Museum cases are just the same as retail store showcases, but more expensive, right? Wrong! There are many reasons why you should not purchases retail type fixtures to use in a museum setting.
CONSERVATION- Conservatorially sound materials used in construction is perhaps the most important point. Retail casework is not concerned with long term exposure to chemicals and volatile vapors. Therefore they use the cheapest materials to make their cases including particle board, melamine and high VOC paints. VOC stands for Volatile organic compounds which are the parts of paints such as paint thinners and solvents. These types of paints are good for shop displays, but are problematic for museum work
SECURITY- Higher security is an issue with museums. Although jewelry stores may have higher value, they can control access to locks by keeping locks in employee only areas. Museums very often have to keep locks accessible to the general public because display cases are in the round or the access doors are part of the viewing area.
ENVIROMENT- Air circulation and environment control are major issues with museums. Needing cases with a low air exchange rate can exacerbate the need for conservatorially sound materials inside a case. Gaskets and proper building techniques are used in museum casework to keep air exchange rate down to 10% per day or less. At the very least, cases should be designed with dust seals to reduce housekeeping issues.
DESIGN- Clarity through design is key to showing off your collection. Common retail casework use frames to hold glass. Museum casework is best known for being ‘frameless’ in design and construction.
SIZE- Museum cases can be HUGE! Most fabricators that work in the retail environment do not know how to design and build cases that are large or complex.