Waxing Aesthetic: Historical Considerations in the Restoration of a Napoleonic Dragoon Helmet

(Above) Before treatment: A Napoleonic Dragoon Helmet made of metal and horsehair

(Above) Before treatment: A Napoleonic Dragoon Helmet made of metal and horsehair

The Napoleonic Dragoon Helmet, an example of the Grecian-inspired helmets worn by specific members of Napoleon’s cavalry, was brought to The Center in need of restoration. The leather lining of the helmet was loose with several losses to the leather and the risk of further degradation. The proper right leather strap was loose as well, with both straps having been previously re-attached with blue putty. Furthermore, the skull of the helmet exhibited several shallow dents and the horse hair mane was tangled and messy. The top decoration was missing from the helmet completely. There were some scratches on the surface, as well as evidence of use and wear. The metal and hair elements were both coated with dust and grime. There was also some tarnish on the gilded areas.

(Above) Before treatment: Detail of missing elements (top)

(Above) Before treatment: Detail of missing elements (top)

(Above) Before treatment: Detail of missing elements (front)

(Above) Before treatment: Detail of missing elements (front)

To begin, the surface was dusted with a brush and vacuumed. The hair was dry cleaned with a textile sponge. After testing, metal surfaces were cleaned with mineral spirits using cotton swabs. The lifting velvet on the underside of the straps was re-adhered with a pH-neutral resin. In accordance to the client’s wishes, the organic elements of the helmet were re-created according to historical research. Examples of Napoleonic helmets like this one vary in appearance slightly, and therefore a balance of historical accuracy and aesthetic consideration was applied. The upper part of the helmet (the horse hair ornament above the brass crest), feather plume, and stick were recreated using antique brass, genuine leather, horse hair, and rooster feathers. Recreated elements were toned and artificially aged using micro-crystalline wax and dry pigments. Micro-crystalline wax was also added to all metal for protection.

(Above) After treatment: Detail of re-created elements

(Above) After treatment: Detail of re-created elements

In order to stabilize the recreated elements, a dowel was inserted into the inside of the original upper brass element which was filled with Ethafoam. The helmet was then placed on a custom-built museum-quality mount to safely display this historic object.

(Above) After treatment

(Above) After treatment

Justin Gilman

The business end of Twin. In charge of landing interesting new projects, making clients happy, and coffee. A maker of beautiful music and master of oral sound effects. A secret Jim Henson nerd. Will always find ways of working smarter. Will never participate in karaoke.

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