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Subject: Storing portrait miniatures

Storing portrait miniatures

From: Alan Derbyshire <aland>
Date: Monday, June 5, 2000
Sharon Connell <libsac [at] library__novell__leeds__ac__uk> writes

>I am to re-house a small group of 19th century portrait miniatures
>(seven in all) as they are currently stored inappropriately.

Collections of portrait miniatures often contain a variety of
materials e.g. watercolour on ivory and/or vellum, oil on copper,
enamels, small works on paper, metal and wooden frames etc.
Therefore practical  recommendations need to be quite general.
However I would first point out that 'the miniature' should be
considered as the painting and its frame/locket which should be kept
together as a unit. If there are inscriptions inside, these should
be photographed and noted. Many miniatures are damaged due to people
crudely opening lockets and not knowing how to reseal them. This
allows dust and dirt to readily enter and also makes safe handling
very risky. Watercolour on ivory miniatures in particular can be
readily damaged by touching with sweaty fingers or from breathing on

The miniatures can be stored in drawers lined with an inert foam
e.g. Plastazote into which holes can be cut to hold the miniatures
securely against vibration. This can double up for display with
aesthetic refinement but there is then the problem of how to limit
light exposure. Miniatures tend to be very light sensitive and
therefore exposure must be limited either by curtains or timer

Temperature and Relative Humidity should be around the 19 plus or
minus 1 degrees C and 50% plus or minus 5% mark--the important thing
is to keep conditions as stable as possible--ivory is very
hygroscopic. One should consider treating miniatures which are
strongly warped as a precaution against cracking. Ivory can be
flattened and/or wooden frames can be built out to help accommodate

If treatment is not an option because of financial restraint etc
then handling should be restricted where miniatures are loose and
strongly warped miniatures should not be forced back into their

Alan Derbyshire
Senior Conservator
Victoria and Albert Museum

                  Conservation DistList Instance 13:61
                   Distributed: Monday, June 5, 2000
                       Message Id: cdl-13-61-004
Received on Monday, 5 June, 2000

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