Documentation of artefacts` collections - unesdoc

Documentation of artefacts` collections - unesdoc

CULTURAL HERITAGE PROTECTION HANDBOOK

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DOCUMENTATION

OF ARTEFACTS’ COLLECTIONS

Reproduction is authorized, providing that appropriate mention is made of the source, and a copy sent to the UNESCO (Paris), address below. This document should be cited as :

© UNESCO, 2007. Cultural Heritage Protection Handbook N°3. Documentation of Artefacts’

Collections, UNESCO, Paris.

Editor : Anna Paolini

Editorial assitants

: Malda Jabbour , Lise Macdonald

Text by : Matthew Stiff

Drawings by : Beatrice Beccaro Migliorati

Printed in 2007 by the :

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

7, place de Fontenoy, 75732 Paris 07 SP, France

© UNESCO 2007

(CLT/CH/MUS-06/19)

CLT-2007/WS/05

INTRODUCTION

This booklet is intended for all who collect and are fond of items of social, artistic and/or historical significance, as well as those in charge of public or private collections of such items.

This booklet focuses on principles of documentation. Certain measures are directed towards institutions with equipment and personnel not within the means of private individuals. However, these recommendations embody levels of best practice which one should endeavor to reach as far as possible.

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WHY DOCUMENTATION IS IMPORTANT

Documentation is the process of recording information about the collections for which a museum or cultural institution is responsible.

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Proper documentation will allow a museum to :

• know what it has in its possession

• know if anything is missing

• know where objects are located

• prove ownership of objects

• create and maintain information about collections

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DOCUMENTATION STANDARDS

Objects should be documented consistently using recognised standards. These have been developed by national and international organisations, including ICOM and UNESCO, and will help you.

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Standardising the structure of records and the terminology helps to ensure :

• reliability of information

• ease of sharing

• consistency of records

• improved access

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

It is a good idea to have an accurate and detailed description of your object in case it is lost or stolen.

It will also help you to recognise it and distinguish it from other similar objects if found.

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Object ID

The following guidelines are based on an internationally-recognised standard called

Object ID.

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Object Type

You will need to record the type of object you are describing. For example, is it a :

• sculpture?

• vase?

• painting?

• manuscript?

• item of jewellery (necklace, brooch etc.)?

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Material

What materials is the object made from? Is it :

• stone?

• ceramic?

• bronze?

• wood etc.?

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Technique

What techniques were used in the production of this object? Was it :

• carved?

• cast?

• painted?

• printed etc.?

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Dimensions

What are the measurements and units of measurement of the object? Include as appropriate :

• height

• width

• depth

• diameter

You may also want to include the weight of the object.

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Inscriptions and Markings

Does the object have any clearly identifiable marks or inscriptions? These could include :

• maker’s mark or stamp

• printed or inscribed text

• signatures

• assay marks

• identification numbers (e.g. a museum accession number)

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Distinguishing Features

Are there other features about your object that could help to identify it? These could include :

• damages

• repairs

• modifications

• manufacturing defects

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Title

Does your object have a title? This is often true of artworks and may help in the identification of your object if lost or stolen.

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Subject

If your object is an artwork, what does it depict or represent? Examples could include :

• the pyramids at Giza

• mother and child

• landscape with mountains etc.

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Date or Period

When does the object date from?

When was it made?

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Maker

Who was the object made by? This could be :

• an individual (painter, sculptor, furniture maker etc.)

• a company

• a cultural group (particularly useful for describing ancient artefacts)

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DESCRIBING AND CATALOGUING OBJECTS

Short Description

Write a short description of the object including any other information that will help to identify the object. This could include :

• colour

• shape

• where the object was made (if known)

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Additional Points

If your object consists of more than one part

(e.g. a set of furniture), you may need to describe each part separately.

You may also want to photograph your object and record information about its storage requirements.

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PHOTOGRAPHING OBJECTS

Photographing your object will help in identification if it is lost or stolen.

Photographs can also reduce the need to handle fragile objects, preventing unnecessary damage.

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Size and Colour

It is a good idea to include a scale in your photograph to show how large the object is. A ruler will do.

If possible, include a colour chart. This will allow colours to be properly determined. Black and white photographs can use a grey scale to allow the correct tones to be determined.

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PHOTOGRAPHING OBJECTS

Identity Numbers

If the object has a unique number by which it can be identified (e.g. a museum accession number) it is a good idea to include this in the photograph.

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Lighting Objects

Try to use the right kind of lighting for the object you are photographing. It is worth getting advice from an experienced photographer.

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PHOTOGRAPHING OBJECTS

Choosing the Right Background

Objects are best photographed against a plain white backdrop. This is particularly helpful in ensuring the correct colour balance is achieved.

Darker backgrounds should be used if it is necessary to provide contrast.

