Pushing the (conservation) envelope

Hello, Elisha here!

So, last week the Egyptian objects I chose to display for the upcoming What’s in Store exhibition began to be cleaned by the fantastic Emma (Conservation Officer) and conservation volunteer, Andrew.

When I decided to use Egyptian flint in my display, I searched through many boxes to find the most interesting pieces. Tucked away in one them I discovered some cards inside an envelope (shown at the top of this post). The envelope itself was filthy and very fragile, and the cards were not in great shape either. Despite this, I really wanted them on display, as I uncovered a very interesting story whilst researching them. The man mentioned on the label, Heywood Seton-Karr (1859-1938), was born in Bombay, India. He received his education at Eton College, and then went on to Oxford and, beyond that, the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he was made a lieutenant.

S0018388Deployed in Egypt, Seton-Karr turned to amateur archaeology. Among his discoveries were ancient flint mines in the Eastern Desert, where he collected large amounts of material. He went on to write books and articles on his discoveries, which appeared in famous publications such as the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. He was also awarded the Galileo gold medal by the University of Florence for his contribution to archaeology. Seton-Karr donated his archaeological finds to museums across the world, such as Egypt, Australia and Europe- including of course Colchester.

With such a fascinating story, I was really pleased to hear that Andrew specialises in paper conservation and had offered to work on the envelopes and cards. I was really keen to watch this process unfold (accidental pun, I promise). He emptied the envelope and to our surprise, hidden away inside were some previously unknown labels. They has been written some time in the early 20th century, probably by a past curator of Colchester Museums.

Andrew carefully cleaned the envelope, opened it out and left it to soak in water combined with a very small amount of alcohol. After this, he reassembled it as it had been before. Now these items all look fantastic, are much more durable and ready to go on display!


(Seriously, check out the difference between the first picture and the one above.  Conservators really can work magic..)

A big thank you goes to Andrew for his hard work. I’m really looking forward to sharing this story with the public when the exhibition opens in July. I also now have the job of updating the accession register with photographs and information on these objects!

I really do get excited over the little things.

Until next time,

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