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Shell Collector's Cabinet

A seven-drawer shell collector's cabinet had clearly been lovingly put together but had become dirty and neglected over time, with the shells entangled in old cotton wool. Hog & Fitch were delighted when its owner asked us to clean it and make it ready for display, as we'd fallen in love with it as soon as we saw it.

The shells had fallen together and some were stuck under compartments or behind drawers, had slid into the wrong section or were in danger of being crushed. First we documented everything before removing the drawers to clean the interior and exterior. The scratched and dented exterior surface responded well to some careful Hog & Fitch attention. So much grime came off drawer handles and edges!

Then we carefully - oh, so very carefully - removed the shells, documenting everything as we went. Detaching the shells from the old cotton wool was a painstaking process, done with extreme care to avoid damage to fragile surfaces and minute protrusions.

Some of the shells were only a couple of millimetres long and were at risk of being completely lost. It was a journey of discovery. We then teased away the cotton wool and very gently brushed the surface dust off the more robust shells, avoiding fragile flaking surfaces and using our softest brushes.

Re-instatement posed some questions which we discussed with the cabinet's owner before continuing. Should we move shells which were obviously misplaced or was there merit and historical significance in keeping the arrangement as it was when we started cleaning? We decided between us that what we were dealing with was not the original arrangement and that clearly the shells had moved considerably since the collector set the cabinet up. Only where shells were obviously misplaced, had strayed from their compartment or were at risk due to overcrowding, did we relocate them if there was an appropriate new home in the same drawer.

The rationale behind our decision making was that we were leaving the cabinet with the shells laid out safely and, as far as possible, within the original scheme intended by their collector. There was further scope for a shell expert to reorganise the shells fully in future should the owner wish. Everything was documented thoroughly.

Between us we also decided that the cotton wool should be replaced as it was no longer providing protection, but actually putting the shells at risk. It felt like a haven for pests, too. We made 132 new custom supports for the shells (the compartments in each drawer are a different size, getting smaller and smaller towards the top) and reinstated each compartment with individual shell support where needed. This meant that the shells were no longer crushing each other or at risk of slippage.

We were sad to say goodbye to that collection - but what an enjoyable journey of miniature wonders it took us on, and how satisfying to see it returned safely but in a state where its owner could now display it proudly rather than hiding it away. A full testimonial appears at the bottom of this page.


Main header image: one of the drawers after cleaning and reinstatement

Main page from top: surface of cabinet before cleaning; dirty cotton wool showing just some of the grime that we removed; interior of cabinet with drawers removed pre-cleaning; interior of cabinet showing shell trapped at back and preventing drawer from closing; drawer pre-clean and showing shells in unlined compartments with no protection; interior of compartment pre-cleaning showing small shell trapped under partition; drawer pre-cleaning showing dirty cotton wool and shells crammed together; drawer emptied during cleaning; fragile miniature shells entangled in cotton wool; shells entangled, with 1p piece for scale to show tiny shells easily lost within the cotton wool; sewing new compartment liners; inserting new compartment liners into clean drawer; four images of drawers pre-clean; nine images of drawers post cleaning and reinstatement

All photos by Hog & Fitch, reproduced courtesy of owner


I have had two larger items restored by a larger, long-established and expensive furniture restorer in the past. But when I wanted someone for my much more modest shell cabinet, I decided to try someone smaller: Hog & Fitch. I was expecting them just to tidy up the embarrassingly neglected outside of the cabinet: cleaning it, and hopefully hiding at least some of the scratches & dents. But they took an enormous interest in the whole - investigating each drawer and it's contents, some of which had become stuck due to lack of care. They took each shell out - very small to large(r) - cleaned them all and made new 'cushions' to replace the old cotton wool which had become entangled. They also took an immense interest in the objects themselves, matching them to the old labels on the drawers (which now run smoothly).

As they kept me in touch with progress, from an provisional plan to an interim report and visit to see progress, I was immediately aware that this was far beyond the simple cleaning job, which I thought my estimate covered. It did go up a little, but very modestly, and hardly covering the immense amount of painstaking work they put in. Cabinet delivered & paid for, I was further surprised to receive an online detailed report, with photos, of every stage of the work - fascinating. That in itself must have taken a long time to produce.

I am delighted with the result in every way - the work of true conservation cleaners - thank you, Hog & Fitch.