Conservation? Restoration? and Preservation?
What do each of these words mean? Do they all mean the same thing? Or do they each have a particular meaning, especially when dealing with objects and time? Yes and No…let me explain.
Conserve: (verb) to prevent decay, waste or loss of
Preserve: (verb) to keep safe from harm, to keep up, maintain
Restore: (verb) to bring back to a former, original, or normal condition
Essentially, they are very similar, but with subtle differences. Let me give you a conservators point of view, not of mine, but of my teachers.
To conserve an item, or perform conservation on an item is to make an item look as “good as old”, meaning one does not change the item but take what you have and stabilize it or prevent it from going into further decay or disrepair. To return it to a useable state.
To preserve an item, is to take an item as is, and create a safe housing or environment that prevents the decay of the item. Safe meaning neutral, not acidic or alkaline, not moist or hot, just the perfect conditions for the item.
To restore an item, is to take the item and make it look “better than old”, meaning one changes the appearance of the item, possibly, than when it was made originally. Sometimes an item needs this type of work, for instance, when a book I was repairing had been in a fire. The covers were burnt and beyond recognition. The text block of the book needed to be cleaned but could be reused. I then took the text block, washed the pages, repaired the tears and sewed the pages back together. But I could not reuse the covers, so I made new ones and covered the book with new leather.
There are different levels of each type of treatments and each item needs something different. The conservator, with the express desires of the owner or collector will decide on how much or how little to do to an item.