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Photographing Two-dimensional Objects

Objects such as paintings, prints, drawings and textiles are best photographed head on. Where possible, remove pictures from walls, laying them flat and photographing from above.

If necessary, photograph the reverse side of the object to show any distinctive markings or features.

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PHOTOGRAPHING OBJECTS

Photographing Carved or Cast surfaces and

Reliefs

Although these are best photographed head on, like paintings or prints, it is also a good idea to take other pictures from angles to record the depth of the object.

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Photographing Three-dimensional Objects

Try to convey the overall shape of the object.

To do this, photograph it from above, showing the top, front and one side. You can take more photographs to show any parts of the object not visible.

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PHOTOGRAPHING OBJECTS

Photographing Damage and Distinguishing

Features

As with written descriptions, it is a good idea to photograph any distinguishing blemishes or features that will help to identify the object.

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MANAGING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

Ownership and Intellectual Property Rights

Law on rights management will vary from country to country and cover more than just ownership. Although you may own a painting or sculpture, you do not necessarily own the intellectual property rights to it.

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MANAGING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

Establishing Rights

It is important to establish who owns the reproduction rights to an object or image in case you want to reproduce it in the future.

This should be carefully documented.

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Waiving Rights

In most cases, photographs taken by an employee of a museum will belong to the museum. However, if you use a freelance photographer you will not necessarily own the rights to the images. If necessary, get the photographer to sign a form waiving their rights.

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COMPUTERISED DATABASES

Increasingly museums and private collectors record information about their objects using computerised databases.

There are many companies supplying collections-management software as well as some simple shareware applications available for free.

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Keeping your Information in Order

Computer databases take up less space than paper-based recording systems, allowing backup copies to be made. They also make it easy for information to be stored in an ordered and structured manner and allow for fast searching and retrieval of records.

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COMPUTERISED DATABASES

Linking Information

Museum collection management systems allow information to be linked to digital images of the object. Most databases also make it easy to store information about supporting paper-based documentation.

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Sharing Information

Digital information is easy to share, allowing photographs and descriptions of items to be sent to researchers, the police or international bodies such as UNESCO.

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COMPUTERISED DATABASES

Multiple Uses for Information

Information held in databases can be reused in many different ways, including creating catalogues, exhibition texts or on-line exhibitions.

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OBJECTS ENTERING THE MUSEUM

When an object enters a museum, information about it should be recorded on a form.

This will capture important information about the object, as well as acting as a receipt for the depositor.

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OBJECTS ENTERING THE MUSEUM

Object Entry Forms

Ideally these should be pre-numbered and printed on carbonless copy paper.

The top sheet is retained by the museum and stored in the object-entry file.

One copy should be provided to the depositor.

The second copy should be kept with the object.

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Object Entry Numbers

The number from the Entry Form can be used to uniquely identify the object.

If more than one object is recorded on the same form then sub-numbers can be used

(e.g. 00301.1 & 00301.2 etc.).

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OBJECTS ENTERING THE MUSEUM

Owner and Depositor

You will need to record the name and address of the owner of the object, as well as that of the depositor as these will not necessarily be the same.

Ask the depositor to sign and date the Entry

Form. A representative of the museum should also sign to confirm that the details recorded are correct.

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Establishing Ownership Rights

It is a good idea to check whether or not the depositor wants the object to be returned. If not, you may want to ask the owner to transfer title of the object to the museum (see

“Acquisition”). If you then don’t want to keep the object you will be free to dispose of it appropriately without further consultation (see

“Object Disposal”).

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OBJECTS ENTERING THE MUSEUM

Reason for Entry

Record the reasons why the object has been brought into the museum. These may include :

• offer for donation

• purchase

• loan

• identification

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Capturing Important Information

Try to capture as much information as possible when the object enters a museum.

If you are bringing an object into a museum for donation or as a loan, remember to bring any relevant details or documents with you.

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OBJECTS ENTERING THE MUSEUM

Other Details

Other details may include :

• a brief description of the object

• insurance valuation

• price (if purchased or offered for sale)

• copyright holder (see “Rights

Management”)

• agreed return date

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ACQUIRING AND ACCESSIONING OBJECTS

Museums need to be able to establish title to the objects they own. This means recording any transfer of ownership.

Accessioning is the process by which an object becomes a formal part of the museum’s collection.

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ACQUIRING AND ACCESSIONING OBJECTS

Transfer of Title Forms

Although transfer of title can be recorded on an Object Entry Form (see “Object Entry”) it is often better for ownership to be established using a separate form. This should include the current and new owner and details of any payments made.

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Reason for Acquisition

Not all objects are acquired by museums for addition to the permanent collection.

Instead, they can be used for handling or teaching collections. The reason for acquisition should be recorded on the

Object Entry Form (see “Object Entry”).

