Care of Metals in Collections

Metals are ubiquitous in museums. They can be found in historic, decorative arts, numismatic, military, religious, municipal, outdoor art, archaeological, agricultural, industrial, and science and technology collections. This workshop focuses on the nine metals most commonly found in collections: aluminum, copper, gold, iron, lead, nickel, silver, tin and zinc. General information on metals and corrosion is presented on the first day, with examples relevant to the nine common metals. Included is information about the properties and identification of metals, and a discussion of common corrosion products and environments that cause corrosion. The second day deals with two topics chosen by the client. Suggested topics are listed below and must be selected when the workshop is requested.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this workshop, participants will be able to:

  • identify a wide variety of metals
  • identify corrosion problems associated with metals
  • understand the damaging effects of environmental conditions and inappropriate cleaning methods
  • design appropriate storage or display environments
  • provide basic care for common metals


Each day will include four 45-minute lectures and four 45-minute practical sessions. The practical sessions could involve a hands-on demonstration or exercise, a group discussion of problem objects or a tour of metal objects in the host institution's collection.

Day 1 Metals and Corrosion

Day 1 provides a general overview of metals and corrosion. Information is presented on the chemical and physical characteristics of metals as well as metal identification. Corrosion products that form on common metals under various conditions, e.g. indoors, outdoors, buried or in the presence of harmful pollutants, are also discussed.

Day 2 Individual Topics

Day 2 focuses on topics specific to the needs of the client. Available topics are listed below and must be selected when the workshop is requested. Topics for Day 2 (please choose two):

  • archaeological metals including iron, copper, lead, pewter and plated metals
  • industrial metals and problems specific to metals in industrial collections
  • coins and medals found in numismatic and military collections
  • religious and decorative objects, focusing on gold, silver and metallic threads
  • less common metals such as aluminum, lead (and its hazards) and plated metals (tin and zinc)
  • iron and copper, which are common in many collections
  • maintenance of heritage surfaces indoors (general care, housekeeping) and outdoors (artwork)
  • metals associated with furniture hardware (castors, hinges, locks), decorative elements and ormolu
  • other metal-related subjects (other special interest topics may be possible; please contact CCI)

Target Audience

Heritage professionals who survey, care for or treat metals, or who come across metals during the course of their work. This includes conservators, collection managers, archaeologists and staff from museums, living history sites, historical societies, interpretation centres and art galleries.


Lyndsie Selwyn and Monique Benoît



Enrollment Limits

Minimum 10; maximum 16


1 day (Day 1) or 2 days

Special Requirements

This workshop requires a lecture space and workbench facilities that include access to sinks with running water and, depending on the type of practical session, fume extraction. A PowerPoint projector and screen and either a paper flipchart or white board are also necessary.

Learning Resources

  • Understanding flash rusting by Lyndsie Selwyn. This activity is for heritage professionals who want to learn about flash rusting on iron. It is part of the Canadian Conservation Institute’s Care of Metals in Collections Workshop.
  • Understanding how silver objects tarnish by Lyndsie Selwyn. This activity is for heritage professionals who want to learn about tarnish on silver. It is part of the Canadian Conservation Institute’s Care of Metals in Collections Workshop.
  • Metals and Corrosion: A Handbook for the Conservation Professional by Lyndsie Selwyn, published by the Canadian Conservation Institute in 2004. (A 25% discount is available on this title to students with valid ID and to post-secondary institutions within Canada ordering multiple copies.)
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