The Preservation Handbook Online

Table of Contents

I. Preservation
II. Assessment
III. Collection Assessment
IV. Agents of Deterioration
V. Monitoring collections
VI. Materials
VII. Storage
VIII. Conservation
IX. Disaster Planning
X. Housekeeping
XI. Resources / Suppliers
XII. Preservation Grants

Agents of Deterioration - human


Natural deterioration and catastrophic occurrence impact an object's longevity. Objects are also affected by people in negative and positive ways through every stage of their history. People can aggravate and increase the already fatal possibilities of object impermanence. The creators of the objects are the first to have an impact on potential changes to an object over it's lifetime. The materials, crafting, intentions, and uses of an object are the foundation of the object's inherent stability or lack off and potential lifespan. Following creation the users affect the objects in various ways. The users can be amateurs that are involved primarily in aesthetic enjoyment or spiritual inspiration; the professionals that are involved in intellectual use and/or use cultural materials in their professional trades; and intermediaries that use cultural objects as a vehicle for other types of professional activity such as promotion and fund raising. Proper handling of cultural material will be important for extending intellectual use.


"Poor handling is the greatest cause of object deterioration in museums. The principles, however, have changed little over the years. Eric Rowlison's list of rules, first written over twenty years ago, provide a useful basis for good practice."xviii There should be one person supervising or coordinating movement of objects and answering questions. Objects should be examined for damage before being moved. This will ensure that no further damage results. You should know where and how an object is to be moved or placed on exhibit. This will prevent any damage that would occur to weakened areas used during the move to bear object weight. This also eliminates possible confusion about the final destination of that object.

Genearl Rules

Fragile material should be assessed by a conservator before moving. All objects should be treated with equal caution regardless of perceived value. The physical requirements and handlers safety should be the primary considerations when outlining a move.

Painting and framed works

Unframed works on paper


Decorative Arts


*Conservators should be consulted before moving fragile objects.

Human intervention can be one of the most damaging in terms of changing the material and intention of cultural objects. The mission of conservation should be markedly expressed throughout the institution. This can be done by policy development, distribution and implementation. Treatment should be handled by a qualified conservator. The conservators role is to provide ethical treatment in order to prolong the life of the object without altering the meaning. All treatments should 100% reversible.


XVIII. Rowlison, E. B. (1979). Rules for handling works of art. Museum registration methods. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums.