Oddy Test

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Overview Summary

Left: a coupon holder placed in the neck of a sample jar. Center and Right: A sealed sample jar with hanger, coupons, test material, water and vial.
The Oddy Test is used as a subjective method for determining whether or not a material, such as wood, fabric, or paint, is appropriate for use in an enclosed space with artwork or other cultural heritage artifacts. In essence, it is a low-cost, non-specific accelerated aging test used to detect potentially hazardous gases emitted in a closed, elevated humidity, and temperature environment (1973 Oddy, 2003 Bamberger). To conduct the test, a material sample is enclosed in a sealed container with three suspended metal coupons, silver, copper, and lead, and a small amount of water in an open vial. Typically the sealed container is then held at 60 degrees Celsius for 28 days to maintain a high relative humidity of ~95 to 100%. An identical container with three metal coupons but no test material acts as a control. After 28 days, the metal coupons are assessed for changes that may indicate their exposure to various compounds; the silver can detect reduced sulfur compounds, the lead can detect organic acids, aldehydes, and acidic gases, and the copper can detect chlorides, oxides, and sulfur compounds (2006 Gryzywacz 113-114).

The test is popular for its use of commonly available low-cost equipment and supplies. It is used by small and large cultural heritage organizations as well as by conservators in private practice and commercial manufacturers. The results have been used around the world to evaluate the suitability of particular materials for use in the storage and display of cultural heritage artifacts. However, it is also widely understood that Oddy Test results are subjective. It has further been shown that achieving standardization between testers and amongst different labs is quite difficult (1993 Green and Thickett).

History

Pie chart showing results of Torok and Wickens 2014 survey.

In the early 1970s Andrew Oddy, a conservation scientist at the British Museum, experimented with a reactivity test in the hopes of evaluating materials for their safety in and around metal objects. He was aware that while the materials might be structurally safe, they could emit chemicals over time that were harmful to the objects stored near them. For example, it had been well documented that acids and formaldehyde released from the oak of wooden cabinets had damaged shell objects stored within them (1899 Byne). After his initial paper in 1973 describing the procedure involving three metal coupons each individually exposed to the material to be evaluated, the test was coined the Oddy Test. Over time, due to a lack of alternatives, the test was used to test a wide variety of materials and the results were applied not only to understand what materials are appropriate for metal artifacts but extended to inform collection stewards about all artist materials, from feathers and plastics to paper and stone.

The test has been modified, evaluated, and refined over the years by Andrew Oddy as well as others, such as Robinett and Thickett at the British Museum (2003), Bamberger, Wheeler, and Howe at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999), Smith at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (2018), Stephens, Buscarino, and Breitung at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2018), and Korenberg, Keable, Phippard, and Doyle at the British Museum (2017), resulting in multiple variants of the testing protocol (see bibliography below). Though these refinements sometimes improved the reliability of the results, many have observed that achieving consistent and reproducible results can still be challenging.

A 1993 study by Green and Thickett showed that procedural variations between labs made it difficult to compare results. In 2014 a survey of 43 conservators by Elena Torok and Joelle Wickens found that at least 20 different Oddy testing procedures were in use in the US at the time (2014 Torok and Wickens). In subsequent work with Samantha Owens, they conducted parallel tests of sample materials according to six selected protocols. Their testing confirmed Green and Thickett’s 1993 study, showing that without extreme care and consistency it is difficult to replicate results.

Current Practices

Despite these drawbacks, the Oddy Test remains a primary tool for conservators assessing the suitability of materials for exhibition and storage of cultural heritage objects due to its relatively low cost and simple technology. For this reason, in 2018, the Materials Testing & Standards Committee of the AIC Materials Selection and Specification Working Group (MWG) began working to assess the most prominent protocols for their reproducibility between institutions with the goal of highlighting and promoting the use of the most consistent and reliable protocols.

Three protocols are being examined and refined by the Materials Working Group:

For a more complete explanation of why these protocols were chosen, the testing processes, and descriptions of these and other Oddy testing protocols, see the page on Oddy testing protocols.

