Renumbering an old collection?

Viewing 15 reply threads
  • Author
    • #133089

      Hello C2C community-

      I am working with a collection that was donated before objects were given an individual object ID number. As a result, a group of objects were given a lot number. For example, 71.31.2 consists of 6 coin purses, 71.31.3 consists of two misc. plates, 71.31.4 consists of 8 fans, etc.

      How would I go about identifying, numbering, and putting these objects into PastPerfect today?

      Thank you!

    • #133104
      Carol Bergeron

      For two years now I, a volunteer, have been inventorying our town historical museum containing approximately 2000 objects, not counting ephemera. There are two written inventories with numbers that were written on some items or on cards accompanying them. The numbers consisted of 1 to 500 for the earliest [1963] inventory and 1 to 250 for the later one [1982]. I used those two written inventories to assign an overall date of 1963.1.1 etc for items with known provenance and 1963.200.1 for each anonymous one. The next batch of numbers is 1982.1.1 and 1982.200.1 for items appearing on that inventory but not on the first one. Thus any object with a ‘200’ indicated an anonymous donor.
      Then I retraced items which were mentioned in our museum reports for the annual town reports to assign dates and donors to those objects. We are still left with a large number of objects which have arbitrarily been assigned 1988.200.1, 1988.200.2, etc as a period of time for which oral recollections by our town historian come into play.
      Our museum is open one day per week for three hours during four months in the summer. A second volunteer and the historian and I worked approximately 200 hours this summer applying temporary paper numbers to each item. I hope next summer we can begin applying permanent labels. Books, photos, documents all need much attention for which more volunteers are needed.
      I realize this may sound incomprehensible to others but I think it will work for us. I have used an excel spread sheet since I am currently the only one who uses a computer. Excel has allowed me to add extraneous notes, color code questionable entries, track down duplicate entries, etc. I do look at other programs but I think we have enough to do as it is.

      PS I have found this site to be very helpful.

    • #133103

      Liz, I am not sure what the numbers refer to in the lot numbers you have to work with (for example, does the 71 in 71.31.3 refer to the year 1971? what does the 31 refer to? etc) but if you want to keep these objects grouped under these same numbers (probably wise to do, rather than renumber) you could tack a letter onto the end for the individual items. For example, 71.31.3 would be 71.31.3a and 71.31.3b because there are two objects in the lot. This way you can make each object an individual record in PastPerfect, but still keep the old number for reference purposes.

    • #133102
      Janean Van Beckum

      Hi Liz,

      We have 3 different numbering systems over the course of our organization’s history. One system was similar to the one you described. At one point, the old numbers were given modern numbers. We use a numbering system with the year and catalog number and separate accession number (so the numbers look like this: 2013.1 / 211).

      To renumber the old collection, we gave it each lot a (since we knew they came in as one donation) a modern accession number. The catalog number given was from the year the pieces were originally donated (so things from 1935 were retroactively given a 1935.xx number). All the info associated with the old numbers was transferred and a note made on the old and new paper record of the change in number. You can also track this in PastPerfect under the “Old Number” field.

      Alternatively, you don’t have to renumber at all. If the reason for the renumber is to have separate catalog records, simply add letters to the end of the number to separate the objects. For example, in the case of the 6 coin purses you would have 71.31.2 a, 71.31.2 b etc. Renumbering is a long and time consuming process and you have to be sure the reasons for doing so will outweigh the resources used and possibility of confusion in the future.

      Hope that helps.


    • #133101

      Hi Liz,

      We come across this thing a lot at our Museum as well. Regardless of what you decide to do, the most important thing is to make sure that you document your decisions thoroughly in the record. Past Perfect makes this pretty easy. There is a Old# data field, as well as field for notes.

      I think that it would be a nightmare for you, and confusing for future employees, if you try to make up new “71” numbers for your items. I recommend renumbering them with 2013 year numbers, and lot numbers that reflect which items came into the museum together. Each item can then be given its own unit number.

      Just be very clear in the record about what the original numbers were, when the items came to the museum, and why the numbers were changed.

      molly macdonald

    • #133100

      Ashley, Janean and Liz,

      I just wanted to add that I think it would be bad practice to simply append an ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘c’ etc. to the end of the existing number ’71’ number.

      Letters should be used to represent component parts of an artifact, not distinct artifacts. The classic example is the teapot and lid. Teapot would be 2013.1.1a and the lid would be 2013.1.1b.

      Six coin purses should all have distinct numbers, they are not component parts of an artifact.


    • #133099
      Janean Van Beckum

      I believe the reason our artifacts used “retro numbers” instead of the year they were renumbered is so the year the donation was made would be reflected in the number. I cannot be sure since this was done many years ago, but they were trying to fit the objects into the new scheme and that meant associating the catalog number with the donation year.

      Molly-I don’t think it is bad practice. It is not traditional, but all museums use their numbering systems in different ways. If Ashely decides it is too much work and too much confusion to assign a completely new number, adding letters to the pieces is not unheard of. I have seen this at many of the institutions I have worked at. It just depends on how your organization wishes to create their cataloging system.

