Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate

X-radiography can often reveal unexpected things about even the most common objects in our collection, this is just one of reasons it is such a useful tool for conservators and curators alike.

During an important project looking at the construction of 17th-century duplex and triplex armour in our collection using a combination of X-radiography, metallurgy and metal hardness testing, one of the triplex breastplates was shown to have a surprising internal construction. Triplex breastplates, as the name suggests, are made of three layers of wrought iron sandwiched together on all sides.

Breastplate front view

Breastplate front view

The aim of this type of construction, which was not known about until the project was undertaken, was to produce a shot-proof armour without adding noticeably to the breastplate’s weight. The way in which the layers of metal in a triplex breastplate are held together, with the outer and inner layers folding together along all sides of the breastplate, mean that the middle layer is totally invisible by any means of non-invasive examination other than X-radiography.

Following the radiography of one particular breastplate it was possible not only to observe the internal metal layer but to see that it in fact consisted of a large portion of an English pikeman’s tasset. In addition to this it was possible to determine that the tasset’s decorative rivets had been removed prior to inclusion in the breastplate and that the surface of the tasset had been decorated with incised horizontal lines to give the appearance that the object was made up of individual lames or strips of metals rather than from one solid piece. Also faintly visible running along the bottom edge of the tasset is roped decoration.

Xray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate (Circa 1650)

Xray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate (Circa 1650)

The breastplate itself is English and dates to around 1650 and was originally part of the Littlecote Armoury which came to the Royal Armouries in the 1980s. The origin of the tasset is not known for certain however it is though to date to around 1630, which if correct means it was in use for around twenty years before being incorporated into the breastplate. Re-use like this is not uncommon as armour and its component metal have long been expensive commodities however, as with the triplex breastplate re-use is often hidden and can only be clearly seen using X-radiography.

As this breastplate reveals any object in our collection, even the plainest or most generic looking, may potentially house hidden secrets waiting to be found.

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservator

Lion Armour on Tour

The Lion Armour is one of most finely decorated and recognisable armours in the Royal Armouries’ collection. As its name suggests the armour is decorated with embossed lion’s heads and is intricately damascened in gold. The armour is thought to have been made for the French King Henri II sometime between 1545 and 1550.  How the armour came to England isn’t known but there a number of 17th-century portraits surviving showing different sitters wearing the armour including General George Monck, Duke of Albemarle (1706–70) in a painting by John Michael Wright.

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

As one of the treasures of the Royal Armouries’ collection the Lion Armour rarely goes on loan, however earlier this year the armour was part of a temporary four-month loan to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris for a special exhibition ‘Under the Aegis of Mars: Armoury of the Princes of Europe’ which ran from March until June. The Exhibition was a unique opportunity for the Lion Armour to take its place along side some of Europe’s most important 16th-century armours from collections across the world.

Technician Giles Storey reinstalls the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

Technician Giles Storey re-installs the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

In preparation for the loan the armour was removed from display and carefully separated in to its eighteen component parts. Each of the parts was extensively photographed before and after conservation and a detail report describing the condition of each piece was produced. These condition reports, which are created whenever an object leaves the collection on loan, travel with their objects and are used to help us to identify and record any changes to the objects which may or may not take place. On arrival back in Leeds in July the armour was checked against the condition reports produced in January for the fourth and final time, after which the armour was carefully re-assembled and placed back on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservator

Flintlock Repair Work

This English flintlock is a William III Land Service musket dating from approximately 1689-1702. The lock-plate is engraved with the cipher of William III and Mary II and the maker’s mark ‘WP’ is stamped on the right side of the lower breech and repeated near the muzzle. The barrel is also marked ‘EG’ crowned, referring to Edward Godward, c.1695-96. The dog-catch of the lock has been previously restored.

Flintlock musket before conservation

Flintlock musket before conservation

The metal components on the flintlock were in very good condition prior to entering the conservation lab as they were only showing yellowed oil on the metal surfaces. The wooden stock was structurally unstable due to multiple large horizontally running cracks appearing mostly around the lock and around the muzzle. A large area of wood loss was present where the barrel is pinned to the stock. Some earlier repair material was present suggesting previous attempts on the cracks with what seemed to be wax. Tinted wax had also been used to fill a deep dent near the muzzle at some point in the past.

