Cataloging an item made of many pieces

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    • #133218

      I have come across a few items in our collection that are made of of many small components. For example, I am currently cataloging a “hemocytometer” that has many tubes, etc. Should this be cataloged with just one object number and the parts all listed in the description? Or should each part be given it’s own object number, labeled, and put into the system separately? If to be labeled separately, what is the best method to label many small parts, and how should each part be used with nomenclature, since its not a whole item?

    • #133223
      Lois J Wolf

      Brittany, do you have the AASLH’s Revised Nomenclature by the Chenhall method for Museum Cataloging? Not only does it give you the proper name of the object, it gives you information on how to classify an object w parts. I don’t have the book at my present museum, but when i was the registrar at a historical museum, I dealt with that all the time….I think I used a bracket after the object name and said, [w parts] and then in the description noted what they were and listed them a., b., c., and a name of what they are with a number of how many there are. I would mark them with the same object number… 2005.006.0002, but add a, b, c, etc., at the end of .0002, for marking, but list them in your collections system by main artifact number of 2005.006.0002, or however you keep your collection numbers. I know there are other ways to llst them in the nomenclature book. If you don’t have it, you might be able to borrow it from another museum, but it is well worth the investment – about $95.

    • #133222
      Ron Kley

      I would generate a single catalog entry for the object, (e.g., 2012.123.1 but would identify the separable parts individually as items “a” through whatever, so that the full catalog “number” would be something like 2012.123.1a-k.
      Unless I had time to spare, I don’t think I’d get into descriptions of the individual parts, although that could be justified in some instances.
      To a degree, the decision would depend upon whether the separable parts, if separated, would or would not be recognizable as elements of the “parent” object. For example, few registrars or curators would assign separate letter suffixes to the drawers of a desk or highboy, even though they are “separable parts,” because (a) they’re unlikely to be separated from their “parent” object in the normal course of their museum storage or exhibition, and (b) if temporarily separated (e.g. for conservation treatment, or for a display that might focus upon details of drawer construction) there is little or no likelihood that there would be any difficulty in returning them to the proper “parent.”
      I haven’t a clue as to what a “hemocytometer” is, or how many separable parts one might contain, or whether those parts would be readily identifiable as component elements of that particular gizmo, so I can’t offer any more object-specific advice.
      Good luck!

    • #133221
      Peter E. Durbin

      We are using a computer program developed by TCMax Systems of Swanton, Ohio, where major part is listed as “parent” and then each basic part has its own barcode and the parent is listed for each entry. We are accessioning a huge farm toy collection. This keeps track of the tractor (parent), original box, and the accessory machinery or tools. It allows us to use separate storage areas and still know there are additional parts elsewhere in the system, and they are not “lost.” With this particular collection, had we not been able to inventory each part, shortly we would not know which item went with which “parent.”

    • #133220
      Lois J Wolf

      It also depends on your collections computer program and how you can enter the “parent” number into the system. My thought about listing them as “a-k” in the full catalogue number is that it sounds like you have more than one instead of one with parts. Again, if you follow Chenhall, there are a number of options.

    • #133219
      Michael Hosking

      All are good suggestions and I agree with most. Some additional guidance can be found in the National Park Service (NPS) Museum Handbook. Part II ( contains a section on cataloging component parts. While this tells you how to do it in our database (developed by Re:discovery) it does provide some nice guidance of when and how to use this method of cataloging. If your database does not include a field to reflect these component parts, you can include it in the description field. Here are two catalog records/objects that I am familiar with to see how this could be done: and These are both object found on the National Park Service’s web catalog (at one of my former sites). As for marking the object, it is a case by case basis depending on how large a space you have to mark, etc. Additional NPS publications can be found at Hope this helps.

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