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Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Magnets to the Rescue for Mounting Paper, Books and Label Text

I have recently been contacted by a conservator at the Winterthur Museum regarding the display of books and archival materials using magnets. As part of the conversation, we discussed the idea of converting the existing display case where small pins and tacks are used to support artifacts into a full magnetic system.

It turns out that a magnetic system is perfectly suited for use with these types of materials. This is especially the case when using a three-part magnetic system. Such a system would use one magnet between two layers of ferromagnetic materials, ie steel. One layer of steel is the actual back wall of the case with the second steel part being the armature as seen in the image below. The use of a three-part system almost doubles the strength of the single magnet, allowing for the support of even heavier artifacts when using the stronger neodymium type of permanent magnet. An example of a two-part system can be found in an earlier post on the mounting of leather gloves.

The variations of two-part and three-part magnetic systems, a) Magnet-to-magnet; b) Magnet-to-ferromagnetic
material; c) Ferromagnetic material-to-magnet-to-ferromagnetic material.

A range of armature shapes and sizes made of either steel or another ferromagnetic material can be created independent of the magnet. Separating the parts allows for each to be stored. Remember the importance of proper storage of magnets.

I recently visited the musée de quai branly, in Paris. The conservator, Eleanore Kissel, generously gave me a tour of the galleries and conservation studios. Below are some images from the visit. The quai branly is unique in that their gallery display cases, designed in 2006, were purposely designed to use magnets. They are perhaps the first museum to so fully embrace a wide use of magnets. Since that time, magnetic systems have become more sophisticated and fine-tuned. It was wonderful for me to see all of the creative solutions each using magnetic force!


Having an entire surface of steel means that artifacts can be placed anywhere on the panel with no marking of the surface. This eliminates the need for filling holes in the wall between each gallery rotation. Steel, with a durable powder-coat, can also be placed in a gallery's deck and ceiling.

The armature for this basket is
attached to the cup with a magnet inside.

Magnets in 'cups' or 'pots' produce a strong pull force. The cups are available with counter-sunk holes for securing into wood or other materials or into a protruding flange as seen in images above. All of these armature elements can easily be moved and readjusted to accommodate fine-tuning.

The 'J'-shaped armature is attached to the back wall with a magnet. A
decorative coat-layer was added to the face of the steel. The armature
elements are discretely placed, to support both the lower and upper edges
of the matted works of art.

A modular system for labels can also be created with flexible magnets behind them. The printed text can then be inserted into an appropriately sized sleeve. A range of products are available for such things and the internet is filled with a variety of ideas demonstrating the range of aesthetic options and prices.


I hope that I have shown the great flexibility that using a magnetic system can offer in displaying a wide variety of artifact types, all without the visitor knowing. 

Learn more about magnets and their many uses in the new publications Magnetic Mounting Systems for Museums and Cultural Institutions. Available for purchase at www.spicerart.com/magnetbook.

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