After carefully checking that the musket was not loaded, the lock-plate was taken off and disassembled in order to remove superficial dirt and residues with solvent swabs. The barrel was similarly cleaned and the stock was given a mechanical cleaning to rid it of superficial loose dirt. Any previous repair material was carefully removed as it had failed and no longer provided any adherence. The cracks were then refilled with adhesive.

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

The large area of wood loss was a problem as the pin located at the centre of the area of loss was loose as a result. To fix this problem it seemed best to try and refill the gap with a suitable material. The fill needed to be strong but also flexible in order to not get damaged with the wood’s natural movement. The material used needed to be reversible which in addition would make it easier to redo the fill if the first attempt was unsuccessful due to the critical location of the gap. The colour of the fill was also taken into consideration in order to achieve the best colour-matching result.

Tinted polyester webbing provided great support on the inside and helped mould the internal shape of the fill. To help estimate the trajectory of the pin a slightly wider cocktail stick was pushed through the opposite end of the hole which could serve as an outline for the pin and which could be easily removed half-way through drying time.

Blogger: Leila Mazzon, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department

Serious Leg Work

This mail leg, also known as a chasse, is probably Mughal, from 17th century India. It consists of alternating rows of riveted and welded rings tapering towards the ankle.

Mail chasse before conservation

Mail chasse before conservation

Over time many rings have broken leaving holes in the object. As well as being visually disruptive, the holes pose structural problems to mail as if a ring is missing the weight of heavy mail is not distributed evenly putting the remaining rings under strain. The effects of this strain can be seen on this piece where several rings have bent or even separated surrounding the existing holes.

Delicate work inserting new rings

Delicate work inserting new rings

Missing rings need to be replaced in order to prevent further damage to the object. How the replacement rings are made has to be carefully considered. The rings must be of a comparable diameter and thickness to the original rings in order to properly distribute the weight. From a distance they should blend in with the original rings so as not to disrupt the appearance of the object, however they must be easily identifiable as a repair when closely examined in order to avoid confusion with the original material. To comply with the requirements three different sizes of rings were used depending on the location on the chasse.

Repaired chasse after conservation

Repaired chasse after conservation

The replacement rings are butted, meaning the ends of the ring are hammered over each other but not riveted, and stamped with a tiny ‘RA’ symbol to distinguish them from the original rings, before being carefully inserted into the mail. When repairing a piece of mail it is important to follow the original pattern and layout of the links. If a ring is put in the wrong orientation the surrounding rings will tend to bunch together, disrupting the object visually and structurally.

Blogger: Sean Belair, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department

Fake Spotting – Top Tips

Fakers and forgers have always sought to deceive collectors with cleverly constructed copies, but would you be able to tell the difference? Standard thickness plates and screw threads, and spots of metal and scratches from electric or gas welders and evidence of the use of grinding tools are all obvious signs of modern methods. If the clues are more difficult to spot, scientific analysis through x-rays and microscopes can help to reveal the underlying composition of an object.

Duck's Foot Pistol

Duck's Foot Pistol

Here are our top tips on how to spot a fake:

1. Does it work?

Do visors lift as they are supposed to, do hinges open and close, do gun mechanisms operate? Often, logic and common sense are lost in the fabrication of fakes!

2. Does it use the correct materials?

Bronze is often a good indicator; old bronze is yellower, whilst more modern bronze tends to have a reddish hue.

3. Is it like the real thing?

For example, Samuel Pratt’s fake helmets were often much bigger, heavier and more intractable than the genuine articles. It was often impossible to actually wear them due to their weight and shape, and the vision slits were often in the wrong places.

4. Is the style of decoration of the right period and the right subject matter?

Modern aesthetics often feature in later fabrications, particularly in the decoration, as ideas about what looks good change over time.

5. Does it exhibit the right amount of wear/damage?

For example, with Japanese swords, original scabbards are often discoloured/blackened inside from use over time. Modern reproductions are often convincing on the outside, but remain clean on the inside.

6. Is the corrosion/patination in the right place?

These processes tend to reflect how an object has been used and kept over time, showing evidence of where it has been resting, whether it has been exposed, or kept in something, or damaged. With real objects, corrosion and patination is often localized and can be quite severe in places, with areas rusting away to almost nothing. With fakes, corrosion and patination is often evenly spread and too regular. Also, it is very rarely anything other than superficial; fakers are generally loath to spoil their hard work!

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Horsing Around in Conservation

The Royal Armouries Conservation Department currently has a rather special visitor – a life-size model horse.  It was made by Felix Joubert, a well-known designer, cabinet-maker and arms and armour collector of his time. Joubert produced several horses of this type at his Chelsea studios and other examples can be found at the Wallace Collection, and Windsor Castle.

The papier-mache horse and Conservator Alex Cantrill

The papier-mache horse and Conservator Alex Cantrill

This particular horse was created to display the silver and engraved armour of Henry VIII.  Images from the Royal Armouries archive show the horse being craned in to the Tower of London in 1913.

Horse being winched into the Tower of London, 1913

Horse being winched into the Tower of London, 1913

Now painted grey, although originally black, the horse is posed as if being sharply reigned in. It is constructed of papier-mâché formed over an iron framework.  The model is currently in a bit of a sorry state; the tail and one of the ears have almost become detached, a chunk is missing from one of the hooves and there is damage to the papier-mâché surface all the way down the back.  There is evidence of previous repair work having been done but these repairs have now either failed or become very obvious.

Repairing the damage to the tail and ear

Repairing the damage to the tail and ear

During the horse’s stay in Conservation we will be correcting these previous repairs and stabilizing any damage.  Work has already begun on consolidating any flaky paintwork.  This is the first stage, making sure that the fragile surface paint layer is stable and held in place firmly before beginning any more in-depth conservation treatments. We’ll be reporting back on our four-legged friend’s progress so stay tuned!

Blogger: Alex Cantrill, Conservator

Ladies Defend St George's Honour

In celebration of St George’s Day the Royal Armouries has a special connection with local archery club the Bowmen of Adel. The Royal Armouries Arrow was commissioned by the Royal Armouries and presented to the Leeds based archery club in 2005.

Royal Armouries arrow

Royal Armouries arrow

The trophy arrow is housed within our Leeds Museum’s Tournament Gallery for safekeeping, then lent for presentation for the annual competition celebrating St George’s Day. The name of the winner and their club is inscribed on a shield which hangs from a chain attached to the arrow.

Arrow being collected from Royal Armouries Conservator Alex Cantrill by the Bowmen of Adel

Arrow being collected from Royal Armouries Conservator Alex Cantrill by the Bowmen of Adel

This year’s competition was held on Sunday 17 April with 48 archers and their longbows loosing an astonishing 4608 arrows during the tournament! When the scores are in the best 9 archers on the day then take part in a shoot off for the prestigious Royal Armouries arrow.

The shoot off consists of firing three arrows at three distinct targets – a wand like a barber’s pole, a 3D model of a pig and at an effigy of a knight behind an arrow split in a castle wall. For the past three years this competition has been won by a lady archer.

Blogger: Beckie Senior, Communications Officer

Power House – Object Conservation 4

Object: Uniform Coat of the Duke of Wellington c.1835 (xvi.8)

Blogger: Suzanne Dalewicz-Kitto, Conservation Manager

This blue cloth uniform with white lining and scarlet facing was worn by the Duke of Wellington when he was Constable of the Tower of London. It has gilt buttons bearing a miniature of the White Tower in silver, and epaulettes made of gold and silver thread.  The coat is in reasonable condition with only a few small holes and surface grazing of the cloth, probably caused by moths.  The main area of interest to our Conservators were the tarnished metal threads and spangles (sequins) on the epaulettes.

