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Preventive Conservation in Museums

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C. Caple


What is preventive conservation? Artefacts, whether tools for cutting or pictures for viewing, are functional objects (Caple 2006, 8-13). They are maintained during their working lives by their owners to ensure they remain functional and effective. Thus, the good carpenter ensures that his tools are cleaned, sharpened and, if stored, have a light coat of oil to prevent corrosion. This ensures that they can continue to function effectively in this initial ‘use’ phase of their life. When the carpenter’s tools enter a museum collection, they cease to fulfil their original function and become part of collections which are to be preserved in perpetuity. Their new role (function) is to preserve and display evidence of the past. This is invariably the final or curation phase of the object’s life (Caple 2006, figure 1.3). If any object is to function effectively as part of a museum collection then it must be prevented from corroding or decaying; preserved in its present state since loss or deterioration would reduce or eliminate its ability to perform its museum functions of being a research subject or display item. It is the efforts to preserve, balanced with the needs to reveal and investigate the object and its values which can be understood as conservation (Caple 2000, 33-35). Activities, particularly those associated with preserving the object, that occur without physical interaction with the object can be regarded as preventive conservation. Preventive conservation can be defined as any measure that reduces the potential for, or prevents, damage. It focuses on collections rather than individual objects, non-treatment rather than treatment. In practical terms handling, storage and management of collections (including emergency planning) are critical elements in a preventive conservation methodology (Getty Conservation Institute 1992).


Caple, C. (Ed.). (2012). Preventive Conservation in Museums. Routledge

Book Type Edited Book
Publication Date Jan 1, 2012
Deposit Date Dec 9, 2011
Publicly Available Date Apr 13, 2016
Publisher Routledge
Series Title Leicester readers in museum studies
ISBN 9780415579698
Publisher URL


Accepted Book (604 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Preventive Conservation in Museums on 07/12/2011, available online:

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