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Forensics used to restore toys at McCord Museum

Preparations underway for McCord Museum’s annual toy exhibit
WATCH: Microscopes, X-rays and ultraviolet radiation are only some of the tools being used to restore antique toys at Montreal’s McCord Museum. As Global's Amanda Jelowicki reports, the museum is getting ready for its annual toy exhibit Nov. 19.

Anne MacKay has spent countless hours studying and researching antique toys.

One doll in particular, named Carabos, is about 140 years old. Restoring it has required intense — and delicate — forensic work.

“Dolls are a big challenge,” said MacKay, the head of conservation at the McCord Museum.  “They are multi-component objects. You have real hair, hair made out of wood, historical textiles, cork, wood, the list goes on.”

The doll is the centrepiece of a new fairytale-themed exhibit called Topsy-Turvy Storyland opening at the McCord Museum in two weeks. The exhibit will feature 150 toys dating back to 1850.

“I think it must be fascinating for children to see an old toy like that. It must look so different from toys they have today.”

MacKay runs the museum’s conservation department. She’s used all sorts of techniques over the past year restoring the toys.

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“We use a lot of imaging techniques one is an X-ray. Another interesting technique is ultraviolet radiation in order to see surface phenomenon on an object.” MacKay said.

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A 100-year-old carousel horse went under a UV light, so MacKay could see how many layers of paint were on it.

“Originally this horse wasn’t black with a gold mane. It was probably rosey beige and the colour was variegated,” she said.

The library’s conservation department aims to keep the toys as original as possible. MacKay often relies on original prints from the 1800s for help.

“If you are going to conserve something you have to know what an object looked like,” she said.

Carabos underwent an x-ray to help determine what was wrong with her mechanics. The doll holds a tiny watch, and a microscope showed an image printed on the back was covered in mould.

The exhibit is interactive, and its story line involves an evil fairy godmother who has mixed up characters and objects from different fairytales. To break the spell, the children must help figure out where everything belongs. They end their visit in an “enchanted library.”

“We really want to attract children to the museum because we want them to grow into culture lovers and museum goers,” MacKay said.

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The exhibit opens Nov. 19.