Conserving our nation's treasures

Continuing a long standing practice of more than four decades, in October 2006, staff of the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) examined, analyzed, and conserved the Mace of The United States House of Representatives. The work was completed on an extremely tight schedule during the pre-election recess so that the Mace could reassume its official place next to the Speaker's Dais, as its presence is required in order for the House to convene. Disassembly of the Mace and removal and reapplication of its protective coatings allowed scholarly assessment of the master silversmithing and construction dating from the object's creation in 1841, and scientific analysis of the aggressive corrosion that had suddenly plagued the silver and ebony artifact in the 2000s. Noteworthy observations included the probable source of the sudden purplish tarnishing (likely exposure to chlorine dioxide in the airborne environment), and the fabrication method of its large hollow silver globe (cast as a sphere, rather than formed from raised and soldered silver sheet hemispheres.) The protective coating applied to the ebony rods was the MCI-patented furniture polish developed in accordance with the exacting standards of conservation care. The need for an appropriate and effective protective coating for the silver launched a new research project the results of which will be reported in an upcoming publication.