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ACQUIRING AND ACCESSIONING OBJECTS

Accession Register

Accessioned objects should be recorded in the museum’s

Accession Register. This is an unalterable written record of the museum’s collection and exists in addition to the catalogue or computerised database. Includes :

• initial storage location

• entry number

• accession number

• date accessioned

• person or organisation received from

• brief description

BORROWING OBJECTS

Loan Agreements

When your museum borrows an object, try to establish a proper loan agreement, signed by both the museum and lender. Loans should ideally be for set periods of time, although these can be extended or renewed.

Long-term or open-ended loans are best avoided wherever possible.

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BORROWING OBJECTS

Recording Loans

The museum’s database or catalogue should record :

• the name of the lender

• duration of loan

• Eexpected return date

• standards of care

• responsibility for conservation

• insurance arrangements

• transport arrangements

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Filing Loans Records

As well as keeping loan agreements in the object’s history file, copies can also be stored in a “Loans In File” in return date order. This will allow loans to be monitored and renewed more easily.

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LOCATION AND MOVEMENT OF OBJECTS

Museums need to be able to account for objects in their care. Controlling the location and movement of objects will ensure that they can easily be found and losses quickly spotted.

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Recording Storage Locations

Try to assign each object a normal storage location. You will then know where it should be returned to if it is taken to a new, temporary location.

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LOCATION AND MOVEMENT OF OBJECTS

Updating the Catalogue

It is a good idea to record object movements on the museum’s catalogue or database.

This should include changes to normal locations as well as temporary movements.

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Proxy Cards

When an object is temporarily moved it is often a good idea to leave a card in its usual location.

This should include :

• identity number

• object name

• date removed

• new location

• name of remover

• expected return date

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OBJECT CONDITION CHECKING

Checking the Object

Objects need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are not deteriorating. It is also a good idea to check them before leaving the museum on loan or for conservation (see “Object Exit”). This will allow any damage to be easily detected.

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Recording Condition Assessments

The condition of the object can be recorded on the museum’s catalogue or database.

Remember to update your records if any alterations to the objects storage conditions are required.

It is a good idea to record the name of the person carrying out the check, along with the date.

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LENDING OBJECTS

Loan Agreements

Objects lent by museums should be the subject of proper loan agreements signed by the museum and borrower. Loans should ideally be for set periods of time, although these can be extended or renewed.

Long-term or open-ended loans are best avoided wherever possible.

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Recording Loans to Others

The museum’s database or catalogue should record :

• the name of the borrower

• duration of loan

• expected return date

• standards of care

• responsibility for conservation

• insurance arrangements

• transport arrangements

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LENDING OBJECTS

Filing Loans Records

As well as keeping loan agreements in the object’s history file, copies can also be stored in a “Loans Out File” in return date order. This will allow loans to be monitored and renewed more easily.

DISPOSING OF OBJECTS

Dealing with Unwanted Objects

Occasionally a museum will want to dispose of an object. This is usually because it no longer fits in with the museum’s collecting policy or because it would be better to transfer it to another museum. The actual exit of the object should be recorded on an

Exit Form (see “Object Exit”).

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DISPOSING OF OBJECTS

Deaccessioning

Objects forming part of the museum’s permanent collection and that the museum world like to dispose of will need to be deaccessioned. Remember to record this in the accession register and the database along with the reason for disposal.

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OBJECTS LEAVING THE MUSEUM

Museums need to be able to account for all objects leaving their care. This should be recorded on an

Exit Form, as well as on the computerised database if it exists.

If an object is returned to its owner (e.g. if it is a loan or unwanted gift) then an Exit Form is not usually required as its return can be logged on the original Object Entry Form.

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OBJECTS LEAVING THE MUSEUM

Exit Forms

Ideally these should be pre-numbered and printed on carbonless copy paper.

The top sheet is retained by the museum and stored in an Object Exit File. A copy should be provided to the recipient. If the object has been loaned out, a second copy can be stored in return date order in a Loans Out File until the object’s return.

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Remover and Recipient

It is a good idea to record the name and address of the remover of the object as well as that of the recipient, as these will not necessarily be the same.

Ask the remover to sign and date the Exit

Form. A representative of the museum should also sign to confirm that the details recorded are correct.

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OBJECTS LEAVING THE MUSEUM

Reason for Removal

Remember to record the reasons why the object is leaving the museum. These may include :

• transferral *

• loan out *

• destruction *

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Object Information

The Exit Form should include key information about the object including :

• a brief description of the object

• identifying number

• insurance valuation

• conditions governing removal

• agreed return date

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OBJECTS LEAVING THE MUSEUM

Return of Objects

It is a good idea for the original Exit Form to be signed by a museum representative to record when an object is subsequently returned to the museum (for example if it has been loaned out or sent for conservation).

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