Objects are at their most vulnerable when being moved. Any move, whether across the world for an international loan, or from one shelf to another in a store room, must be planned with care and follow an agreed procedure.
Cultural items are often unique, fragile and valuable and any move can put them at risk. Damage can be caused by poor handling, fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity and bumps and vibrations during a journey. A risk assessment should be made to decide on the best way to handle, pack and transport the item before the move begins.
Frequent handling will cause damage to most objects so keep handling to a minimum. Oils in hands can cause marks that can’t be removed, particularly on fragile surfaces or guilded frames and furniture. Make sure anyone handling cultural heritage objects has been trained. Clean cotton gloves are best although nitrile gloves will give a better grip.
Plan in advance how you are going to pick up the object and move it. Make sure everyone on the team knows the plan and that there is enough space, time and light. If using equipment such as a ladder or a lifting table, check that it is clean, working well and close to hand.
What to consider:
• Before picking up an item, know where you will put it down.
• Do not lean across other objects to get to one at the back of the shelf.
• Examine the box or packing materials to make sure they are clean and appropriate and that no part of the object has come loose.
• Look for damage or earlier repairs and don’t touch these areas.
• Hold the item from underneath, fully supported, rather than by a handle or a weak point.
• Hold pictures by both sides of the frame or one hand on the side and one supporting underneath. Do not pick up by the top of the frame only.
• When removing books from shelves, do not pull out by the spine.
Packing materials and methods must be suitable for the object and keep it safe and secure during the move. Low-risk objects can be wrapped in soft materials such as foam, tissue and polythene. Make sure materials are acid-free and will not damage the item. Objects already in suitable storage boxes can sometimes be transported in the box.
For external moves, a number of options is available depending on the size, shape and fragility of the object and the length and type of journey. Robust items can be placed in a box or transit frame with cushioning for the move. Small, fragile, valuable, complex items, or those going long-distances, must be carefully packed in purpose-built packing cases to make sure they arrive in good condition.
What to consider:
What is the size, shape and weight of the object? Is it difficult to pick up and handle? How should it be placed in the case? What kind of support or cushioning will it need? If it must be kept in stable conditions, you will need plenty of insulation and to seal the case.
Do you need to include supports, stands, technical equipment or instructions in the packing case? If the case is leaving the building, it must be waterproof or covered with polythene sheeting. How many times will the case be opened and closed? If this is a travelling exhibition, make sure cases and their fixings are strong enough.
There are many ways to move cultural objects so consider the options and choose the most appropriate and best value mode of transport. It is possible to move a small, low-value item across town with two members of staff taking a taxi or public transport. The vast majority of moves, however, will require specialist transport.
Some organisations such as local authority museum and library services or multi-site museums have their own transport. For most organisations, however, a specialist fine art transport agent will be employed. Make sure the agent can work to Government Indemnity Standards and has experience with museums; ask for examples of previous work.
What to consider:
Consider the length of the journey, the number of objects and the size of the shipment. If the journey is long it may require overnight stops. If the object is particularly fragile, the vehicle should have air-ride suspension. If high-value, the vehicle must have a good security system and may also need satellite tracking. Make sure the cases can be strapped securely to the inside of the truck. For oversized or heavy objects such as industrial machinery or large sculpture, a flat-bed truck with lifting gear may be necessary. Vulnerable items may need temperature-controlled transport.
For overseas transport, you will require the services of a transport agent with experience of export procedures. The agent will prepare all the necessary paperwork, escort the shipment to the airport, through cargo until loading to make sure it is handled carefully. For particularly large of heavy shipments, sea freight may be the only option.
• Moves can put objects at risk so must be considered carefully and planned in advance.
• Always do a risk assessment for the move.
• Communicate with everyone in the team and make sure they know what is happening and when.
• Allow enough time to move the object safely.
• Have appropriate equipment and enough people.
• Good packing and an experienced agent are essential for external moves.
• Document the move, making a note of method, equipment, etc., and update the database with the new location.
Advice and training are available. The Committee for European Standardisation has published two Standards on Packing principles for transport (EN15946:2011) and Transport principles (EN16648:2014) as part of Conservation of Moveable Cultural Heritage. In addition, advice and training are available from organisations such as Collections Link, the Museums Association and local area museum networks.Back to top