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Capture the flag (and roll it)

Capture the flag (and roll it)

By Megan Harvey
Tue, 15 Mar 2016

Laying out the white ensign (F006) to measure it. We needed to see if it would fit in our photography setup!

Laying out the white ensign (F006) to measure it. We needed to see if it would fit in our photography setup!

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

We are photographing and rolling nearly 100 flags from our History collection. The photos and new method of storage will improve both physical and digital access to the flags.

Why roll flags?

When you fold up a flat textile and store it in a box, you run the risk of creating creases. While you can pad out these folds with tissue to support them, creases can create weak areas in the textile, which over time becomes more vulnerable to damage - the last thing you want in a museum collection!

The preferred method for storing flags (and other flat textiles such as tapa and carpet) is to roll them onto a cardboard roll, interleaved with acid-free tissue paper and wrapped up in tyvek. 

Rolling a textile ensures that you do not create any new creases, and that any existing creases are supported and not made worse. The tissue layer creates a barrier between the layers of the textile, preventing any transfer of colour dye or staining from one part of the flag to another. The tyvek encapsulates the entire flag, keeping it free of dust and protecting it from light damage.

The flag is then stored in the rolled storage section of our general collection store.

Why photograph them?

Taking the detail shots - close-ups of the hand stitching and reinforced patches.

Taking the detail shots - close-ups of the hand stitching and reinforced patches.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Many of the flags from our History collection have never been photographed. I know that this sounds crazy, but most of these flags were acquired and put into storage long before the advent of digital photography which made the process quick, easy and affordable. And a lot of these flags have not been on display, nor retrieved from storage since they were acquired.

Typically, museums are only able to display a fraction of their collection at any one time. With more than one million objects, Auckland Museum would require a space larger than Sylvia Park to display the entire collection.

And not all collection types are easily displayed. There are collection objects which are very sensitive to light (eg. watercolour paintings), temperature (eg. photographic negatives), or humidity (eg. manuscripts). These types of objects can only be displayed for short periods of time, under specific environmental conditions.

Because flags can be sensitive to light (the dyes used to colour the flags can fade dramatically), they are often only displayed in temporary exhibitions. Flags can also be quite large, which makes it a challenge to display them (and photograph them) in a safe way.

However, with the advent of the Collections Hub, the Museum now has a skilled team of photographers who aim to photograph each and every collection object. These photographs will then be added to the object records, making the flags accessible to everyone.

So what are we rolling?

The Collection Care department is responsible for improving the storage of all of the collections at Auckland Museum. This involves reviewing our current storage practices and constantly assessing how we care for our collections. As part of this work, a recent condition survey in the general collection store identified 91 flags which were in need of re-housing onto rolls.

Some of the stand-out flags from this collection include a 5.3m long white ensign from HMS Achilles, which fought in the Battle of River Plate, a Red Cross flag from an Anglo-Boer War field hospital and an ensign carried by New Zealand troops during the 1919 Victory March in London.

  • Post by: Megan Harvey

    Megan is a Collection Manager, Collection Care at Auckland Museum and works in preventive conservation.

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