Behind the scenes: Fincham’s coat stand.

Museum of the Order of St John Judi McGinley, Museum Assistant

This month I will be guiding you through the techniques that I used to clean a beautifully ornate wrought iron coat stand which originally belonged to a gentleman by the name of Henry Walter Fincham 1860-1952.  In 1925 Fincham was appointed curator of the Museum and Library of the Order of St John, in fact he was the very first curator of the museum.

Fincham in the first museum gallery

The first museum room with Henry Fincham standing by the window.

The below slightly faded image depicts the second floor landing of the East Tower of the museum building. The coat stand  can be seen positioned against the panelled wall to the right of the stained glass window.

old photo of the East Tower landing

Image taken by Henry Walter Fincham circ 1911

The coat stand had been returned to the museum after a long term loan and was covered in years of dust and cobwebs but thankfully no spiders! There were also a few areas that were mottled with bird droppings. This wonderful object was in great need of some tender love and care. We decided to return it to its original resting place on East Tower landing as depicted in the image below.

Coat stand returned to its original resting place

Although the coat stand was made in 1903 during the Art Nouveau period, the early twentieth century was also to witness a revival in the Tudor style of design which was based on forms and patterns that were used during the Tudor period (1485–1603).  The scrollwork, barley twist balusters and up-scrolled feet of the coat stand are all key elements of this period which were later incorporated again in early twentieth century Tudor revival designs and architecture.



A close up image of the scrollwork


One of the barley twist  balusters.


One of the up-scrolled feet.

 It is believed that this coat stand was designed specifically to compliment the Gothic Tudor style refurbishments that were carried out by English architect John Oldrid Scott during the restoration of St John’s Gate which began in 1885.

In the above images you may be able to see the dust that has collected on the surfaces of some of the design features.

You can see the tools that I used to tackle this task in the below images.


From left to right,  a long handled hard bristled brush, a dome headed soft bristled brush,  a flat headed medium bristled brush, a pair of precision tweezers,  a rectangular block of latex sponge known as ‘smoke sponge’, a neutral coloured soft jersey cloth duster, some distilled water and cotton buds and some nylon pop socks.



Our trusty museum vac.

In case you were wondering about the pop socks, they were not part of my cleaning uniform! As I mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, ‘The Crinoline deep clean’, we use pieces of tan or light coloured nylon pop socks or nylon stockings to cover our museum vac nozzles when vacuuming dusty museum objects. This way we are able to examine the dust and debris collected in the nylon to check for any evidence of pests or pest damage or indeed any damage to the object itself. Any evidence of damage found in the nylon such as flecks of paint or wood chips would indicate that the object was unstable and vacuuming would automatically be abandoned to avoid causing further damage.

I started cleaning from the top of the coat stand while standing on a two step stepladder and worked my way down to the hammered copper base. The wrought iron has been galvanized so I was able to start cleaning with hard bristled brushes without fear of damaging the surface.  I brushed the dust and debris into the museum vac nylon covered nozzle as I went, ensuring that I replaced the nylon covering as soon as it became filled with dust and debris.

The layer of dust on the coat stand was thick and ingrained in some areas so I set the vac on a high suction level. I used the flat headed medium bristled brush to clean in and out of the scroll work, the up-scrolled feet and the surfaces of the barley twist balusters.

Before removing the dust from the copper trays that form the base of the coat stand, I used the precision tweezers to remove pieces of grit and debris that had settled on them to avoid scratching  the copper surface when brushing. I then brushed the base under suction using a broad hard bristled brush.

20160520_104305A close up of the hammered copper base.

Once I had removed the loose dust from the entire coat stand, I set about removing the bird droppings using cotton buds dipped in distilled water. After squeezing off the excess liquid I then moved the damp cotton bud in a circular motion over the hardened droppings which softened them for easy removal with a fresh cotton bud.

I next tackled the areas of the coat stand where the dirt was ingrained. I rubbed these areas with the small piece of latex smoke sponge which removed most of the dirt and I finished the process by going over the entire coat stand with the soft jersey cloth.




Et voila! One clean early twentieth century coat stand!

Next month I will be talking about pests again. This time its the Guernsey carpet beetle that will be under the spotlight.




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