Painted Cosmetic Case – RMS Olympic (Sister Ship of the Titantic) 1935

Historic Information

The RMS Olympic (Royal Majesty’s Ship) was the lead ship for the White Star Line’s three Olympic-Class liners; Titanic, Britannic and Olympic.    The Olympic sailed from 1911 to 1935. Its sister ships the Titanic and Britannic both sank, the Titanic on its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912, and the Britannic in 1916 as a WWI hospital ship.

This Cosmetic Box that we treated was presented as a gift from the officers and men of the RMS Olympic to a passenger having made their 10th Atlantic Crossing probably during the 1920’s.

Artifact's Condition Prior to Treatment

The wooden lockable cosmetic box (3”h x 11”w x 9”d) was covered with parchment on the outside.   The case has three hinged lids, two open one to each side and the other central lid to the rear.    The central lid has a glass inset mirror.   The interior was covered with green leather with two silk damask side pockets on the interior of each side lid.   There was a green silk damask covered interior compartment with a white parchment tab.   The hinges and hardware are all chrome plated brass.   There was a lock on the front side of the box with a key.    It is incised “British Made” with a patent number.     Nine glass cosmetic jars of differing sizes with white Bakelite lids fit snugly into the box.   There are three hand painted decorative scenes with one on each of the parchment covered hinged lids.   The left lid depicted the flag of the White Star Lines, the central circle depicted the Olympic, and the right lid showed the Statue of Liberty.   The large jar inside had a crack in the Bakelite lid.   There was ground-in dirt and grime on all surfaces of the exterior and interior of the parchment and silk damask.   The cloth edged mirror in the back lid was only secured along the top edge.   The mirror had been removed in the past and had been unsuccessfully reattached using an Elmer’s glue-like adhesive.   Some of the interior paper and card lining materials under the mirror had been damaged and were missing.   There were areas of minor copper corrosion on the hardware.  The parchment has shrunk to some extent throughout the entire piece.   This has caused it to detach from the wooden substrate and the vertical corner joints on the main box and all three lids are gapped apart.  The top central lid of the case had bowed concavely when viewed from outside.

Treatment of the Artifact

The Cosmetic Box was thoroughly examined at our conservation facility and a written report of its current condition, history and proposed treatment was prepared for the client to review.     The treatment will be recorded with digital photography before, during and after treatment.    The interior jars were removed and all were washed with a mild detergent followed by a deionized water rinse.     The cracked Bakelite lid was mended with a synthetic resin and lightly clamped until cured.    The exterior and interior parchment surfaces were cleaned with crumbled white erasers.    This was followed by an enzyme cleaning of the outer surface to remove residual dirt and grime.  Minor corrosion on the lock and hinges were removed with a surgical scalpel under magnification.    The hardware was cleaned and degreased with organic solvents and coated with lacquer.    The interior silk damask was vacuumed lightly through a nylon screen and leather coverings were cleaned with a dilute detergent.  Delaminating parchment was secured with a synthetic resin adhesive and held in place with clamps until dry.   Losses in the gold paint were inpainted with mica powders mixed with varnish.   Black missing portions of the lettering were inpainted with conservation grade paints.    Flaking paint around the central design of the Olympic was consolidated with a thermoplastic adhesive and set down with a tacking iron when dry.    The bottom rear edge of the mirror was affixed to the inside of the central lid with Mylar tape backed Velcro.    This repair was done in such a manner that it could be easily taken apart in the future to study how the lid to the case was made.    Minor surface accretions were removed mechanically with a scalpel.   Some visible nail heads on the sides of the exterior of the case and some visible wooden substrate areas were also inpainted with conservation grade paints.    The interior jars were place back in their original positions and the artifact was returned to its owner.

Photographic Documentation