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Subject: Long-term monitoring of historic furniture

Long-term monitoring of historic furniture

From: Jonathan P. Brown <envcons>
Date: Friday, September 18, 1998
My thanks to all respondents (and I encourage further response).
Those of you who contacted me off the list, I will be contacting you
shortly if I haven't already.  From the tenor of some of the
responses that appeared on the list, perhaps it would be useful if
we could filter some concerns that have already been expressed:

    1.  We are planning to monitoring the response of the building
        fabric to the new HVAC system.  The owner institution is
        well aware of the potential threat that heating and
        humidifying the building during the winter would pose, and
        is taking steps to provide an appropriate HVAC control
        algorithm and to monitor the condition of the building
        fabric on a continuing basis. The intention, as I understand
        it, it to monitor the environment in the rooms, and the
        building fabric, with s system that is capable of
        withstanding main power failure.  I will be happy to discuss
        this subject further outside the distlist, but I don't want
        to consume bandwidth unnecessarily--my interest here is in
        the furniture question.

    2.  We are concerned here with visible damage (cracking, lifting
        of veneer, compression shrinkage, failure of adhesive and
        separation of component pieces, etc.) that accumulates in
        late-eighteenth century furniture in response to changes in
        relative humidity and/or temperature.  Some of the furniture
        on the site has accumulated damage which has been identified
        as owing to previously uncontrolled environmental
        fluctuation.  This damage has been conserved.  However, as I
        mentioned in my original post, there is no permanent
        furniture conservation facility at Mount Vernon and the
        furniture is inspected by a knowledgeable furniture
        specialist only infrequently.  The possibility that further
        damage will occur during commissioning of the HVAC system,
        by handling of the furniture, or by some other cause must be

    3.  We will be working on appropriate responses to failure of
        environmental control and endeavoring to have the system
        fail safe (and restart safe as well--a factor which is often
        neglected, in my experience).  However, after the response
        has occurred, the question would remain: what, if any,
        damage has been done to the objects?

    4.  My question still stands: are there any protocols for
        recording the condition of furniture (or related objects)
        which are sufficiently repeatable to allow an assessment of
        progressive damage in specific pieces of furniture over a
        long period of time?

JP Brown
Environmental Conservator

                  Conservation DistList Instance 12:29
                Distributed: Tuesday, September 22, 1998
                       Message Id: cdl-12-29-004
Received on Friday, 18 September, 1998

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