Lincoln Home
Historic Furnishings Report
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(Diana R. Pardue)

This section contains instructions on maintaining a safe environment for museum objects in the historic house, performing necessary collection maintenance, and maintaining adequate security. See Part D for potential sources of assistance in implementing this section.


Maintaining a stable environment within a furnished building is crucial for long-term preservation of the historic furnishings. Part C contains a list of elements destructive to historic furnishings (Agents of Deterioration), and includes recommended light and humidity levels to sustain a proper museum environment.

1. Temperature/Relative Humidity

The park is installing a heating and air conditioning system in the Home so that the climate can be controlled. Once this installation is operating, the relative humidity and temperature should be maintained constantly at the recommended level, without regard to time of day or season. Temperature and humidity readings can be taken on a regular basis to determine how well the climate control system is working. Recording hygrothermographs should be placed on the first and second floors, out of reach of curious visitors, but in rooms containing historic furnishings. These weekly charts will indicate if there are any problems with the existing climate control equipment and help to justify any needed changes.

An average internal relative humidity of 55% should be maintained year round. Recognizing the difficulty of such precise control and taking into consideration the needs of the historic structure, an acceptable alternative is 45% or higher relative humidity in the winter and 65% or lower in the summer. Such a broad range in relative humidity is acceptable only if the change from the wintertime low to the summertime high, and back again, is slow and regular. The daily relative humidity should vary less than 5% and monthly variations should occur at a rate of 1-2%.

Ideally the inside temperature should be about 70°F year round. However, an acceptable temperature for winter is 60°F, and for summer 75°. Changes in temperature must also occur gradually following the same rates as with relative humidity. (Manual for Museums pp. 67-69; Conserve O Grams 3/6 and 3/7)

2. Light

Controlling both visible and ultraviolet light will prevent fading and weakening of fibers in organic materials (wood, textiles, paper, leather).

Ultraviolet filters that also filter some visible light should be placed on the windows in all of the furnished rooms. The window shades should also be used by lowering them as necessary to reduce the amount of direct sunlight coming into the rooms.

Fluorescent lighting is more harmful to objects because of the higher ultraviolet levels. The fluorescent lights above the doors must be removed. Lighting from the hallway should be sufficient to allow visitors to see the furnishings and get a more realistic sense of what the house was like when the Lincolns lived there, before electricity. If any type of additional artificial lighting is needed, incandescent lighting with low light levels should be used.

The length of time the furnishings are exposed to light can be reduced by eliminating the fluorescent lights and completely lowering the window shades when no visitors are present. (Manual for Museums p. 69; Conserve O Grams 3/3, 3/4, and 3/5)

3. Dust/Insects/Rodents

The park has a contract with a local company to fumigate the house monthly. This contract should continue. Once the climate control system is installed, the windows and doors should stay shut, eliminating a significant source of dust and insects.

Insect and rodent inspections by the park staff should occur weekly, and appropriate actions taken where needed. To minimize insect and rodent activity, food and drinks should not be allowed in the house.

(Manual for Museums pp. 65 and 69-77; Conserve O Grams 3/9 and 3/10)

4. Fire

As indicated in Section B, page 3, the house has a fire detection system that includes both ionization detectors and fixed temperature detectors. This system is connected directly to the Springfield Fire Department on a constant basis. Installation of a fire suppression system is now being studied by the Physical Security Coordinator in the Midwest Regional Office. In the meantime, hand extinguishers should be readily available in the Home and all staff members should know how to use them.

The park should invite senior officials and battalion chiefs in the Springfield Fire Department to visit and inspect the house, to become thoroughly familiar with the Home and its furnishings so that they can fight a fire there with minimal damage from hose streams and possible forced entry. This visit should take place twice a year.

An emergency action plan should be available for implementation in the event of natural disasters, fire, civil unrest, and bomb threats. It should delineate responsibilities of park employees to minimize danger to life and property. The staff must be made aware in advance of actions designed to save the more valuable museum objects. A plan for the safe evacuation of visitors and staff must be posted.