    • #133098

      Renumbering is always a challenge, but the accession number has a purpose. It’s format is designed to tell us information about an object. It can also reflect what is happening at the organzation at which it is housed. If I see an artifact numbered 2000.983.1, that accession number tells me that my organization sure accepted a lot of donations in the year 2000. Subsequently, adding an “a” to that number would then make me wonder if there was a component part that was lost or not catalogued.
      What both of these examples may actually mean is that the organization did not follow standard numbering practices. This is a clear example of why having procedures in place (and following them!)are so essential. I agree wholeheartedly with Molly that if you do decide to renumber, documenting your actions and rationale are key to avoiding further confusion down the road.
      When caring for collections, we are often caring for objects from the past, but as the caregivers to those collections, we must always be thinking of the future. Decisions we make, how we handle, document, exhibit and store objects impact their future. Thus we want to make careful and informed decisions about the collections entrusted to our care to ensure that they are safe,secure and meaningful not just for the next exhibit or for the next few years, but for future generations of both the public and the staff of the organization.

    • #133097

      Thank you everyone for your suggestions and advice! It gives me several options to think about. Cathy, I don’t think you could have said it any better. Having clear procedures in place is essential!
      My only challenge with the process, is figuring out all the other complex systems that were used when others faced this problem. There was never a consistent procedure, so I have found letters and additional numbers added to existing lot numbers. For example, or 75.31.2.A. How do I establish system without making it even more complicated?
      Again, thank you!

    • #133096

      I’m not sure if this will help your situation, but my museum has merged collections with two other larger collections, both of which had some cataloged and some uncataloged items. The cataloged items used the same numbering system that we were already using, creating duplicate numbers. Our solution in this case was to add a letter indicating the old collection and the year the gift/merger occurred in front of the old number. It makes a longer number (W.1983.77.6.2 for the Wentworth Collection, and H.2008.55.7.14 for the Historical Society) but you don’t have to totally renumber hundreds of items and their records. And we can tell which collection the item is from just be looking at the number, which is helpful when a donor wants to know if a specific item is the one given by his/her family to one of the collections.

    • #133095

      Thanks Lynne – that is extremely helpful!

    • #133094
      Sharon McCullar

      We also have a similar situation with a ledger system used for the first 15 years of our institution’s life. Donations, sometimes in batches and sometimes listed individually, were assigned the next available consecutive number in the ledger. I am working to assign unique object ID #s by adding .001, .002, etc to the original ledger entry for batches of items. Items that stand alone (only one object listed in the ledger entry) keep thier original number with no added prefix. This is working well when I run across the “next item”. I just add the .003 or whatever to the mark, create an accurate record in the collection management database and go on. As I work with the ledger I am able to spot repeat donors and am grouping them into Master Accession records in the CMS to aid in research and donor identification when people inquire about their family items they think were donated in this time period. Sounds like that is pretty much on track with what our colleagues are doing.

    • #133093
      Jane Nicoll

      I am also facing updating old accession records. I don’t think anyone has pointed out the problem with the older numbers not showing the century i.e. 1977-. Our collection is small enough that as we type up handwritten forms we can add the “19” and go add it to the item. But I will still add a note to the collection paperwork that for any record with the two digits only, like77,77=1977. Any 21st Century accessions will have the “20–” number. We don’t have PastPerfect, yet, but it is good to know they have an “old number” area.

    • #133092
      Ronald Heroux

      When assigning accession numbers to an old collection where the donation date was not clear, but old inventories (1968, 1983) showed the items in the collection, I assigned a temporary accession number of 19xx.etc, for the first number. As I find more precise information on those items I can then change that first number to reflect the year the items were received.

    • #133091
      ladonna jung

      Thank you to all of you for your comments. It has been very helpful.

    • #133090
      Lisa Foster

      Just wanted to add that you should never assign any meaning to a number. Every collection out there has items that were numbered out of sequence. It’s impossible for all numbers to be correct. You can’t rely on accession number for anything but to help you find the information about an object. Then you can go to the file and find the year something was donated, how many items were donated, etc. So, in the end it really doesn’t matter what number you give an object. It’s just a number. (I know a lot of people disagree with me on this but that’s the conclusion I’ve come to.)

      That said,PastPerfect makes it really easy to deal with this with it’s “old number” and “other number” field. That way you could give an object a completely random number and still be able to find it if you have the old number. The most important thing is that you make the new numbers simple (forget about adding letters, numbers, etc. to the end of the number, besides again you’d be adding meaning to the number) and as it’s already been pointed out, document your reasoning.

      Here’s what I would do. If the “71” means 1971 and you are sure of it, I would do my best to keep the objects in order but start with 1971.001.001 and continue from there. If you know the donor, I’d make a separate accession for each set of objects that came from that particular donor. (It was unclear in your original message if they were grouped together by type of item or by donation.) Similar to this:

      1971.001.001 to 1971.001.006 = coin purses (or if each coin purse came from a different donor, I’d use this number for everything from one donor, regardless of the item’s old number)
      1971.002.001 to 1971.002.002 = plates

      I do this a lot if I have items that I know came in a certain year but have no idea the sequence and just make a note of that in the file. If I don’t know the date at all, I just pick a year when I have definite proof that it was here and go with that. For example, I use 1999 for ALL items that I’m positive were here before 1999 but that I have no record of the exact year. 1999 was pretty much the year when things started being recorded better so nearly everything I have that doesn’t have a date received can be given a 1999 accession number.

      I make sure there’s a note similar to this one with each 1999 accession record in PastPerfect: “The correct year of donation is not known. 1999 was chosen as the accession year because the items were definetly donated to the repository by this time.”

      Here’s another example of one of my notes: “The date of acquisition for this item is unknown. However, it is known that it was in the collection prior to 12 Sept 1993.” (I ended up giving this item a 1993 number even though 1993 may not be the actual year it was donated, but when you don’t assign meaning to the accession number it really doesn’t matter.)

      Does this make sense?

Viewing 15 reply threads
  • The forum ‘C2C Community Archives – 2012 through 2014’ is closed to new topics and replies.