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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Looking to the Future in Conservation

Left: original seal Right: 3D printed seal

Left: original seal Right: 3D printed seal

Using 3D printing to conserve archives

The Durham County Record Office (DCRO) Conservation Studio does work for a variety of people, including private clients and other archives.  Earlier this year, DCRO were approached to by Morpeth Town Council and Northumberland Archives to see if we could create a replica of a Great Seal to go on display.  The project was undertaken by conservator Zoe Ross who learned a lot about techniques old and new. 

The seal is the first of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and was attached to a parchment charter awarding the district of Castle Morpeth the status of borough in 1974.  Liaising with a conservator at Hertfordshire County Archives with an expertise in seals, it was found that it was most likely made from a form of cellulose acetate.  This can be an unstable medium, and it could not be established what form the seal was made from.  Because of this it was inadvisable to use the usual methods of replicating a seal, which would involve some use of chemicals that could cause deterioration of the seal.  It was therefore decided to look to new technologies for a solution, specifically 3D printing. 

This led to a collaboration with the Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice (AMAP) at Sunderland University.  They had previously done some work with Beamish Museum replicating parts for steam trains, but producing the level of detail required for the seal was to be a learning experience for them too.

Zoe took the seal to AMAP where they scanned it with a laser and used software to create a finely detailed digital model.  This was then printed as a solid object in polymer using a high precision 3D printer.  The reproduction was carefully painted to match the colour of the original.  By a strange coincidence the two versions were almost identical in weight. 

This is a summary of an article written by Zoe Ross, published in Icon News July 2016 (Institute of Conservation).  

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