Fire drills held on a regular basis are one of the best ways to ensure the proper response to an emergency. Thinking out responses ahead of time makes dealing with the real emergency much easier.

Good housekeeping can be the most important single factor in the prevention of fire. No smoking should be allowed in the furnished sections of the house.

(Manual for Museums pp. 77 and 292-297; Conserve O Gram 2/4)

5. Security

Protection of the furnishings is provided by visitor barriers, mechanical intrusion systems, and park employees. See Section B, page 3, for more detailed information on these three security systems.

The number of people visiting the house should not exceed fifteen per interpreter so that the interpreters are able to keep an eye on the visitors. Hopefully, the presence of the interpreter(s) will act as a deterrent to vandalism or theft.

Park employees must insist that visitors do not touch the furnishings. Only the Museum Aide and any necessary assistants should handle the historic furnishings and then as little as possible, and only with clean hands. Metal objects should not be handled without clean cotton gloves.

Small objects can be protected from unnecessary handling or theft by placing them out of reach of visitors, or securing them to large objects. Reproduction objects should be used in place of historic objects if proper protection otherwise cannot be provided.

Park employees should conduct walk-through examinations and visual inventories several times daily. Missing or damaged objects should be reported immediately to the Superintendent, and Incident Reports (Form 1O-434A) completed and sent to the Regional Office.

The museum records system is an additional security device. An up-to-date system contains object locations and descriptions. Most of the furnishings are accessioned and catalogued but objects acquired from the State of Illinois need to have the State inventory seals and metal I.D. tags removed to avoid any confusion. Additionally, some of the objects are numbered incorrectly or no longer have catalogue numbers on the objects. These objects must be renumbered to ensure proper accountability.

Location files, part of the records system, should be established, using salmon-colored catalogue cards (Form 10-254A). Each card should contain the object name, location (building, room, where in room), a brief description, catalogue number, and accession number. These cards should be kept in the house and organized by room, type of object (chair, table, painting, etc.), and numerical sequence by catalogue number.

Photographs showing object placement should be available for each room. Depending on size, rooms can be photographed in sections of four or more, and labeled A, B, C, etc. The contents of closets can be included. These photographs can be kept on Print File Cards, (Form 10-30), and filed by room. The park has started a security slide file of furnishings in the Home. This file should be completed and incorporated with the photographs showing object placement.

(Manual for Museums pp. 77-78, 79-82, 278-291, and 281-297; Conserve O Gram 2/4)

6. Specific Conservation Considerations

1. Objects should never be placed next to, or on top of, functioning heating or air conditioning ducts, which will dry out wood, textiles, leather, and paper objects.

2. When placing objects such as lamps, candlesticks, books, and other small objects on other materials (textiles, finished wood surfaces, paper, or leather), protective barriers should be placed between the objects to prevent the transfer of corrosion or chemicals, and to evenly distribute weight. Suitable protective barriers are: acid-free cardboard; museum mat board (100% rag); or polyethylene foam. An example is placing a circular disc of acid-free cardboard between a candlestick and a finished wooden mantel.

3. Pages of open books should be turned weekly to avoid excess damage to any two pages or the spine of the book.

4. No historic papers should be exhibited merely to recreate an historic scene; modern copies will have the same overall effect. Copies should be replaced monthly to create a fresh appearance.

5. Garments should be hung on either padded wooden hangers or padded pegs. Polyetheylene foam or cotton batting, covered with cotton muslin, forms good padding. Only very strong textiles in good condition can bear the strain of hanging.

6. All framed paper materials (such as prints and photographs) should be matted with 100% rag board and framed according to Conserve O Gram 13/1. Photographs should be matted with 100% rag board that has not been buffered.

