Preservation Best Practices and Scientific Arrangement: Environmental Monitoring in a Victorian Science Museum that Maintains the “Systematic” Scheme


The Wagner Free Institute of Science is a natural history museum and educational institution devoted to free education in science.  Incorporated in 1855, its museum collections were assembled during the 19th century and encompass more than 100,000 specimens, representing all branches of the natural sciences. It also houses a research library of 45,000+ volumes, primarily of scientific texts published between the late 16th to early 20th century. The Wagner occupies its original building, erected during the Civil War and opened in 1865. The building and the interior were substantially renovated in the 1880s, including new interior finishes and furnishings, and is largely unchanged from that time. The exhibits, arranged by biologist Joseph Leidy, are still in place in their original wood and glass cabinets. In 1901-03, a one-story library wing was added that initially served as the first branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and now houses the Wagner’s library and archives.

Today, the Wagner is a unique example of an intact 19th century museum and library.  Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990, its mission was expanded to include preserving the building, exhibits, and collections and interpreting them in the context of the history of science. Since then, the Wagner has developed a systematic approach to preservation and conservation that seeks to maintain the integrity of building and collections as an exceptionally intact and inseparable ensemble.  This talk will focus on past and current initiatives that address environmental conditions and sustainability.

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