Packing up Museum Objects

Packing museum objects can be complicated. With the holiday season around the corner you might find these tips helpful…

First, locate a large table in which to work and cover it with polypropylene foam. Soft surfaces are safer to work on, especially when dealing with delicate items. Next find an acid free box large enough to hold the desired object. It is best to pack like materials together (metals with metals, glass with glass, etc.).

If the object is too large for a standard box and too fragile to ship alone in packing blankets, either a box or crate must be crafted to custom size. Pull out a sheet of mount board and a knife (or bone folder) to score edges where a fold is necessary. Try to steer clear of tape which leaves residue and attracts pests. Instead hot glue the corners together. When packing several small pieces, glue dividers in the box to keep pieces separate. Line each individual box with acid free tissue paper. Please note that bubble wrap, although cost effective, should only be used in the most temporary cases.

It is important to properly handle each object. Wear nitrile gloves to prevent corrosion and finger prints. Take your time. Avoid lifting from handles or narrow appendages. These spots are likely to snap from the base and break. Once you have identified a secure hold, gently place the object inside the middle of the box. Friction from a bumpy ride can cause abrasion.

Ethafoam can be used to create mounts inside the box and support weak points (i.e. the neck of a vase). A hat, for another example, should have a round form underneath it to prevent the material from warping.

Continue by padding edges throughout the box to keep the object from shifting during transit. Roll tissue paper by grabbing opposite ends and twist slightly to fashion a long balloon of sorts. Textiles are extremely sensitive to creases and deteriorate quickly. Tissue paper should also be added to sleeves, collars, and folds.

When finished make sure there aren’t any gaps in the box. Perform a “shake test” to judge if more tissue paper is needed. Place the lid on top and tie a piece of twill tape around the outside. If there is more than one box, label the contents with care instructions and arrows indicating which side to open first.

Finally, keep the box in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for as long as possible. Verify the object’s condition as well as previous and post locations. Museums use special databases to account for all the objects in the collection, but you can create an Excel spreadsheet if you wish to track your belongings.

Good luck and happy holidays!

-Karen Louvar, Collections Manager