Looking after your finds:
The first 24 hours for any find often determine the object’s future
stability and the way they are treated can be instrumental in ensuring their
long term survival. Please remember to log your find at (https://eSurv.org?u=WBCT_find_registration)
as it is really important for us to know what we have and where it is – it
is much more reliable to have this information straight away than ask for it
Below are a few tips on handling finds from the canal.
Organic materials (e.g. wood or leather)
Being a naturally wet environment many of the finds will be waterlogged.
For organic material it is important that they are allowed to dry out
slowly. This prevents any shock from a rapid change in environment.
- Wrap organics in cling film or a plastic bag and pierce with a few
- Keep the object in a cool, dark place (the display equipment lock up
in winter is ideal)
- After a week or two (or several months/years if we’re dealing with a
lock gate!) the object should have dried out slowly and can be
- If any mould has grown this should be treated with some methylated
spirits (preferably the colourless type)
Iron does very poorly in wet conditions and so we often find ourselves
fighting a losing battle. Iron has the best chance of survival if dried out
very quickly and then kept very dry.
- Avoid any fibrous packaging materials – cotton wool, etc.
- Pack in a box if possible – food storage containers are ideal, if
not possible a piece of cardboard in a small plastic bag will provide
some rigidity to prevent accidental breakages.
- The display equipment lock-up will have some silica gel boxes for
iron work in due course. Once this is enabled iron objects should be
stored in these air-tight boxes as soon as possible.
The copper alloy finds coming up from the canal so far seem to be in good
condition. They can often withstand a little cleaning if you’re feeling
brave and are likely to survive nicely.
- Allow the object to dry out quickly
If muddy clean with cotton wool buds and if the surface is very solid a
soft toothbrush (avoid wire wool and scourers at all times!) ideally
with some methylated spirits or acetone (not nail varnish remover) but
water will work well as long as it is dried out quickly afterwards.
- Bag and store. As with iron, storing with some rigidity will help.
Ceramics and glass
Large amounts of ceramic are turning up on the canal and although
fragmentary the style of hard fired porcelain means the condition is very
- Allow the object to dry out quickly
- If muddy clean with cotton wool buds and if the surface is very
solid a soft toothbrush (avoid wire wool and scourers at all times!)
water will work well although please no soap.
- Bag and store.
The treasure act states that finds must be declared if they meet certain
criteria (listed below). Luckily finds younger than 300 years old must be
made substantially of gold or silver and have been deliberately buried to
class as treasure. Therefore we have little to worry about but it’s worth
knowing the rules…just in case…
The following finds are Treasure under the Act, if found after 24
September 1997 (or, in the case of category 2, if found after 1 January
- Any metallic object, other than a coin,
provided that at least 10 per cent by weight of metal is precious metal
(that is, gold or silver) and that it is at least 300 years old when
found. If the object is of prehistoric date it will be Treasure provided
any part of it is precious metal.
- Any group of two or more metallic objects of
any composition of prehistoric date that come from the same find (see
- Two or more coins from the same find provided
they are at least 300 years old when found and contain 10 per cent gold
or silver (if the coins contain less than 10 per cent of gold or silver
there must be at least ten of them). Only the following groups of coins
will normally be regarded as coming from the same find: Hoards that have
been deliberately hidden; Smaller groups of coins, such as the contents
of purses, that may been dropped or lost; Votive or ritual deposits.
- Any object, whatever it is made of, that is
found in the same place as, or had previously been together with,
another object that is Treasure.
If you’re interested in finding out some more details here are some
references and further reading…
Canadian conservation institute: CCI Notes
This web page has a list of resources for various materials, a very handy
go to guide.
Portable Antiquities Scheme: Conservation Advice Notes
V&A: Caring for your possessions
I am available for help or advice…
Or there is your friendly local conservation department:
Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre