Museum tries to stem disease affecting glass: Chemists are being used to combat a disease that is shattering exhibits. Steve Connor reports

HUNDREDS of precious goblets and vases in the glass collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum are showing signs of an irreversible 'sickness' that ends with the objects collapsing under their own weight.

The glass disease is known as 'crizzling' and begins with the surface of the objects appearing to weep droplets of water or small deposits of salt. Eventually, cobwebs of tiny fractures develop and weaken the glass until it begins to flake. Most glass consists of silica mixed with alkaline compounds. It is the amount and proportion of these alkalis that determine the susceptibility of the glass to crizzling. As the alkalis react with water vapour, the outer surface of the glass begins to shrink, to produce eventually the cobwebs of fractures.

Conservationists have completed a survey of the ceramic collection that shows the problem is worse than curators had expected. They have called in chemists from Imperial College to help stem the crizzling process.

Four years ago, a preliminary survey showed that about 400 of the museum's 7,000 glass objects were affected by crizzling. A more detailed survey this year revealed that 821 objects showed weeping and salt deposition, and 25 were severely crizzled.

Vicky Oakley, a researcher in the museum's conservation department, said: 'It's quite alarming that it is such a high proportion.' The museum is trying to raise pounds 1m to build a new exhibition hall to house its glass collection in environmentally-controlled display cabinets that should stem the deterioration.

'There are pieces in the collection that have got to the point that there is nothing that can be done. When they are in that condition you can't even stick them back together,' Ms Oakley said. At least two items are believed to have collapsed from crizzling.

'Obviously it is worrying that some have reached a stage where they are beyond hope. That's why we're anxious to do something to stem the problem,' she said.

Glass sickness has affected a variety of exhibits from different eras - it can take decades or centuries for an object to disintegrate.

Among the affected exhibits at the V & A are 16th and 17th-century Venetian and Spanish vases and goblets. But crizzling has also taken its toll on 20th-century pieces of Scandinavian and Italian glass.

Oliver Watson, the curator of ceramics, said: 'We are more aware of this problem than many museums. Our collection is particularly rich in those pieces of glass where there is a risk of crizzling.' Until recently it was thought that the problem was restricted to a narrow range of objects, 'but the survey has made it quite clear that we are dealing with a large number of objects that are spread throughout the collection'.

Philip Rogers, a chemist at London University's Imperial College, said that the effects of crizzling depended on the composition of the glass. It could be slowed by carefully controlling the humidity of the air around the affected objects.

'Crizzling occurs as a result of the glass reacting with water vapour in the air,' he said. Using X-rays and electron microscopy, he analysed the chemical changes that took place in a crizzled Venetian glass goblet to understand the process better.

'It is a progressive problem and once it starts it is difficult to see how to reverse it,' Dr Rogers said.

Although polishing the glass with a hot flame, or covering the surface with a plastic film and putting the object in a dry environment, would stop crizzling, such severe treatment could not be contemplated by the museum because it would irreversibly alter the object. If susceptible glass had been exposed to water vapour, then putting it in a dry atmosphere would make it worse because the surface would shrink faster, Dr Rogers said.

Conservationists at the Victoria and Albert Museum agree that the best treatment for arresting the sickness seems to be to put the glass in a display case where the humidity and temperature are then both carefully controlled.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Sport
Harry Kane
premier leagueLive minute-by-minute coverage
News
The letter, purported to be from the 1970s, offered a message of gender equality to parents

When it comes to promoting equality of the sexes, we tend to think that we’ve come a long way in the past 40 years.

News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin