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Emergency Treatment for Your Collectibles

Collections: Emergency Treatments for your Collectables

If we could prevent disasters, we would never have to worry about the safety and housing of our collection. In reality, disasters are unexpected and can cause irreversible damage to some of our most precious objects (take a look at the video of the sinkhole at the Corvette Museum). Some artifacts, fortunately, can be salvaged bythe work of experts. A local example was the 2004 flood in Peterborough, Ontario in which 1 meter of water seeped into the vault of the Peterborough Centennial Museum Association (PCMA), affecting many of the Roy Studio photographic materials. (You can read about the restoration initiative here.)

Today’s blog includes a summary of how to handle your valuables in case a disaster arises. This summary takes a look at water damaged objects; however, if you want more information on fire or physically damaged objects, further information can be found by consulting:  Disaster Planning, Manual of Curatorship. Sue Cackett. Museums Association 2nd ed. 1992.

Emergency treatments for Water Damaged/ Wet and Dirty Materials

Please note: In all cases, it would be wise to seek expert advice from a conservator after the initial stages of emergency response.


    Water damaged canvas
    Image source:
  • Wrap in Polythene and freeze object. This will freeze the water and help prevent running/blotting of ink and mould
  • Remove the painting from the frame, but not stretcher. Blot off excess water, insert blotting paper between canvas and stretcher, and dry face down on acid free tissue. Dry slowly in ambient environment.
  • Freeze and seek a professional help.
  • These should be dried slowly. If they are dirty, rinse and cover with a polythene sheet. Don’t apply heat as that will damage the materials
  • Can be frozen. Heavy/ thick clothing should be hung to dry if clean. If they are dirty or the colours are running rinse in clean water and blot dry with a towel, then air dry on padded hangers. Delicates should dry flat and out of direct sun.
  • Dry as soon as possible. If dirty, rinse, clear of excess water, then air dry.
    Jury Collection Tintype

  • If photographs are damp but separated, lay flat with emulsion side up to dry. If not readily separable, keep damp and seek professional help. You should immerse wet films and negatives in water and consult a professional.
  • Leave them on their own to dry.

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