Find out what collections are made of

Dec 18, 2014

Historic New England’s conservators are always on the lookout for new technology to help preserve our extensive collection. They recently attended an in-depth workshop on handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) units, an important analytical tool.

XRF can quickly and non-destructively determine the elements present in objects as diverse as a jeweled brooch, a painted canvas, or a leather wallet. It allows cubic zirconia to be distinguished from diamond, for example, or lead white from zinc white.

Understanding the materials used in fabricating an object can inform decisions about treatment and storage. This information increases our ability to interpret and provide context for collection objects.

Next month, a handheld unit will be loaned to Historic New England for two weeks, allowing us to test its capabilities and study a variety of historic materials.

Support the preservation of Historic New England’s one-of-a-kind collection with a gift to the Collections and Conservation Fund.