Handling Artifacts Safely

Handling Artifacts Safely
It’s important to be careful when you pick up something old. Here are some tips to keep artifacts safe when you move them.

1. Never pick something up by its handle! That is likely where the object is the weakest, because everyone throughout its life has picked it up from the same spot. Support it from underneath instead.

2. Use both hands. An artifact should be securely in your grasp before you attempt to move it.

3. Only handle one artifact at a time. Never pile things up in your arms the way you might carry things at home. Focus your attention on moving a single artifact, making sure it is secure at all times.

4. Know where you are going to set it down, and clear a path to that spot ahead of time. Clean off your work surface, prop open any doors along the way, and be sure the route you are taking is free of wires, boxes and other hazards so you don’t trip and fall.

5. Wear white cotton gloves if you are handling wood, metal, textiles or paper items – not just documents and photographs, but cardboard boxes too. DO NOT use gloves to handle glass and ceramic items, unless you have the kind with a gripping surface. Wearing regular white cotton gloves increases the chance of a glass or ceramic item slipping out of your hands. Be sure your hands are clean before handling items without gloves.

6. Be “in the present” when you handle an artifact. Most accidents happen because people aren’t paying attention to what they’re doing. Try not to be distracted by your to-do list or anything else that will take the focus away from moving the artifact.

7. Always take your time! Limited staff and resources means you are always trying to do more than you should be. But don’t let an artifact in your care become damaged because you’re in a hurry to get a task done. It is your responsibility to protect historic treasures for future generations to enjoy. Take that responsibility seriously.

8. What should you do if something under your care is broken? Immediately report it to your supervisor, if you have one. Document the damage with photos and a written description for your database. Carefully pick up the pieces of the artifact, being careful not to let them touch each other to minimize further damage. Consult a conservator for your next step.

You Should Also Read:
Tips for Cleaning Artifacts
Raising Money for Collections Projects
Why Do Curators Wear Gloves?

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This content was written by Kim Kenney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kim Kenney for details.