Touching an object can be more harmful to an object in the collection than one might think. From a simple touch, the natural oils on hands can be left behind on the surface. After many touches over time, this could cause damage to the object. But, the truth of the matter is that you can’t always stop curious hands from touching things. It’s human nature to want to get a closer look, point, or even grab hold of something of interest– and old museum objects are ever so tempting. So, in efforts to secure objects throughout the house, the Montpelier Collections Department has taken steps to begin tying and creating flexible barriers for various collection items.
What measures are we taking? The items of priority were loose small objects of close range to visitor areas that were likely targets for tempted touches. These included things like small glasses, silverware, books, and the like. We don’t want to take away from the view visitors get, so the barriers we create need to allow high visibility but still deter visitors from touching the objects.
When it comes to books, the bookshelves residing behind the visitor benches of the Old Library could be fair game. Even with the watchful eye of our interpreters, a visitor could feel tempted to reach out to pull a book off the shelf. To create a safe touch-deterring barrier, we have installed a fishing line to the New Library bookshelves. Attached with command hooks to our reproduction bookshelves, the fishing line allows for low visibility and flexibility. We are still able to easily access and clean the books and visitors still get an unobstructed view of the books.
Images of fishing line placed across the books on the bookshelves in the Old Library.
In many other areas, we have been using fishing line to tie down small objects that are closest to visitor areas. The fishing line allows for a secure hold while also remaining nearly invisible. By placing the line carefully, we can conceal it behind or under the object. For instance, in the dining room, when tying down the silverware, the ceramic plate is concealing a majority of the fishing line from view. See below a video of Alexis, museum technician, tying the silverware in the dining room.
Video of Alexis, the Museum Technician at James Madison's Montpelier, showing how we tied down the silverware in the dining room.
Another measure taken is protecting period paper objects (newsprints, letters, certificates, etc.). By placing Mylar plastic sheets over things like a newsprint lying on a desk, it allows the object to still be visible to visitors that would like to take a look. But, it also prevents possible touches from harming the surface of the paper.
Images of newsprint in the mansion without Mylar and newsprint with Mylar.
Alexis Atkinson, B.A.
Alexis joined the Curatorial and Collections department in November of 2022. She maintains and preserves the decorative arts collections on display throughout the property. She also assists the Collections Manager with research, collections projects, and the collection’s social media accounts. Alexis earned her B.A. in Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University in May of 2022