type, providing better organization to the collection overall. How brilliant is that?!!
2) Furthermore, advancing the storage conditions for the USS Monitor collection provides easier access to the objects by TMMP’s material culture specialist (Hannah Fleming), students, researchers, and the public in general.

In order to study the collection for a particular project, you will first need to check out the online objects catalogue on TMMP’s website and find the object you are interested in examining. Then please contact Hannah, Monitor’s material culture specialist, with the object’s accession number to set an appointment with us ([email protected]).

To create the right microclimate in those cabinets, Lesley and I had a “desiccant party” a couple weeks ago. Yep. Classic desiccant bags are very convenient, but they can take up a lot of footprint in the cabinets. We decided to implement a trick from colleagues at of the University of Massachusetts, see here. The following pictures show the new cabinets in the research room and the different steps taken to make desiccant hammocks!

Purchasing these cabinets has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor and by a grant match provided by the ever supportive Bronze Door Society The USS Monitor Project and The Mariners’ Museum and Park at large could not be what they are today without the generous support of the Bronze Door Society. Our sincere gratitude goes to them and to the National Endowment for the Humanities (“Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this blog, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities”).

We also wanted to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who participated passively or actively in the Battle of Hampton Roads two weeks ago. It was great seeing you all and fun showing you around the lab and sharing stories about the Monitor crew, past and present.

Happy Spring everyone!!

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