swords and edged weapons conservation survey and storage mount

Historical Society
By Paul S. Storch, Senior Objects Conservator
And Caitlin Whaley, Conservation Intern
The Minnesota Historical Society holds approximately 500 swords, edged weapons and
accessories ranging in time from 800 C.E. (A.D.) through the 20th century. The collection is
strong in Civil War, Spanish-American War, and World War I swords and bayonets. Ceremonial
swords represent various fraternal orders.
The collection also includes scabbards, leather
covers, leather belts, and wooden boxes. The earliest object is a Viking sword.
When the Society moved into the Minnesota History Center in 1992, these objects were placed
in drawers in three Delta Design cabinets in the Collections storage area. The weapons were
sorted by general type, along with associated scabbards, belts, and scabbard covers. While
most of the bayonets and daggers could be placed flat in the drawers and stored safely, many
of the sabers and other weapons with rounded hand-guards would move when the drawers
were opened and closed which could cause damage to them (See Figures 1 and 2). Many of
the leather components were in poor and unstable condition and were not properly supported
(See Figures 9 and 10).
Figure 1. Typical saber drawer before the survey
and re-housing project.
Minnesota Historical Society
Figure 2. Detail of sabers and scabbards as found in
Figure 9. Detail of leather scabbard showing red-rot
condition. This condition will require further treatment
and was classed as a Priority 1 object.
Figure 10. Leather scabbard showing typical
break and instability near tip. An individual treatment
support was made for this object.
Over the past two years, the Conservation Unit has been developing and implementing the
Society’s Long Range Plan in cooperation with the various Society curators and other staff. The
Sword project is one of the specific action items in the overall plan, and was completed with the
involvement of Matt Anderson, Collections Curator, and Dan Cagley, Collections Manager. The
Collections Manager oversaw access and movement of the collection from storage to the
Objects Conservation lab, where the actual surveying and mount making took place. Student
Volunteer Caitlin Whaley volunteered over 300 hours to this project.
The goals and intended products of the project were the following.
1) Survey and assess the current condition of each object and associated components.
2) Update the catalog records with new location and condition information.
3) Create Conservation records for each object and accessory.
4) Create a treatment priority list and quantify the number of objects in each category and
the estimated treatment hours. This information would be used as a management tool
for a future treatment project.
5) Group objects by type and make the most efficient use of the available drawer and
cabinet space.
6) Create mounts in the drawers to properly support the objects.
7) Compile the data to be used for future conservation treatment projects.
Methods and Materials
Two to three drawers at a time were moved to the Objects Lab for surveying and mount-making.
The survey consisted of visually assessing the condition of each object and checking for
structural instabilities. The observations were written down on drawer lists for later entry into
Minnesota Historical Society
the Society’s Collections Management System (KEMu). The catalog information in CMS was
often consulted to help confirm the identities of various component materials
The objects were laid out in the drawers to maximize the efficient use of space (see Figures 3,4,
and 5). Once the objects were spaced properly to fit without touching each other, Dow Ethafoam
220 polyethylene foam planking was cut into blocks to support the swords and scabbards
perpendicular to their long axes. Three supports were required for the sabers.
Figure 3. Typical saber drawer after survey and
re-housing showing the Ethafoam 220 supports.
Figure 4. Detail of the Ethafoam 220 support in the
middle of the drawer.
Figure 5. Detail showing hilt supports and the alternation
of the objects within the drawer.
Shorter weapons and fragile leather components were supported with customized Ethafoam
holders (See Figures 6,7, and 8). The Ethafoam was cut with knives and spatulas modified for
cutting polyethylene foam materials. The cut surfaces were smoothed and finished using a
tacking iron and silicone-treated polyester film. Linen ribbon was used when needed to secure
objects with loose parts to mounts.
Minnesota Historical Society
Figure 6. Overall view of a smaller object requiring
an individual mount.
Figure 7. Custom Ethafoam mount for the dagger
Figure 8. Detail of supports within the drawer for
Smaller objects.
The average drawer now accommodates eight sabers and scabbards. The fabric and buckskin
sword cases were placed together in separate drawers so they are no longer in contact with
Results and Summary
Five hundred and eight objects were evaluated for condition, and re-housed during this project.
Those objects requiring treatment were put in three priority categories, and the hours for future
treatment were estimated.
Three 2‘ X 8’ X 2” Ethafoam planks were used to provide storage mounts in 22 drawers.
Using an organized approach, a significant collection of the Society was documented and rehoused. A moderate investment in time and a small investment in materials went a long way to
mitigate the risk of physical damage to these objects and to insure their long-term preservation.
Minnesota Historical Society
Access for study and exhibits or loans was greatly improved and the curator was pleased with
the results of the project.
Schlichting, Carl. 1994. Working with Polyethylene Foam and Fluted Plastic Sheet.
Technical Bulletin No. 14. Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, Canada.
Prepared by:
Paul S. Storch, Senior Objects Conservator
Daniels Objects Conservation Laboratory, MHS
Minnesota Historical Society
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