Test Result Tables and Contributing Results

If you are looking for materials, such as fabrics, adhesives, paints, and boards, that have been tested to determine if they are safe to use in storage, transit, or exhibition cases with cultural heritage artifacts, you are in the right place. Results from Oddy tests and other methods are currently being shared by numerous testers from the US and around the world on the Oddy Test Results Tables.

There are currently five tables:


We invite you to be a part of the action and contribute your results too. Find out more about how to do so on the Tables page here.

Bibliography

What follows is a chronological bibliography of information about the Oddy Test, its history, variants, improvements, updates, alternatives, modifications, comparisons to analytical methods, studies, and assessments. Articles that reference the use of the Oddy Test will not be found here. Please contact the page moderator if you find a missing reference.

  1. Oddy, W. A. 1973. "An unsuspected danger in display." Museum Journal 73:27-28.
  2. Blackshaw, S., and V. Daniels. 1978. “Selecting Safe Materials for Use in the Display and Storage of Antiquities.” In The 5th Triennial Meeting of the ICOM Committee for Conservation Preprints, 78/23/2/1-78/23/2/9.
  3. Blackshaw, S. and V. Daniels. 1979. "The testing of materials for use in storage and display in "museums. The Conservator 3: 16-19.
  4. Blackshaw, S. 1982. “The Testing of Display Materials.” Conservation Museum Ethnographers” Group Occasional Paper, 40–45, March 1.
  5. Zhang, J. 1992. "Quick detection of volatile organic acid in substances by the iodide-iodate test." Wen wu bao hu yu kao gu ke xue 4, no. 1: 18-24.
  6. Zhang, and J. L. Green. 1993. "The iodide-iodate test: a method for detecting volatile organic gases." Conservation research report, no. 1992/16. The British Museum.
  7. Green, L. R., and D. Thickett. 1993. "Interlaboratory comparison of the Oddy test." Conservation science in the UK: preprints of the meeting held in Glasgow, May 1993. London: James & James Science Publishers Ltd. 111-116.
  8. Zhang, J., D. Thickett, and L. R. Green. 1994. "Two tests for the detection of volatile organic acids and formaldehyde." Journal of the American Institute for Conservation 33: 47.53. # Baker, W., K. McCauley, and J. Tsang. 2015. Sustaining the Unsustainable: Mitigation and Monitoring for Modern Materials. AIC News 40 (5): 1, 3-6.
  9. Green, L. R., and D. Thickett.1995. "Testing materials for use in the storage and display of antiquities - a revised "methodology. Studies in Conservation 40: 145-152.
  10. Nicholson, C., and E. O’Loughlin. 1996. “The Use of A-D Strips for Screening Conservation and Exhibit Materials”, Poster presented at the American Institute for Conservation 24th Annual Meeting, Norfolk Virginia, June 10–16.
  11. Reedy, C. L., R. A. Corbett, and M. Burke. 1998. “Electrochemical Tests as Alternatives to Current Methods for Assessing Effects of Exhibition Materials on Metal Artifacts.” Studies in Conservation 43 (3): 183–196.
  12. Bamberger, J., E. Howe, and G. Wheeler. 1999. "A variant Oddy test procedure for evaluating material used in storage and display cases." Studies in Conservation. 44: 86-90.
  13. Larkin, N., N. Blades, and E. Makridou. 2000. “Investigation of Volatile Organic Compounds Associated with Polyethylene and Polypropylene Containers Used for Conservation Storage.” The Conservator 24: 41–51.
  14. Bamberger, J. 2003. "The Oddy test improved." Met objectives 4, no. 2 (Spring): 4.
  15. Bischoff, J. J., J. Bustamente, C. Reedy, R. A. Corbett, and M. S. Walton. 2003. "From an idea of creativity to a product of reliability: update of research on electrochemical testing of exhibit and storage materials." OSG postprints- AIC Annual Meeting: 11-21.