7. Objects stored in drawers and cabinets need to be removed and stored correctly in the museum storage area.

8. Real food can be displayed in the house only if it can be in sealable containers or removed from the Home when it is not open to the public (overnight and on holidays). Having food laying around in the kitchen certainly brings life to the room but at the expense of attracting insect and rodent infestations.


The Superintendent is responsible for the collection; all collection maintenance, as well as cleaning materials, must be approved by her/him. The Museum Aide responsible for collection maintenance should receive curatorial training, available through the National Park Service and through other institutions as appropriate to his/her curatorial duties.

General Rules for Handling Objects

1. Be aware that the objects should be treated respectfully. Haste makes for bumped, scratched, and broken objects; always schedule enough time to complete the task. Be thorough, but remember that over cleaning may be as harmful as no cleaning. Be gentle rather than enthusiastic.

2. Fingerprints leave deposits of dust, water, and oils where pockets of corrosion develop on metal objects. Always wear clean white gloves when handling metal objects (silver, brass, copper, steel, and iron) and leather objects. When the gloves become soiled, wash them in Ivory soap--do not use bleach. Always have clean, dry hands when handling other types of materials

3. When moving any object, support that piece. Carry only items that can rest securely in both hands, and carry only one thing at a time. Never lift anything by its handle, spout, ears, rim, or any other protruding part. Support it from below at the base and at the side. Moving large pieces of furniture requires two or more people so that mishandling by tugging, pulling, and sliding is avoided. When several objects are moved that are small enough to fit in a basket, pad each object (along with the basket). Do not stack objects on top of each other. Do not allow parts of objects to protrude from the basket (or any container) while in transport. The loaded basket must be light enough to be carried easily.

4. Moving objects displayed above fireplaces or on high shelves require two people, using a ladder. One person should ascend the ladder, and using both hands, carefully transfer the object to the person on the ground. Lids or any removable parts should be firmly affixed or removed before moving.

5. Carry chairs by their seat rails; large upholstered chairs should be carried by two people. In most cases, tables should be supported by the skirt.

6. Plan ahead. Know where you are taking an object, what obstacles are on the way, and have the pathway cleared and padded if necessary.

7. If something breaks, report it to the Superintendent. Save all the fragments and keep them together.

General Recommendations for Using This Housekeeping Schedule

1. Discretion and sensitivity must be applied in following this housekeeping schedule. Dusting and cleaning museum objects should be based on need and condition. Cleaning frequency may vary, depending on the location of the object in the house (for example, if it is close to an exterior door), the season of the year, and the level of visitation. Judgment should be exercised accordingly by the person with curatorial duties. The less handling an object receives, the longer it will survive.

2. When dusting, the dust should be removed--not just pushed around. When some objects are dusted with a dry cloth or artist's brush, use a vacuum cleaner to pick up the dust that is lifted off of the object and into the air. Vacuuming is the best method of dusting, but a variety of suctions should be used, depending on the stability and age of the object or surface. A plastic mesh screen should be used on fragile surfaces to relieve strain. Metal, glass, and ceramic objects on mantels or high shelves should be dusted in an area removed from the furnished area. When clean, they can be returned to their exhibit location. Be very careful when handling these objects --this action requires two or more people.

3. During seasons with lower visitation levels, the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks can be done with less frequency. Biannual tasks should be done in the spring and at the end of fall. Annual and biennial tasks should be done during winter months.

Specific Recommendations

Ceramics and Glass

Once a year, ceramic and glass objects should be examined to see if additional cleaning is needed. Clean these objects according to the directions in Conserve O Gram 8/2. Do not immerse unglazed portions of earthenware. Instead, wipe these sections with a damp cloth or artist's brush.


Dust with a clean cotton cloth. Once a year, examine to see if more cleaning is necessary. Clean by using a damp cloth. If dusting is done on a regular basis, more cleaning should not be necessary.


1. Vacuuming: Fibers should be tested initially for stability. Turn the suction down to the lowest level. Carefully vacuum a small, unnoticeable section of the textile, holding the plastic mesh screen over the textile to eliminate strain. Then check the area vacuumed for loose fiber ends. If none are visible, continue vacuuming the textile using the brush attachment. Use the plastic mesh screen on fragile areas to eliminate strain.

Vacuum upholstered furniture using the upholstery attachment and, where needed, the plastic mesh screen. Place the screen against the upholstery and vacuum over it. Work dust out of corners, pleats, and tufts with a clean brush attachment.

2. Cleaning: Reproduction textiles can be dry-cleaned by a dependable dry cleaner, once a year or as needed. Historic textiles should be cleaned by a professional textile conservator. If there is a question as to whether a textile can be cleaned by the curatorial staff, consult with the Regional Curator or the Textile Conservator in the Division of Conservation.


1. Brass, copper, and silver objects should be polished and lacquered to avoid polishing every year. A coat of lacquer should last a long time (around 10 years); inspect objects yearly for tarnished spots, indicating that the lacquer needs replacing. (See Manual for Museums pp. 66, 244, 249, and 258.)

Lacquering can be done on contract. Contact the Regional Curator for assistance with this project. The Metals Conservator, Division of Conservation, can be consulted for additional assistance.

2. Iron and steel objects can develop rust and corrosion. If this occurs, see Conserve O Gram 10/1 for information on further treatment.

3. Stoves can be polished with stove blacking.

4. Excessively dirty metal objects can be washed. Do not wash objects with sections made of other materials, such as bone or wood. If dusting is done regularly, washing should not be necessary. Washing should never occur on a regular basis.

Procedure for Washing:

Wash in warm water and non-ionic detergent; rinse in clear water and dry completely with a soft clean cloth.

5. Pewter should be polished only when absolutely necessary; a light coat of microcrystaline wax is usually sufficient for protection. Wash only if the object is very dirty; this dirt build-up should not occur if the objects are dusted regularly. Do not wash on a scheduled basis.

Procedure for Washing:

Wash in denatured alcohol; rinse well in distilled water and dry with a clean cloth.


Procedure for Cleaning:

Equipment: Soft, clean cloths, pail of clear water, gloves, sponge.
Procedure: Vacuum clean. Damp wipe the hearth with a sponge dipped in clear water. Dry with a soft, clean cloth.

Maintenance Staff Projects Accomplished in Consultation with Superintendent


Biannual Cleaning: The windows should be washed inside and out. No liquid should run onto the wooden framework. The Museum Aide washes the interior of the windows; the maintenance staff washes the exterior.

Equipment: Two people, ladder, chamois, pail, sponge, cleaning solution.

Dust window panes and surrounding framework.

Dampen sponge in cleaning solution and use overlapping strokes to wash each pane. Remove dirty water from the pane with chamois.

Change water when it becomes dirty.

Ventilation System

Biannual Cleaning: Contact the maintenance staff and request them to clean the HVAC ducts and registers. The heating and air conditioning equipment should also be cleaned; any filters should be cleaned and replaced.

Housekeeping Schedule


1. Vacuum floors and baseboards. Do first floor one day, second floor the next day.

2. Dust stairway balusters and railings with a clean cotton cloth sprayed with Endust. Alternate floors as above.

3. Damp wipe surfaces extensively handled by visitors (room barriers, woodwork, entrance and exit door handles, and stair railings).

4. Vacuum floor covering for visitor traffic.

5. Set clocks and wind as needed.

6. Check condition of live plants and flowers.


1. Dust finished wood furniture with a clean cotton cloth sprayed with Endust. Dust unfinished and painted wood objects with a clean cotton cloth. Dust all parts of the piece including the out-of-the-way places. Use a soft cotton swab if necessary (Conserve O Gram 7/8). During periods of high visitation, dusting may be needed more often.

