Author Archives: Kayleigh Beard, Objects Conservator

Oddy Oddy Oddy

Would you like to take a test to see what you’ll be like in the future?

Well, if so an Oddy test could be what you’re looking for - although unfortunately it’s not suitable for human testing.

An Oddy test is an accelerated aging procedure that we carry out on materials to see how they’ll react over time. It was first introduced by Mr Andrew Oddy in the 1970s and materials are enclosed in a test tube with metal coupons and heated over 4 weeks. The principle is that the heating accelerates the aging of the material.

The setup for oddy testing materials (Kayleigh Beard, 2010)

We use Oddy tests in museums to test how materials which are used for storage and display are going to react over time.

We can tell whether a material is suitable for use by looking at the metal coupons within the test tube. For example, if the material gives off gases while it ages the accelerated aging in the test tube will cause the metal coupons to corrode – obviously we don’t want this to happen to our objects!

You can also look at the condition of the materials after the 4 weeks and if cracking has begun to occur it may indicate that after 10 years your material will no longer be strong and stable.

Metal coupons used in Oddy testing. Compared to control coupons you can identify if corrosion is present. (Kayleigh Beard, 2010)

Currently we are working alongside the British Museum to try and build up an archive of Oddy tested material. The aim is to then make the results of these tests available to other museums.

Sharing knowledge means that museums can ensure they are looking after their collections using the best possible materials. Not so odd afterall…

Let’s blog about conservation!

In previous blog posts you’ve had a taster of how we manage conservation at the Museum, but there’s much more to come…

But before we get carried away with our fantastic objects and treatments, let’s answer that fundamental question: what is conservation?

Cleaning of Hastings & St Leonards Gas Co seal (ScM, London, 2008)

The National Trust sums up conservation nicely as ‘the careful management of change’.

The objects in our collection are often acquired for their historical significance. They tell us a story, and we aim to maintain the condition of the objects so that their story will never be lost.

That is why we don’t ‘restore’ things to look brand new. The marks on that piece of wood can tell us how it was manufactured, and wear on that prosthetic limb can tell us how it was used.

I feel archaeologists are often mistaken for conservators, and I am fully prepared to don my brown Stetson fedora and be Indiana Jones… but really Indy, you shouldn’t just grab that sacred relic with your un-gloved hand and shove it in your back pocket!

I recently found an alternative role-model when I discovered that Agatha Christie, one of my all time heroes, was a makeshift conservator.

Working with her second husband Max Mallowan out on archaeological digs she was involved in ‘removing dirt from the relics (she used facial cleanser)’.

I digress - let’s get back to the point. We in the conservation department hope that by caring for the objects, ‘their special qualities are protected, enhanced, enjoyed and understood by present and future generations’.

So stay tuned for conservation blogs on all sorts of exciting projects taking place behind the scenes! Catch you later…