Interior metal objects are much less vulnerable than those sited outdoors, but may have suffered over the years from improper cleaning, damaging environmental conditions, poor or frequent handling or inappropriate restoration.
Historically, housekeeping practice fell into two approaches. Firstly, those objects in regular use, such as tableware, would have been handled and cleaned often. This had a major impact on the metal surface and carried a high risk of physical damage. Secondly, the finer objects of a purely decorative nature, such as bronzes or jewellery, had significant value then, as now, and so were carefully cleaned, mainly in a similar manner to that of today. For silver and silver gilt objects however the use of less refined abrasives and a more vigorous cleaning schedule may have contributed to wear to the surface and loss of gilding.
It only takes a short period of poor environmental conditions to do irreparable damage. If the care given to the object is not truly preventative, slow but continued damage will occur. Breakages have always occurred, as metals are not as resilient to impact damage as many believe, and corrosion can also lead to structural failure. If an old repair is unsightly or appears to be weak, professional advice should be sought on the most effective remedy.
The conservation of jewellery and precious objects, such as European snuff boxes or fine Japanese metalwork, frequently involves the treatment of complex combinations of materials and surface finishes. The high standard of workmanship demonstrated by the makers of these objects demands an equally high standard of understanding and skill in the conservator.
Most churches contain a wide variety of metal objects and architectural elements, from medieval brass to high Victorian Gothic wrought iron screens, lighting, memorials, door furniture and ceremonial objects. The metalwork within the church or cathedral may date from various periods and display varying condition, depending on the environment of the building and may have suffered from the effects of high humidity, frequent use (perhaps over centuries) and frequent or inappropriate cleaning. We are often asked to survey all the metalwork contents of a church building and churchyard, to provide the client with a detailed specification for the conservation/restoration and ongoing care or security of the metal objects and fixtures. We are experienced in the particular requirements of working within religious buildings with respect to the devotional environment and the time restrictions imposed by the programme of services. Our clients include St Paul's Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, Buckfast Abbey, Lichfield Cathedral, St. Katherine's Limehouse and many other parish churches. We have also worked on many Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish artefacts.
We frequently conserve both historic and modern, small-scale, interior sculpture in bronze and other metals, terracotta, porcelain, marble, wax, resin, plaster and wood. Our conservators have an excellent grasp of the behaviour and qualities of different materials and are sensitive to sculptural form and meaning. In particular, the surface finishes on interior sculptures require an extremely sensitive approach to address the problems encountered by sculptural objects sited indoors, such as inappropriate cleaning or handling.
The conservation of arms and armour is a technically complex field requiring knowledge of a large range of metalworking techniques and decorative finishes. Many items, even those that appear to be of simple manufacture, can contain important historic information that makes prior inspection and treatment planning necessary to avoid loss of information or damage occurring. The frequent combination of inorganic metals and organic materials such as leather, textiles, ivory, shell and timber, requires us to have a good general working knowledge of all these materials and their conservation. We have worked on arms and armour from many regions of the world for many institutions but particularly the large collection in the care of The National Trust Another significant part of our work in this field is to establish preventive conservation cleaning programmes for collections and to advise on the special display often required which may involve the design of unique security fittings due to the vulnerability of many public displays.
The conservation of historic lighting covers a wide range of metals including ormolu, silver, tin, copper and brass, and many decorative techniques and finishes. As functional objects, light fittings have frequently suffered from unsympathetic modification over the years.
We have a high level of expertise in the cleaning and repair of all forms of lighting including chandelier frames, mounts and furniture, Colza and oil lamps, lanterns, gas and acetylene fittings and electric fittings. This frequently includes the remaking of lost fittings and the replacement of glass, preparation for rewiring, the fitting of current EU standard fittings (both standard and low voltage), and certificated testing by qualified electricians.
We are very experienced in this field and can liaise with your electrician to bring your historic light fittings up to current safety standards, while maintaining the appropriated aged appearance.
We also undertake the replication of decorative chain and other hangings and have significant experience in the safety requirements for the hanging of lighting.
Unlike gold, silver will tarnish, causing initially a light brown staining which will deepen to dark brown and finally, if left untreated, to a compact dark grey or black surface. The consequence of this is that most silver articles sustain wear to the surface as a result of frequent polishing, and possible physical damage caused by the regular handling that cleaning entails. The surface of silver gilt objects is even more vulnerable to damage as the thin layer of gold is easily worn away. To minimise the risk of further damage, measures to reduce the cleaning and handling of silver are crucial to long term care. Our conservation of silver and silver gilt objects usually takes the form of careful cleaning, using a variety of gentle techniques which remove tarnish and old polish residues left by years of cleaning. If the particular display circumstances or condition of the piece demand it, we may recommend that we lacquer the piece, which negates the need for polishing. When applied properly, a lacquer will remain in good condition for over ten years and can therefore contribute greatly to the survival of the object and its surface decoration. Small repairs or the replacement of mising pieces may also be required, and our staff has the experience to carry these out using traditional silversmithing techniques, to a very high standard.