Removing cork stoppers from specimine jars.

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    • #133243
      Michael Hosking

      We had a donation of historic scientific specimens at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park that we are currently working with. This was a collection of one of the biology teachers at Historic Storer College around the 1930s. Since the college is now part of the park, this fits into our scope of collections. While we are primarily interested in the historic nature of this collection, we don’t want to ignore the potential scientific value as well and want to make the specimens available. This is where the problem lies, we are attempting to get to the specimens to catalog them and some of the cork stoppers are so tight in the container we cannot remove without breaking. I have attempted to upload an image of a jar of these vials with cork stoppers, I hope it is good enough quality. The two questions I have is whether we should pursue removing these cork stoppers that are providing us with resistance? If so, how do we go about it? I am posting this to expand our pool of knowledge, we are also looking into other sources including the NPS conservation center at Harpers Ferry prior to continuing on with this project.

    • #133247
      Ron Kley

      Hi Michael — Let me begin by saying I’m not a conservator, but I have dealt with problems similar to yours, so I’ll offer a couple of suggestions. If possible, I’d experiment with a relatively expendable example.

      1) Try heating one of the tightly corked containers by standing it or holding it in water as the water is heated on a stove. The heat will produce a buildup of pressure in any air that may be present in the container, and this MAY loosen the cork.

      2) Drill through the center of the cork, and remove the periphery by scraping. (Of course,this will inevitably contaminate the contents with cork fragments which may, in some cases, diminish the scientific value of the specimens.

      Note, by the way, that even “successful” removal of corks may compromise the scientific value of specimens. Unless and until you have a clear idea of what the potential scientific value may be, and what analytical procedures may be proposed, the most responsible course of action may be to leave the corks in place and leave the closed containers just as they are.

      By the way, I envy your location! Having been a John Hall fan for decades, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Lower Virginius Island, walking “Hall’s Path,” searching for the exact location of his home, and perusing archival material in the NFNHP library. I hope that your curatorial work may help to increase visitors’ awareness of “my guy” and his industrial accomplishments.

      Ron Kley

    • #133246

      I would just caution when/attempting to open these containers that, unless you are aware of what was or is inside them, you be aware that it could be hazardous to you.

    • #133245
      Bronwyn Eves

      The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections has a listserv that you can subscribe to and post your question.
      I would also caution that opening the bottles will change the concentration of the solvent and would advise keeping them covered if you do remove the corks.

    • #133244
      Michael Hosking

      Thanks all for your responses. Luckily all of the specimen bottles we have in this collection contain dry snail specimens.

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