Inherent vice

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Inherent vice, also known as inherent fault, is the tendency in an object or material to deteriorate or self-destruct because of its intrinsic "internal characteristics," including weak construction, "poor quality or unstable materials," and "incompatibility of different materials" within an object.[1] This weakness or defect may lead to natural deterioration or make an object more susceptible to external agents of deterioration. A material may naturally break down chemically over time, organic materials may be susceptible to pests and mold, and different materials within an object may have "dissimilar rates of expansion and contraction" that can lead to damage.[2]

Related Terms

Synonyms in English

inherent fault

Translation

English inherent vice
Dutch inherent gebrek
French vice inhérent
Spanish defectos inherentes
Portuguese
Italian vizio inerente
German Selbstzerstörender Defekt
Swedish inbyggt fel
Russian
Arabic

Discussion

All objects and materials deteriorate over time, and so all objects and materials suffer from some form of inherent vice. The National Parks Service Museum Handbook (1999) lists three kinds of inherent vice: short-lived materials, structural nature, and history.[3]

Examples of inherent vice as a result of short-lived, temporary, or impermanent materials include:

  • The fundamental chemical instability of cellulose acetate film, which leads to the chemical degradation known as vinegar syndrome.
  • "The acid content in paper which will eventually destroy the paper."[4]
  • The natural degradation of magnetic media, such as cassette and video tapes.
  • A blog post about the conservation of Marcel Duchamp's Boîte en Valise mentioned inherent vice in regards to the poor quality of leather used:
"The Museums’ Boîte en Valise has been carefully guarded from light exposure and is, consequently, relatively unfaded. Unfortunately, however, the artwork has suffered from what conservators term “inherent vice.” The valise was covered with poor quality leather (which deteriorated over time), was broken at its joints, and was in danger of further damage."[5]


Examples of inherent vice as a result of structural nature, which can lead to structural failure, include:

  • Leather causing corrosion of metal in objects that contain both materials.
  • Metallic salts used to make weighted silk accelerating the deterioration of silk and causing the material to shatter when touched.[6]
  • Paint containing "Improperly combined mixtures of pigment and binding media" can peel, flake, fade, or become discolored.[7]


Examples of inherent vice as a result of the history, use, or function of an object include:

  • A ceramic bowl accumulating soluble salts after being buried in the ground for several centuries.
  • Stamps that have served their original purpose have had their adhesive layer moistened and may have been subjected to damaging environmental conditions.[8]
  • Corrosion of a stained glass window.

References

  1. Johnson, J. (1999). Part I, Chapter 4: Museum collections environment. In National Parks Service Museum Handbook (p. 4:7). Washington, DC: National Parks Service. Retrieved from http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHI/CHAPTER4.pdf
  2. Demeroukas, M. (2010). Condition reporting. In R. A. Buck & J. A. Gilmore (Eds.), MRM5: Museum registration methods (5th ed., p. 224). Washington, DC: The AAM Press, American Association of Museums.
  3. Johnson, J. (1999). Part I, Chapter 4: Museum collections environment. In National Parks Service Museum Handbook (p. 4:7). Washington, DC: National Parks Service. Retrieved from http://www.nps.gov/museum/publications/MHI/CHAPTER4.pdf
  4. Multilingual Glossary for Art Librarians, IFLA
  5. Binder, Victoria., 2014. Marcel Duchamp’s World in a Box: Fixing a Famous Valise. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Blog, July 21. Web.
  6. Merritt, J. & Reilly, J.A. (2010). Preventive Conservation for Historic House Museums (p. 28). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  7. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Inherent Vice. http://postalmuseum.si.edu/stamp-collecting/preserving-and-conserving-your-collection/inherent-vice.html (accessed 10/24/15).
  8. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Inherent Vice. http://postalmuseum.si.edu/stamp-collecting/preserving-and-conserving-your-collection/inherent-vice.html (accessed 10/24/15).


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