Have you ever noticed on exhibition labels, the small, sometimes non-sensical number that follows the blurb about an object? These numbers are vital to help us find out what the object is and locate it on our database. With a collection of over 200,000 objects, on three different sites and around 95% in storage we certainly need all the help we can get.
When objects arrive at the museum they are assigned a temporary number. Many different systems have been used over the years using an assortment of numbers and letters. Once all of the paperwork has been done and dusted and the object is formally acquired it gets its own unique number. An example is the best way to demonstrate.
This tomograph is 1998-15 – it was acquired in 1998 and was the 15th object that year to be acquired.
All new acquisitions are now photographed on arrival, so there is a permanent record which can be used for reference later on or for use in exhibitions or catalogues. With our digitisation projects such as Ingenious and Brought to Life we are trying to get as much of our collections photographed so we can share the brilliant stuff that is in our stores.
The whole collections database is now available online.
Before the digital age, all acquisition records were paper based. The earliest inventory number in the Science Museum’s collections is 1857-3 – a 1:4 model of James Nasmyth’s direct-action steam hammer. Information was catalogued on Form 100 cards that looked like this:
From time to time, objects do get de-accessioned and go through a rigorous process to ensure the objects go to good homes. Each object is debated, condition checked and when approved its transferred, sometimes to another museum. Most recently a series of tractors were transferred to Bassetlaw Museum in Nottinghamshire.
Thanks to Chris Jones for inspiring this post!