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Illiam Dhone’s Cap

Posted on 12.01.2016

Illiam Dhone Cap

Cap worn by Illiam Dhone (William Christian)

This kind of cap would have been worn in the evening at home, and was probably very comfy.  It isn’t the same cap as depicted in the famous portrait of Illiam Dhone (1954-6561) but it is of the same age.  It is made from fine linen and is embroidered with floral designs in silver thread.  It is also one of the most fragile objects in the museum collections.

During the early 1970s the cap was conserved by Mrs Jean Glover, a highly skilled textiles specialist based in Preston.  If you zoom-in on the image of the cap you’ll see that the original fabric is merely a collection of islands supported on a new lining made by Mrs Glover using 100 year-old linen, and it must have cost her an enormous amount of time and patience to reassemble all the pieces.  She then covered the cap with very thin silk to protect it – this too you can see in the photograph.

For the past ten years or so the cap has been on display in the Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum, Douglas. Recently I began to worry about the cap because small fragments of silver thread were falling from it and were scattered around it in a curious pattern.  What was causing the silver thread to degrade?  Why were the fragments scattered that way?

I put a small piece of very pure polished silver next to the cap inside the display case.  The piece soon tarnished, telling me the air inside the case was polluted.  I tracked the source of air pollution to the polyurethane foam support Mrs Glover had put the finished cap upon.  Polyurethane foam is now known to be very unstable, and when it decays it gives off formic acid vapour (like ants produce) – more than a match for a 17th century cap!

The scattering of fragments turned out to be caused by vibration through the floor.  This part of the Manx Museum wasn’t designed with the display of fragile objects in mind (it was the Nobles Hospital building), and the floor bounces slightly when visitors pass by.

Today this remarkable object is back on display, but it now sits on a loose support made of inert polyester wadding – the same kind used to stuff cushions and soft toys – that can’t damage the silver threads and that acts as a shock absorber.  And, in a nice twist, one of Mrs Jean Glover’s pupils from the 1970s, Vivian Lockhead of the People’s History Museum in Manchester, has been conserving two more ancient hats for us, both of which once belonged to George Quayle of Castletown.

Christopher Weeks ACR (Manx National Heritage Conservator (Objects))

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