2. Dust ceramic, glass, paper, baskets, and other small objects on display using a clean dry cotton cloth. Use an artist's brush on intricately decorated objects and art objects. Do the first floor one week, the second floor the next week. Dusting can be done on a weekly basis if needed because of high visitation.

3. Vacuum leather materials, books, and lamp shades, using a gentle suction through the plastic screen. Wear clean cotton gloves. Do floors alternately as above.

4. Dust metal objects and marble, using a clean, dry cotton cloth. Always wear clean cotton gloves when handling metal. Do floors alternately as above.

5. Clean soiled gloves in Ivory soap; rinse and dry.

6. Water live plants; change flowers if needed.

7. Change vacuum cleaner bag.

8. Vacuum hearths, mantels, and fireplaces.

9. Spot clean floor covering for visitor traffic.

10. Check for evidence of insects and rodents. (See Manual for Museums pp. 71-77.)


1. Vacuum the curtains, window shades, and lighting fixtures.

2. Vacuum upholstery on historic furniture, using gentle suction and a clean upholstery attachment. Fragile areas should be vacuumed through a plastic mesh screen to decrease strain. Always vacuum in the direction of the nap if the material has a nap.

3. Dust frames (picture and mirror), using a lens brush, or with carved gilt frames, blow with a small ear syringe (do not touch the frame with the tip).

4. Glass on mirrors and pictures may be damp wiped (if needed), using a sponge dipped in glass cleaner (Conserve O Gram 8/2) and squeezed almost dry. Do not let the moisture get on the frame or under the glass.

5. Replace scattered paper with fresh sheets.

6. Refold folded textiles along different lines to reduce stress.

7. Spot clean walls with a clean, water damp cloth and dry.

8. Vacuum tops of doors, window sills, bookcases, and other ledges in reach of the floor.

9. Examine exhibited objects to determine if active deterioration is occurring and if specialized conservation treatment is needed.

10. Damp mop/buff the ceramic tile and wood floors.


1. Vacuum ceilings, high walls, and other areas requiring ladders for access.

2. Clean kitchen floor following procedures in the Manual for Museums, pp. 222-231.

3. Wash and dry windows.

4. Clean ducts and registers.

5. Clean or replace filters in the heating and air conditioning systems; clean this equipment.

6. Take objects out of cupboards and bookcases; dust objects as well as shelves, using a clean, dry cotton cloth.


1. Check metal objects for corrosion, rust, or tarnish; treat if necessary.

2. Wash and dry ceramic and glass objects, if necessary (Conserve O Gram 8/2).

3. Clean woodwork (not furniture) by wiping with a clean, damp cloth and dry immediately.

4. Clean hearth, mantel, and fireplace (only if necessary).

5. Dry clean or wash reproduction curtains and bed linens if needed.

6. Clean floor covering for visitor traffic.

7. Black stoves if needed.


1. Clean and wax finished wood furniture (Conserve O Grams 7/2 and 7/3).

2. Damp wipe and dry painted wood and raw wood objects, using a clean cloth with water (Conserve O Gram 7/2).

3. Clean exposed wood floors by stripping, waxing, and buffing (Conserve O Gram 7/4).

4. Dry clean reproduction drapes if needed.


Proper care of a museum collection consists of reducing the rate of deterioration to a minimum by housing the collection in a safe environment. A safe environment will prolong the life of an object and minimize conservation treatment. Prevention is always better than treatment.

The Manual for Museums includes a chapter on caring for a collection. The sections on agents of deterioration (pp. 67-82) and climate control (pp. 83-91) should be read carefully. Another good source to become familiar with is The Museum Environment by Garry Thomson. It contains useful information on lighting, humidity, and air pollution.

Damaging conditions are:

Too much or too little humidity

45% - 65% is an ideal range; metals and photographs do best at 40% or below. At very low levels, organic materials dry out and become brittle; at high levels mold may develop on organic materials and metal will begin to corrode. Manual for Museums pp. 67-68 and 83-89.

