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Spices in the display environment

International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works
Publication Date
  • Am Museums (General). Collectors And Collecting (General)
  • Chemistry
  • Design


Unprocessed vegetable products such as spices are increasingly being introduced into museum displays that seek to provide a more accessible and not solely visual sense of other cultures and historical periods. Because of their aromatic nature, there is always the suspicion that such materials may emit damaging volatile organic compounds. This creates a quandary for the museum conservator in advising on the design of exhibitions; little experimental or other empirical evidence is available to clarify whether such materials actually do emit volatile compounds of a kind which would endanger other exhibits. One of each of the morphological categories of plant spice was tested by ambient temperature and heat-accelerated corrosion tests with metal tokens, but this provides only limited indications of how the substance might affect organic materials. To clarify the potential threat to a wider spectrum of museum objects, emissions from spices, generated both from simulated aging experiments and from museum displays, were analyzed by headspace desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry using Tenax cartridges to trap the chemical components of the volatiles emitted. This report discusses the potential for these components to initiate deterioration in other museum objects and the effectiveness of various palliative measures.

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