While hands-on treatment of artifacts is a regular part of a conservator's job, conservation encompasses a whole lot more than just treatment. In addition to assisting with the preventive care of the collection (i.e. avoiding the need for treatment as much as possible by regulating the environment in which artifacts exist), we can also provide insights into the history of an object, help objects tell their stories, and sometimes literally 'unlock' their secrets.
2017 was a pretty amazing year for donations to the Museum’s collection. Besides receiving two multi-million-dollar boats from Oracle Team USA and a painting by artist James Gurney we received many new and historically interesting items. One gift we received in December is so truly extraordinary I thought I would take you on a tour of it!
The object is a despatch box made by the famous Asprey of London in 1871-1872 (based upon the silver marks and advice cards). Despite the relatively plain exterior, the first clue the piece is pretty astounding is the ornately engraved escutcheon plate surrounding the retracted handle on the lid. At the center of the plate is a group of two crests or logos and a monogram (the letters are E D S M but we aren’t exactly sure of the order in which they should be read). On the right side of the plate is a small button flush with the surface of the lid, pushing it causes the handle to release from the plate so the box can be carried—although I wouldn’t, the box weighs about 30 pounds!