The Condition Survey is a big project, but it gets done one item at a time. Each item gets graded on a scale from A-F based only on the condition of the garment. As much as possible, I try to avoid letting historical or aesthetic value into the grade. Later, once we have a clear picture of the state of the collection all those other things will come into play. For now, I try to play the roll of emotionless robot when assigning condition grades.
Every once in a while, however, I will make a notation in my spread sheet recommending that a garment be kept in spite of its flaws. This coat, dated around 191o, was one such item.
At first glance it looks to be a fairly good condition. The seams were all still intact, is wasn’t missing any buttons, and there were no visible holes. Closer inspection reveled that there were some nasty looking stains in several locations. Also, when looked at from the right angle, it was clear that the coat had more than a little dirt and dust embedded in it.
The last “flaw” in the coat was an area about 1″ long by 1/2″ wide located on the front of the coat. A large hole had been repaired by reweaving new thread into the area. There appeared to be some trauma to the fabric directly to the left of it, suggesting that the hole was a result of an accident, not deterioration of the fabric. However, it was still a pretty big hole in a prominent location.
I gave the coat a grade of “D” based on these flaws. Meaning that it would be a good piece to keep around as a teaching example, but would require a trip to a conservator for cleaning and repair in order to be used in an exhibit.
So, why recommend keeping a piece that isn’t exhibit ready?
First, this was a real borderline case. The stains are dark, but they aren’t in really prominent areas. The hole is easy to spot, but the repair tells us something about the person who wore the coat. The dust and dirt on the coat are obvious if you are looking for them, but they do blend in with the color of the coat fairly well. The average viewer would likely not notice anything.
Second, I had just looked at two other, similar coats from the same era. This one was in the best condition and it is the only one that has any labels attached. We know from labels at the back of the neck and inside the front pocket that this was made in Detroit at a unionized factory. That added information makes a great deal of difference when it comes to a relatively simple piece like this coat.
So, in spite of its imperfect and humble appearance, this is a piece worth keeping.