  16. Pretzel, B., and N. Shibayama. 2003. "Standard materials for corrosiveness testing." V & A conservation journal no. 43 (Spring): 7-9.
  17. Robinet, L, and D. Thickett. 2003. A New Methodology for Accelerated Corrosion Testing. Studies in Conservation 48 (4): 263-268.
  18. Thickett, D., and L. R. Lee. 1996/2004. "Selection of Materials for the Storage or Display of Museum Objects." British Museum Occasional Paper 111.
  19. Trinkley, M. 2004. "Monitoring for gaseous pollutants, made simple?." The Abbey newsletter 27, no. 2: 15-16.
  20. Lee, S., H. Roh, and Y. Yi. 2004. "Effects of wood materials on metal corrosion – Oddy test." Conservation Science in Museum 5:31-36.
  21. Berger, I., B. Kulhavá, A. Šimčík, M. Hložek, and J. Vrajová. 2007. “Oddy Test: Introduction to Conventional Methods and Results.” Sborník z Konference Konzervátorů a Restaurátorů, 7–11.
  22. Chen, R., L. Moussa, H. R. Morris, and P. M. Whitmore. 2007. "Silver nanoparticle films as sulfide gas sensors in Oddy tests." In Book, Materials issues in art and archaeology VIII: symposium held November 26-28, 2007, Boston, Massachusetts, USA: 287-297.
  23. Smith, G. D., and C. Snyder. 2008. "Something ‘odd’ about the Oddy test." ICOM-CC Preprints, 15th Triennial Conference New Delhi, 22-26 September 2008: 887.
  24. Chen, H., L. Kong, J. Chen, S. Wang, L. Wu, and X. Zhou. 2009. "Metal film coupon test for evaluation and selection of materials used in museum objects" Wen wu bao hu yu kao gu ke xue 21: 40-47.
  25. Chen, H., M. Zhang, J. Chen, L. Kong, J. Zhou, S. Wang, L. Wu, and X. Zhou. 2009. "Application of silver nano-film coupon in selection of materials for the storage or display of museum objects." Wen wu bao hu yu kao gu ke xue 21: 33-39.
  26. Coughlin, M. 2011. "Monitoring acidic off-gassing of plastics." Conserve o gram, 8/5.
  27. Wang, S., L. Kong, Z. An, J. Zhisheng, J. Chen, L. Wu, and X. Zhou, 2011. "An improved Oddy test using metal films." Studies in Conservation 56, no. 2: 138-153
  28. Garside, P., and L. Hanson. 2012. "A systematic approach to selecting inexpensive conservation storage solutions." International preservation news: a newsletter of the IFLA Programme on Preservation and Conservation no. 57 (Aug): 26-30.
  29. Tsukada, M., A. Rizzo, and C. Granzotto. 2012. "A New Strategy for Assessing Off-Gassing from Museum Materials: Air Sampling in Oddy Test Vessels." AIC News, January 2012, vol 37, no.1:1, 3-7.
  30. Hodgkins, R. E., S. A. Centeno, J. A. Bamberger, M. Tsukada, and A. Schrott. 2013. "Silver nanofilm sensors for assessing daguerreotype housing materials in an Oddy test setup." e-Preservation science 10: 71-76.
  31. Breitung, E. 2014. “Evaluating Storage Materials for Cultural Heritage Alternatives to the Oddy Test”, Lecture Given at the Library of Congress.
  32. Beiner, G. G., M. Lavi, H. Seri, A. Rossin, O. Lev, J. Gun, and R. Rabinovich. 2015. "Oddy tests: adding the analytical dimension." Collection forum 29, no. 1-2: 22-36.
  33. Korenberg, C., M. Keable, J. Phippard, and A. Doyle. 2017. "Refinements Introduced in the Oddy Test Methodology." Studies in Conservation, DOI: 10.1080/00393630.2017.1362177.
  34. Samide, M.J., Liggett M.C., J. Mill, and G.D. Smith. 2018. “Relating Volatiles Analysis by GC-MS to Oddy Test Performance for Determining the Suitability of Museum Construction Materials.” Heritage Science 6.
  35. Stephens, C., I. Buscarino, and E. Breitung. 2018. “Updating the Oddy Test: Comparison with Volatiles Identified Using Chromatographic Techniques.” Studies in Conservation Supplement 1: S425-427.
  36. Stephens, C. H., N. Britton, I. Buscarino, L. E. Peluso, J. Carlson, L. Rosa, and E. M. Breitung. 2019. “Washing Cotton Fabrics for Use with Collections.” AIC News 44, no. 2: 1, 6–12.


Photographic Activity Test. https://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/testing/pat