COLLECTIONS - Ahh - now we are getting to the good
When first thinking of starting a museum, everyone immediately thinks
of collecting artifacts (affectionately referred to as "stuff" in the
professional museum biz). Actually it has been my experience that the
"stuff" is the easy part. The minute you announce to the world you
are starting a fire museum, basements, garages, and attics open up
and old fire stuff comes pouring your way, (especially large stuff -
like fire apparatus).
Before you start accepting items into your collection you should have
some basic groundwork established. You should have a
statement, and a collection
policy. These two documents help you
establish goals,. and limits to your collection. They also dictate
how you do and do not aquire objects, and what you can and can not do
with them once you've got them in hand. As part of your collections
policy, you should establish your collections procedure. Develop
donor "deed-of-gift" forms, develop a numbering and cataloging
system, and start keeping meticulous records.
As for collections policies and forms - you probably know that there
is no one "correct form" It is more important that you have one than
what it looks like.
See also -
The how-to page on mission
The how-to page on collection
The how-to page with sample museum forms
Okay- now the big question - inventory and numbering!
I've worked with a variety of numbering systems and again contrary to
popular opinion it is better just to have one than to worry about
having the correct one.
If you don't have a collection yet - this may be a blessing - you can
start from scratch.
If you have a collection with or without some numbers, and you want
to implement a new system, it can be done in two ways. You can try
and reconstruct the donations (figuring out the donor, the year and
so-forth) or you could accession the entire collection as being
donated to your museum in this year (or last year).
If you have any old numbers you should save those and somehow work
them into your system. It is not good to have two different
numbers/numbering systems on the same artifact - yet it is NOT
recommended that you remove any old numbers because you never know
where or when that old number may be recorded or referred to?!
As for the actual numbering system, Some institutions have two
separate collections - a permanent collection used for
displays and kept safe and carefully preserved and an
educational collection which often has duplicate items or
even reproductions of items. Items in the educational
collection may be brought out and used during tours or
demonstrations, or they may be considered for loan to other
It has been my experience that it is not practical to differentiate
between these two collections when numbering an artifact. What if an
item is deemed in the permanent collection but you
suddenly get five more of the same item and your original then gets
relegated to the educational collection - do you want to
renumber that item?? (I'd think not)
Some institutions have do try and differentiate between artifacts,
library items, photographs, etc... That is a bit more practical,
(once a book always a book, once a photo always a photo). I happened
on a numbering style developed by the Wisconsin State Museum
Association. It is about 25 years old now, but I still like it, it
still works, and IF the Aurora fire museum were ever going to
renumber, this is the system I would choose to use. It is your basic
three-part numbering system but it has a letter at the beginning
designating one of four collections. It uses the acronym "L.A.M.P"
for easy remembering.
"L = Library items"
"A = Artifacts"
"M = Manuscripts and documents"
"P = Photographs"
See also -
and non profit managment resources and
As for actually "numbering" objects, most museums use a
permanent - but reversible system. It entails painting a
thin stripe of a clear base-coat lacquer, painting a thin stripe of a
white paint over this lacquer, marking the number using a
thin permanent marker of India ink, and then painting another thin
stripe of a clear base-coat lacquer over the top of it all. This
creates a lacquer sandwich and the lacquers that are used
are nondestructive, and easily removed using a lacquer solvent.
(WARNING - Only use an archival museum quality lacquer purchased from
an archival museum products distributor, or use a good brand of clear
nail-polish as an alternative.)
Do not use this method on books, paper items, it is best to simply
number them in pencil. Fabrics should be number on a tag which is
carefully stitched into an inconspicuous place.
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