Contemporary Collections: Preprints from the AICCM National Conference 17th g 19th October 2007 Brisbane pp. 222-232
Traditional management of wet specimen collections in natural history museums such as the Australian Institute of Anatomy did not usually include any documentation of the materials and techniques used during
preparation and subsequent treatments. When this type of collection is transferred into the context of a social history museum such as the National Museum of Australia it presents conservators, responsible for its ongoing management, with the challenge of identifying exactly what it is that they are working with and how much of what is there is ‘significant’. Unless this is well understood the collection is at risk of being treated in a piecemeal way which may destroy both its historical significance and, in the worst case, its physical integrity. While there as been considerable research into the history and likely preparation techniques used with traditional collections it is still the case that each jar in each collection is likely to have its own unique characteristics. Conservators need to have at their disposal a set of reasonably simple, inexpensive tests which they can apply to each jar they treat.
This paper sets out a methodology, based on the measurement of density, pH and formalin concentration, by which conservators can identify unknown and often evaporated preserving solutions by comparing them to values obtained for the three most common types of traditional preservative.