Reply To: Best way to display clear saloon bottle


Ella is right to point out that tea (and most other waterbased solutions) will be likely to grow moulds or algae. These will not only look unsightly and require more intervention to clean out and replace, they may also result in etching of the glass from microbial action.
Tap water doesn’t usually stain, but it does leave marks and the longer waterbased solutions are left in glass, the more likely it is to leave marks and the more difficult they will be to remove.
The problem, as is so often the case in museums and heritage sites, is that we are not dealing with the pure world of theory. In theory water is just hydrogen and oxygen bonded in a specific way. In practice water contains minerals, salts, microorganisms, dissolved gases, traces of organic compounds and tiny particles. Even distilled water of laboratory analytical grade purity will gradually accumulate dust from the atmosphere and dissolved gases.
Similarly glass is a complex substance – different mixture and manufacturing conditions can result in glass with a different composition and stability. The conditions it has been exposed to will also have affected it. It may even have begun to devitrify in places.
We have to balance the need to exhibit an item in a way that makes it understandable and enjoyable with the need to reduce or eliminate risk. The primary need in this case, was to show the design on the glass. It would be nice also, to give people an accurate idea of the function of the bottle – are we sure exactly what it contained when in use? However, every time the bottle is handled we increase the risk of physical damage, so we need to avoid unnecessary contact. Adding weight to the bottle may place a strain on it – it is now more than a century old and may have weaknesses or damage that we’re not aware of. Filling a bottle with liquid and placing it among other objects increases the risk to them if something goes wrong. Is it a justifiable or necessary risk?
We have a duty to make sure that nothing we do permanently changes the artefact or increases the risk of damage. We are only the custodians of the object now: others will have to look after it in future and we hope to pass it on to them without additional complications.