This post answers the question of what happens to stuff when you donate it to a museum. If you missed Collections 101: part 1, quick check it out before you continue with this one. Don’t worry, I’ll wait… Caught up? Okay. The next step in the process is to cart the item downstairs to storage for glamour shots and wrapping.
Often an object will receive a unique id number that’s discreetly marked on it.The number is applied with a dip pen and ink sandwiched between two clear coating layers of B-72 and B-67 acryloids. Placing a barrier coat between the object and the ink ensures the number isn’t carved into the object like a tattoo. However, similar to a tattoo, the number will stay associated with the item even when the paper tag is lost. For that reason, it is preferable to permanently mark an item but that’s not always possible.
As an example, there is neither a suitable place to ink a permanent number on this boater hat, nor a good spot to sew a label into the crown, so a paper tag placed in a sturdy place will have to suffice. We always use a slip knot to attach a tag; regular knots can be difficult to untie and cause damage during removal. Good documentation in the database and a clean image to associate with it ensures that the record can be matched up with the hat if the tag ever goes missing.
After marking, the item is photographed with a ruler for scale. Other images taken may include defects, specific damage, or manufacturer logos. These will all edited in Photoshop and adjusted just for color accuracy and reasonable file size.
Next, it’s time to make support mounts and line a box with acid free tissue. It is important to make sure an object is properly supported in a box or on a shelf to avoid accidental handling damage. This might mean carving a cradle into a thick polyethylene foam board and covering it with unbleached muslin; light padding with acid free tissue; or simply placing a photo into a polyester sleeve. It all depends on the individual requirements of the object in question.
Finally, a packed object’s number is noted on the box inventory sheet and both are placed in the box. A duplicate inventory sheet is taped to the box’s lid for easy access and the box itself is numbered. Then it is placed on a shelf, primed for future exhibit. Last, the storage location and images are updated in the object’s catalog record in the database, and a paper catalog record is printed for the files.
Phew. Got all that? So you can see that quite a bit of work goes into maintaining a museum collection. The system only works if everything is well documented and put away in its proper location. Otherwise, there’s no difference between museum storage and stuff in my basement.
If I haven’t put you off collections work, you might consider volunteering or making a donation to help offset the cost of preservation supplies. The museum relies on your support to continue to share local history with the whole community. Not quite ready for that but still interested in preserving your own treasures at home? Well, you’re in luck. That’s next week’s blog post topic. Stay tuned…