Sophia Oelman works on the conservation team for Information Age, a brand new gallery about the last 200 years of communication and information technology, opening 25 October at the Science Museum. She tells us about the painstaking process of conserving one of her favourite items in the exhibition: the Super Selector radio receiver
There are a huge range of exciting objects being prepared for the Information Age gallery. As one of the six conservators working on the project, I have the privilege of cleaning, documenting and repairing the objects before they go on public display. My favourite object is the Super Selector radio receiver, made around 1927 in London by Selectors Limited.
The Super Selector appeals to me because of its interesting shape and design – it looks more like a piece of furniture than a modern radio set. The radio has attracted lots of attention because of its size and shape it is commonly mistaken for a wooden PC computer.
The first challenge of working with this radio, was moving it from the storage rooms to the conservation lab at the museum. Although it is called “super portable”, it weighs about ten kilos and is certainly not super portable by today’s standards, weighing one hundred times more than an average MP3 player.
When the object arrived at the museum, there were several areas of damage that needed to be documented and repaired before it could go on display. The main areas of concern were the leather handle, which was powdery and weakened and the textile speaker, which was torn with sections of missing fabric. The object needed to be documented, cleaned, repaired and then documented again to record the changes it went through during conservation.
After inspecting the exterior of the radio I began to look inside. Luckily, there were two keys with the radio set, which allowed us access to the fascinating mechanisms within. Some of the most attractive components are the glass valves. These valves are potentially dangerous if broken as this may cause flying glass, so one of my first tasks, after cleaning the radio, was to pack the valves with tissue to prevent any breakages. After packing the valves, the conservation treatment of the radio receiver involved more cleaning, securing the handle and repairing the textile speaker.
The silk speaker posed the biggest challenge in terms of repair, but after consulting a specialist textile conservator at the National Maritime Museum I decided to cover the fragile silk with toned patches of special conservation silk. I cut the patches to shape, coloured them so that they matched the green colour on the speaker and carefully attached the patches to the speaker frame. This technique prevents further damage to the object from light, physical damage and dust.
The Super Selector radio receiver was a fascinating object to work with and despite the challenges involved, I believe the radio will stay in good condition for visitors to enjoy in the Information Age gallery for many years to come.