Plastic toy soldiers, a lost battle? – an analytical perspective
Keywords:Plastic objects, Multi-analytical method, Cellulose acetate, Triphenyl phosphate, Dimethyl phthalate
The conservation and preservation of museum collections requires a detailed understanding of their constituent materials which are often natural, synthetic or semi-synthetic polymers. The use of a wide variety of instrumental techniques can give an extraordinary amount of quality information, by delivering complementary data regarding composition and structure. This study was triggered by the Oporto Military Museum (Museu Militar do Porto) conservators who observed that a set of plastic toy soldiers dating back to the middle of the 20th century from the museum exhibition started to present severe and accelerated degradation process. With this is mind, the authors envisaged a methodology for the characterisation of these soldier toys that compromised elemental, structural and morphologic analysis, to allow the identification of polymers, their additives, and the degradation products. The methodology comprised stereoscopic microscopy and VP-SEM-EDS to recognize the micromorphology, ATR-FTIR to identify the polymer, 1H and 13C NMR to identify their additives, and micro-XRD to identify degradation products with a crystal structure. With this complementary analytical approach the composition of the toy soldiers was identified as being made of cellulose acetate plastic with triphenyl phosphate and dimethyl phthalate as major additives, and crystallyne efflorescence of triphenyl phosphate were identified as a degradation product. This methodology shows to be very adequate for a detailed characterization of plastic artefacts in museum environments.
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