Duke of Wellington's uniform

Duke of Wellington's uniform coat

Metal threads are fragile at the best of time.  Some are made from twisted fine metal wire and others are formed by twisting wire around a cotton or silk thread.  When applying treatments to remove the tarnish Conservators have to be careful not to leave residues behind that will ‘rot’ the thread over time.  On these epaulettes there are eight different types of thread design including: dull purl, pearl purl, bright check and Lizardine close.

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

Detail of the left epaulette before and after treatment

The tarnish was removed by gently cleaning the surfaces with a damp swab using a mixture of carefully chosen chemicals.  This was carried out under a microscope to make sure no metal threads were being pulled away from the epaulette.  Residues where removed again by careful swabbing using deionised water – very pure water that has had any minerals filtered out of it.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London which opens on Saturday 2nd April. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House – Object Conservation 3

Object: Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservation

This musket is one of several experimental firearms which are to be included in the Power House exhibition. The musket was designed and made by the gunmaker Richard Wolldridge who worked at the Tower from about 1704 until 1749. Although this particular pattern or design was not issued to the military its does show the general form which British military firearms were beginning to take in the early 18th century.

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

The musket was is a very good condition prior to entering the Conservation Lab with only a small amount of old yellowed oil visible on the lock. Even though the exterior of the musket didn’t need a great deal of remedial work the lock mechanism was carefully removed from the musket, after of course checking that the firearm wasn’t loaded.

When working with firearms we will always, where possible, remove the lock mechanism in order to check the condition of the lock’s interior as well as the underside of the barrel. Often the interior of a lock can look very different to its external appearance, with combinations of dirt, old oil or wax and corrosion all potentially present.

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Flintlock Land Service Musket (1715) XII.80

Luckily in this case the interior of the lock was in a very good condition with no further cleaning or disassembly needed. The musket was therefore reassembled, making sure that the screws were replaced in exactly the same order they were removed. This is good practise as particularly with older firearms the screws threads will have been hand cut so using the wrong screw can damage both the screw itself as well as the internal thread.

Once the old yellowed oil was cleaned from the musket’s lock using solvent swabs the metallic sections of the object were given a thin coating of Micro Crystalline wax providing a protective layer. Finally the object was photographed and packaged for transport to the Tower of London.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at theTower of London. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.

Power House – Object Conservation 2

Object: Brass belt plate (mid 19th century) I.979 ii

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservation

It’s always nice to work on an object which can be related back to a particular person in history. This belt plate is one of a pair of objects relating to the Board of Ordnance’s only identified rat-catcher, Richard Dean.

The plate is the only surviving portion of Dean’s uniform and he can be seen wearing it in a portrait which is to be displayed alongside the plate. The brass belt plate is engraved with a rat shown sitting below the arms of the Board of Ordnance, whilst around the edge the inscription reads ‘Richard Dean, Chislehurst, Rat Destroyer to the Honorable Board of Ordnance’.

Belt Plate

Belt Plate

In order to make the letters and images engraved on the plate stand out a black enamel-like material was originally applied to the object. Unfortunately over time this material has cracked and in some areas has been lost. Where damage to the enamel had occurred traces of a powdery green corrosion could also be seen.  The powdery corrosion was carefully removed from the damaged lettering and other areas of decoration using a scalpel whilst under magnification. Once clean it was necessary to stabilise the enamel to prevent any further cracking or loss, this was done by running a thin adhesive solution into the damaged areas.

Before and after conservation

Before and after conservation

In addition to the problems with the lettering several finger and palm prints were clearly visible and spread across the plate. When we handle metal objects with our bare hands the sweat and oils on our fingers are transferred to the objects and if not swiftly removed can become etched into the objects’ surface. Sadly there is no way of removing finger prints once they are etched into a metal surface without removing the object’s top layer at the same time. Once fingerprints are imprinted they are generally there for good, which is why conservators always ask people to wear gloves when handling or moving objects.

This object will be featured in our forthcoming Power House exhibition at the Tower of London. Find out more about the work of our Conservation Team on our website.