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Metals conservation

conservator assembling silver items in the metals studio

In the metals conservation section we work on a wide range of artefacts from most curatorial departments. There are over 40,000 metal objects, as well as many metal parts in mixed material objects, within the collections at National Museums Liverpool. They span thousands of years and have had all manner of uses. Each one presents a different challenge to conservators.  

We clean, stabilise, reconstruct and prepare objects for exhibitions at National Museums Liverpool and loans out to other bodies. We also advise and assist with the care of metal objects in storage. 

The practical treatments carried out on objects often require us to remove and control corrosion in order to stabilise them but we can also protect many objects from further corrosion or deterioration using invisible coatings or special control materials within the display cases.  

We regularly examine and record the condition of objects as part of our work, using microscopes, x-ray or analytical equipment. This can often provide more useful information for the curators about the original use, composition or the way these objects were made.

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Conserving a chip range

In this video head of metals conservation Steve Newman explains how a chip range was conserved before it went on display in the  Museum of Liverpool in 2011.


Hi, my name is Steve Newman. I'm head of metals conservation for National Museums Liverpool. Metals conservation work on a very large range of objects for many different curatorial departments and they range from coins, jewellery, medals right through to church silverware, domestic items, lots of decorative metal work and at the moment we are working on a lot of social history items such as household items, white ware from the past few centuries. And I'd like to show you today a chip range we've been working on for the Museum of Liverpool.

It came from Openshaw's chippy in Walton in Liverpool and it was acquired by the museum in 1981/1982. It's a fairly tall chip range, it has a large tiled backboard. It's smaller than the kind of chip ranges you get in modern chippies, the big stainless steel ones. There is no stainless steel on this. It's a mix of cast iron end plates and it had a grate in as well so you'd have coal fires either side heating up the big steel vats.

We worked on it in the past for the Museum of Liverpool Life but we were not able to complete a full treatment of the interior. So there is quite a lot of rust on the interior and some damage, weakness, caused by that.

We are using hand methods, mechanical methods like brushes and various tools to scrape the rust off so we have a thin layer left and then we're using a chemical called tannic acid which converts the rust into a layer that's inactive and helps to prevent more rust. Then we put a modern synthetic wax coating on. That just helps to protect the steel from any moisture. Then we are using very fine polishes on the copper alloy and the brass, just to bring those up.

We're trying to get as close to last use as we can work out which is what we often try to do with conservation treatments. The last use is the kind of ideal look we try and go for unless curators want a kind of earlier appearance. So, we're trying to look like it's been cared for, there is quite a bit of wear on the zinc from polishing. So we're taking back the surfaces to a sort of reasonable polish and hopefully it will look the part and people will remember it that way.