Preserving Generations of Biltmore China and Crystal
More From Biltmore 08/17/15
Written By Jean Sexton
Preserving generations of Biltmore china and crystal is a delicate job.
If you have fine china or crystal handed down in your family, you can imagine the care it takes to clean and preserve all the fragile place settings and glassware in the Biltmore collection!
Generations of fragile china and crystal
There are three generations of china and crystal stored in Biltmore House, and much of it is more than 100 years old.
These fragile pieces of the collection are stored in glass-front cabinets in the two-story Butler’s Pantry, and a comprehensive inventory system helps our conservators keep track of each object.
A unique identification number is assigned to every dish and glass, the location of the piece is recorded, and a digital photo of it is included in an inventory database.
Cleaning all the china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry is a process that takes several weeks to complete. Each piece is dusted, wiped with a mixture of ethanol and water, and dried with lint-free cloths. All the objects are inspected for unstable cracks.
“Most of the cleaning and dusting is done in the Butler’s Pantry, because the less we move such fragile pieces, the better,” said Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator.
During a recent cleaning project, the conservators noticed that some of the crystal on display was suffering from ‘glass disease.’ According to Genevieve, this is a condition where components in the glass structure leach out over time, causing the glass to appear cloudy.
“If left untreated,” Genevieve explained, “it will eventually create a fine network of cracks over the piece.”
The glasses were treated by washing them with mild soap and water, drying them with soft towels, and letting them air dry for several hours.
“By treating them now, we avoid permanent damage from the glass disease,” said Genevieve.
Improving the process of storing crystal and china
In addition to careful cleaning of these fragile pieces, our conservators are always looking for ways to improve the overall process for preserving the china and crystal.
“We recently looked into different types of padding material to keep the china safer, and placed sheets of polyethylene foam between each dish. The material is very stable, so the sheets don’t break down and create chemicals that could harm the china,” noted Genevieve.
Take a behind-the-scenes guided tour
Plan a visit to America’s Largest Home today, and treat yourself to The Biltmore House Backstairs Tour. You’ll experience an in-depth look at servant life at Biltmore with this 60-minute guided tour, including rarely-seen areas such as the Butler’s Pantry as you hear fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate in the Vanderbilts’ era.
Featured blog image: Biltmore conservators Genevieve Bieniosek and Renee Jolly clean china and crystal in the Butler’s Pantry of Biltmore House
How often are the pieces cleaned?
Thank you for your question, Penny!
According to our conservators, the china and glassware are kept in closed storage where they are protected from gathering dust. This means they only need to be cleaned every 10-15 years. Our staff is regularly checking on their condition, and we schedule cleaning when they become dusty.
I never tire of info and visits to Biltmore Estate. Something new every time. Moving from Charlotte to Brevard and now we can get more use out of our annual passes.
When cleaning the China what are the amounts of water and ethanol?
Thanks for your question, Kathy!
According to our conservators, “We use a mixture of 50% ethanol and 50% distilled water for wiping clean the china. Soap is not needed because there is no food residue on the china in storage.”