One of the things that the National Trust promotes is the sharing and learning of knowledge and skills that will benefit different properties, not only within the Trust but also at other historic sites.
To that end, a few of the house team here have been helping out at Emery Walker’s house in London. They are going through a major refurbishment at the moment that will last until late next year. As it is a structural refurbishment, the entire collection needs to be moved into temporary storage so the staff in charge asked for help with the packing.
As you can imagine, moving historic objects, much less an entire collection, involves a lot of planning as well as lots and lots of padding! How you pack an object depends on what it is. Larger objects like furniture or artwork can often be stored with very little padding or protection depending on the conditions in the store. Small objects like ceramics often need to be stored in boxes.
The first thing to do is to have central document that the entire team can access so that detailed information about the objects can be noted, especially information about the original location of each object, their condition and where they are going to be stored temporarily and in which box. This inventory is printed off box by box and stored in the relevant one so that there is both a hard copy and electronic version to access – especially useful when you are working to put the objects back in place after the refurbishment is complete.
Another important thing to do when packing is to make sure that you have all the materials to hand, especially lots material that could be used to pad objects such as acid free tissue paper, plastazote (especially useful to line boxes as it is quite thick) and bubble wrap.
Now boxes – you may think there is a simple answer to the this question of what box to use but it all depends on what type of storage the objects are going into. If its long-term store for, say, part of a collection or archive that is never intended for display, the best boxes to use are acid free card boxes as they are able to withstand a lot of environmental factors like dust and light. For shorter term storage like the collection at Emery Walker’s house, then corex (fluted polypropylene) boxes tend to be less expensive and easier to produce – you can order pre-sized ones or make your own for unusually sized objects. Boxes are also quite handy to store collections in as several items from the same location can be stored together.
Within a box, a layer of plastazote is put in the bottom and along the sides. Plastazote is a thick foam that is completely inert so will not leak any chemicals that could damage an object – by padding the bottom and sides of the box means there will be an extra layer of protection. Although not as effective, bubble wrap can be used instead with the bubble side down.
The next stage is to put the objects inside. At Emery Walker’s house, we were mostly dealing with ceramic items like chargers, tiles and vases. Each object needs to be individually wrapped in tissue paper – if the object is hollow, tissue paper needs to be place inside to help the support the object. It is important to remember to not overfill boxes or make them to heavy as they will most likely be carried by hand. We placed a blue sticker on the tissue wrapped objects to distinguish them as an object rather than a piece of padding.
Once we were happy with the amount of objects in a box, we then had to pad around the objects to prevent them moving around when the boxes are being moved location. We used more acid free tissue paper and bubble wrap to do so. It is possible to buy or make inserts, again using corex, that divide boxes up so that each object has its own section and therefore requires less padding.
We then put a layer of plastazote on top along with a copy of the inventory before the lid goes on. Once the box is sealed, we tied a label detailing the box number, the materials of the objects inside and another sticker to make it obvious how often it needs to be checked whilst in store – anything with textiles or organic material would need to be checked every 3 – 6 months to ensure that nothing has affected the object like pests, unlike an object made of ceramic or stone that would only need checking once a year or even less.
It was a really interesting experience to visit Emery Walker’s house and help pack its collection. Emery Walker was a printer who was closely associated with William Morris and the Morris & Co company. Having an arts and crafts interior to a terraced Georgian building showed the versatility of the prints and fabrics made by Morris and Co. A lot of the objects in the collection were bequeathed to Walker by Morris and Webb helping to further our knowledge of them as people and fathers of the arts and crafts movement.
Some of the objects from the Emery Walker collection are on display here at Standen as part of our Phillip Webb exhibition, on until the 16th November.