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Handle with care

Handle with care

BY JANE GROUFSKY
Thu, 24 Mar 2016

The "Excess Baggage" display gave us an opportunity to showcase some of the trunks, bags and suitcases in our collection which have never before been on display. Many of the cases we have in storage show evidence of their long lifetime of travel – tatty destination labels, battered corners, and worn handles. Some of the gems in our collection were just too delicate to exhibit without a full conservation treatment.

Assessing condition

Once a group of objects have been shortlisted for display, the next step is for a conservator to assess the condition.

This suitcase is stored carefully as parts of it are very delicate.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 1999.108.74.

This portmanteau shows the kind of degradation that can occur when objects are made up of different kinds of materials: leather, metal, fabric and paper. The leather has hardened over time causing the case to become misshapen, and there is corrosion on the metal rivets. The paper destination labels are very fragile and lifting up on the edges and corners.

This conservation photo shows the damage that this inkwell has sustained over its travelling life.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 42256.

Similar damage to the paper labels was visible on the top hat case in Excess Baggage. Our conservator was able to stabilise and reattach the edges of these before the case went on display.

This charming little travel inkwell, circa 1857, is covered in red morocco leather and has a brass push-button opening. The metal base underneath has surface corrosion which has caused damage to the fine leather, and fragments have started to come loose. The inkwell would need considerable conservation attention to stabilise the damage before it could ever go on display, so was excluded from Excess Baggage.

Unintentional additions

Looking at the cases in our collection, we discovered that many came in to the museum as part of a larger group of objects relating to one person – or were simply intended as a transportation case for the objects being donated.

Hidden inside Nurse Ethel Strachan's suitcase: mementoes of her time in Russia.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 2001.25.958.

In 1916, Staff Nurse Ethel M Strachan was selected to join the staff of the Anglo-Russian Hospital at Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), housed in the palace of Prince Dimitri. In 2001, the museum acquired a large collection of Strachan’s medals, uniforms and personal effects. Among these was her monogrammed suitcase, which housed a set of Russian nesting dolls and a small wooden souvenir spoon. You can read more about Strachan’s war service at Online Cenotaph.

Used by the Right Honourable Sir William Joseph Jordan, this case still has an original 1940s passenger label.

Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 1977.127.1.

This small suitcase was used by the Right Honourable Sir William Joseph Jordan, New Zealand High Commissioner in Britain during WWII. On one side of the case is a label which reads “JORDAN, Sir William Joseph / 1879-1959 / Papers Box 3 …. Index in Box 1”. The Museum library holds a collection of photographs relating to Sir William. It is likely that this case was simply used as a box to store these for many years, before museum staff realised that it was an interesting object in its own right and gave it proper care and attention.


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  • Post by: Jane Groufsky

    Jane Groufsky is the Associate Curator Applied Arts & Design. She has an interest in printing and patternmaking techniques in textiles.