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Visit with WWI Museum Curator

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#1 hawkdriver

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 04:47 PM

Yesterday, while out antiquing, I made a stop by the WWI museum. My WWI trench boots are beginning to get a little stiff and I wanted to see if he could give me some first hand knowledge of how to preserve, not only my boots, but my other items. I was introduced to Doran, the curator of 3D items and our visit was fairly lengthy and very informative. I did not think of taking a tape recorder with me which was my loss as he have me a lot of good nuggets and bits of wisdom.
I am going to try to organize the information into groups to make sense. Nothing I am going to say here is new and hasn't already been discussed here on the forum in one way or another, just good to also hear it from someone that does this on a daily basis. The best news of the whole day is that he validated that not only are my boots authentic, but in incredible shape, he was favorably impressed.
We first talked the boots and leather. The first and most disturbing thing he told me was that in about 50 years, all WWI leather as we will know it will cease to exist. He said that the leather curing method that was used is actually breaking down the leather and there is nothing that will stop it, just slow it down. He said we have all seen it in our products, the dusting, flaking, and overall cracking we see.
The first thing to do with boots and shoes, used clean un-dyed cotton to put into the boots or shoes to help them maintain their stretch or as the leather dries, it will shrink and they will loose their shape. Storage, keep leather in a place away from constant temperature and humidity changes. You can have bot temperature and humidity changes, but they have to be over time and can't be dramatic. The final thing is to use micro crystalline wax polish like Renaissance, use it sparingly, a single can will last a really long time. He said that verdigris is the interaction between the brass and the acid used to tan the leather. It does not harm the leather anymore than what has already done, just unsightly. He said people do more damage to the leather trying to remove the verdigris than the verdigris does. One other tip, if leather is beginning to split or flake, you can use sail thread to tie it down as that is what the soldiers of the time did, it will work and it is an authentic repair.
WWI helmets. The leather is the same as the boots. One thing he did caution me on is the wool felt. He said that if the liner has come out and the wool felt is disintegrating, get rid of it. There was a asbestos disk placed in it and the fibers readily sluff, not worth the health hazard. As for the painted helmets, all were done post war and most of that was done by German POWs. Same with trench art and meat can artist.
Gas Masks. just not much that can be done to help them. If the rubber is drying, putting anything with a petroleum product will cause the rubber to disintegrate. I had used Armor All on one of my masks to loosen it up and it worked. His answer is that it will still disintegrate, that putting the Armor All on did nothing to extend it, so it is a wash, dried and decaying, or pliable and decaying. His answer was to either have the mask out and display it in the open, or put it in the bag and leave it for the rest of it's life, the folding and unfolding is what will do the most damage. To openly display it, clean cotton material in the face form and hang it up.
Wool. The first thing he said was that moth balls had no real effect but to make us feel good about doing something. One thing he did say was to put any suspected insect contamination, put it in a plastic bag and in the freezer like we are all aware of, but he said for three days. Then take the bag out, shake it. If anything other than dirt and debris, i.e. bug carcasses, put it back for for two more days. If you are using florescent lighting, keep all materials at least six feet away. You can get non-UV florescent lights, but keeping things six feet away is the best way. If you are just turning the lights on for short periods of time, then don't really worry about it.
I hope this has been informative, I walked away feeling much better about my collection and what I am doing. The best part of the day was getting his card and an invitation to call anytime if I had questions. I will do another post in a week or so when I document my attempt to recover some deteriorating pictures.

#2 market garden

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Posted 23 June 2011 - 05:30 PM

Great advice!!!

#3 Jeeper704

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 02:56 AM

Very informative.


#4 teufelhunde.ret



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Posted 24 June 2011 - 03:29 AM

Sounds like the gent knows his stuff - thx look forward to next installment!

#5 ww2_1943

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 04:15 PM

Great info. Thanks for posting. I may have to look into Ren Wax.

#6 hawkdriver

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 06:01 PM

Great info. Thanks for posting. I may have to look into Ren Wax.

I just ordered a can of it last night and with shipping, cost slmost $40. Hope he is right that it will last a long time.

#7 Bluehawk

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Posted 24 June 2011 - 06:34 PM

Nice to see this shared with others... so often good preservation is as much a matter of common sense and realism about shelf life as it is about technological fixes.

My favorite shibboleth is the "white glove treatment" which, for most artifacts, does almost nothing as advertised unless your fingers are really really really dirty...

Thanks for posting.

#8 ptogi

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Posted 26 June 2011 - 09:00 PM

Great info & thanks for sharing!

#9 Garandomatic

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Posted 27 June 2011 - 08:17 AM

i am really glad my funds don't allow me to have much leather in my collection, but doggone, that is mighty disconcerting about its degradation.

#10 carrabassett

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Posted 05 July 2011 - 07:34 AM

I am always cautious and hesitant about cleaning or treating anything but when I do, I would say that Renaissance Micro-wax is what I most commonly use. I have had the same can for at least 10 years and it has about 3/4 still left in it! I have used it on most every material (as the label describes) and have never had a 'problem' to my knowledge.

#11 nedwiar

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 10:18 AM

My wool pad is disinigrating better remove it

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