Too much or too little temperature

60°-70°F is the best range, cool enough to prevent mold but warm enough to permit working comfortably. The greatest danger lies in the variation of temperatures. Rapid and wide variations can cause dangerous expansion and contraction of some objects. Manual for Museums pp. 68-69, 83-86, and 89.

Too much light *

50 Lux
(5 Footcandles)
Textiles, watercolors, prints and drawings, paper, wallpapers, dyed leather most natural history objects (botanica specimens, fur, feathers, etc.).
150 Lux
(15 Footcandles)
Oil and tempera paintings, undyed leather, horn, bone, ivory, and oriental lacquer.
300 Lux
(30 Footcandles)
Other objects.
*Garry Thomson, The Museum Environment (London: Butterworths, 1978), 23.

Ultraviolet light should be filtered out. The length of time an object is exposed to light is equally important. Use light only when necessary. Manual for Museums pp. 69, 86, and 90-91.

Chemical Air Pollution

Common air pollutants include industrial fumes, motor vehicle exhausts, and salts from the ocean. Materials such as unseasoned woods, paints containing lithopone (in the pigment), unpainted hardboard, acidic papers and plastics also release harmful vapors. These materials should be avoided in construction of exhibit cases or storage equipment. Manual for Museums pp. 70 and 91.


It acts as an abrasive, provides nuclei for moisture condensation and will soil the surface of objects. Once an object is covered with dust, the removal process can accelerate wear and increase the possibility of physical damage. Manual for Museums pp. 69-70 and 91.

Mold (also called mildew)

This growth probably destroys more objects than anything else. It will grow on any organic object in an atmosphere of more than 65% RH and 80°F. Look for velvety patches or areas of discoloration. Avoid warm, damp environments. Manual for Museums pp. 70-71 and 39.


The most common insects to watch for are powder-post beetles, clothes moths, silverfish, dermestid beetles, and cockroaches. Their damage is rapid and irreversible. Manual for Museums pp. 71-76.


In a very short time these animals can destroy a collection by their eating and nest-making. Watch for droppings, signs of gnawing and rodents themselves. Manual for Museums p. 77.


A fire can wipe out an entire collection very quickly. Keep flammables in special fire-resistant containers. Work out a fire emergency action plan with staff and local fire-fighting organization. Manual for Museums p. 77.


Human hazards to the collection are careless handling (by visitors and staff), vandalism, and theft. The security of the collections depends primarily upon the staff. Manual for Museums pp. 77-82.


Persons responsible for the care and protection of museum objects should be familiar with Ralph Lewis' Manual for Museums (National Park Service, GPO, 1976), the Conserve O Gram series, and the NPS Museum Handbook Sections in the Manual for Museums which are particularly useful for implementing these recommendations are Chapter 4, "Caring for a Collection," pp. 61-112; Chapter 11, "Housekeeping," pp. 204-259; and Chapter 12, "Protection," pp. 260-298.

Other useful publications are:

Committee on Libraries, Museums, and Historic Buildings. Protection of Museums and Museum Collections 1980. NFPA 911. Boston: National Fire Protection Association, Inc., 1980. One of the best sources on fire protection and prevention, specifically written for museums.

Edwards, Stephen R., Bruce M. Bell, and Mary Elizabeth King. Pest Control In Museums: A Status Report. Lawrence, KS: Association of Systematic Collections, 1980. a good guide to pesticides, their use in museums, and common insect pests.

Thomson, Garry. The Museum Environment London: Butterworths, 1978. An excellent source of information on light, humidity, and air pollution.

Useful audiovisual programs are:

"Housekeeping Techniques for the Historic House," "Museum Fire Security," and "Site Security." These programs are produced by the American Association of State and Local History.

Additionally, the Regional Curator, Midwest Regional Office, and the Curatorial Services Division, WASO can provide assistance and further information for managing the museum collection.

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Last Updated: 08-Feb-2004