retr0brite not so right?

Al Kossow aek at
Thu Jul 29 15:59:32 CDT 2010

On 7/29/10 11:39 AM, Richard wrote:

>> For the classic example, Google "Napoleon's Buttons"

Doron Swade, "Napoleon's Waistcoat Button: Modern Artifacts and Museum Culture," Museum Collecting Policies in Modern Science and Technology (London, 1991)

> Given that lots of computing history is currently in private
> collections, and that private collectors like to do things like
> retr0brite their objects, how do museums deal with personal
> collections that are on loan?

Exactly as an object in the museum's permanent collection as far as
preservation practices. We would not bleach an object we didn't own,
for example.

> Do they advise the collector on how
> best to preserve/conserve their objects but not object if the
> collector does things that they wouldn't do?

I think you are the first person to ever ask us this.
The issue would only come up if the objects were offered for donation or
loan. If an object has been repainted or bleached, we'd have to have a
pretty strong case presented for adding it to our permanent collection.

> For another example, consider the case of vintage computing gear where
> the collector has replaced (in a reversible way) the original
> non-switching inefficient power supply with a more efficient switching
> supply.  Or where they have interfaced modern storage to a vintage
> peripheral interface.  As long as they're not soldering directly to
> the board, this is a reversible change and the equipment can be
> restored to its original working configuration.

> However, given the conversation about conservators above it seems that
> this is something a museum would never allow to be done to one of
> their artifacts.  Is it that bad, or am I off base here?

It depends on the goals of the museum. If they want to show running iron,
you'll have to replace things that fail. The PDP-1 project at CHM is the one
we use as an example of best practices for restoring and maintaining a running

Other projects here have been less successful.

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