Harold Plenderleith was born in Scotland on 19 September 1898. He studied Chemistry and graduated with a doctorate in Chemistry from University College Dundee. In 1924, he began to work at the British Museum with Dr Alexander Scott in the newly created Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. This department had been created by the museum to address objects in the collection that had begun to rapidly deteriorate as a result of being stored in the London underground railway tunnels during the First World War. Scott and Plenderleith began applying their knowledge of Chemistry to the deterioration of museum objects and began scientific conservation in the United Kingdom. As an archaeologist he was involved in the excavations of the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt, Sir Leonard Woolley's site at Ur, and the Sutton Hoo ship burial.
Plenderleith retired from the British Museum in 1959 to become the first director of the International Center for the study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM). He was the director of ICCROM until 1971. He helped set up and then served on the Council of the International Institute for Conservation from its creation in 1950 until 1971 and was IIC's President from 1965 to 1968. He received many medals throughout his career, including: the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries in 1964; Unesco Bronze Medal, 1971; the Conservation Service Award of the U.S. Department of the Interior, 1976 and the ICCROM Award, Rome, 1979.
- The Conservation of Antiquities and Works of Art: Treatment, Repair and Restoration by Harold James Plenderleith, A. E. A. Werner. Oxford Univ Pr, ISBN 0-19-212960-0 (0-19-212960-0)
- The Preservation of Leather Bookbindings by H. J. Plenderleith. British Museum, ISBN 0-7141-0227-X (0-7141-0227-X)
- Qumran Cave 1 by George L. Harding, D. Barthelemy, J. T. Milik, R. De Vaux, G. M. Crowfoot, Harold James Plenderleith. Oxford Univ Pr, ISBN 0-19-826301-5 (0-19-826301-5)
Honours and awards
- Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries in 1964.
- Unesco Bronze Medal, 1971.
- The Conservation Service Award of the U.S. Department of the Interior, 1976.
- The ICCROM Award, Rome, 1979.
Since Plenderleith's death, the Scottish Society for Conservation and Restoration (SSCR) have organised an annual Plenderleith Memorial Lecture, the SSCR merged with several other organizations in 2005 to form the Institute of Conservation, and today the lecture continues annually under the auspices of the Committee of the Icon Scotland Group.