Conservation is a crucial component in the running of any museum. In this post, we join the conservation team as they restore a mail leg.
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.
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 in this piece where several rings have bent or even separated surrounding the existing holes.
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.
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