Katy Barrett, Collections Assistant at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science writes:
I commented in my last post about how a first impression of the Whipple Museum stores is just how many boxes there are. Firstly, there are the archival boxes, made of specially inert cardboard, which house smaller and more fragile objects wrapped carefully in acid-free tissue. Secondly there are some big heavy-duty plastic boxes to make the heavy objects easier to carry (of which more in a future post). But most interestingly, and lets face it most attractive, are the boxes that many of the objects came with.
The kind of scientific instruments that are designed to be used in the field usually come with their own historic wooden boxes. These are often beautifully shaped and fitted-out to hold the unique instrument and its accessories in place. They often also have leather straps, metal keys, historic labels and luxurious linings of velvet or marbled paper. This makes them an intrinsic part of the object, and also of the accession record on the database. When it comes to re-organising the stores, however, these boxes present us with some logistical questions.
Previously, many objects have been removed from their boxes and stored separately. It is difficult to know why this occurs in all cases. Sometimes it happens when the object has been displayed in a public gallery and the two are then not immediately reunited when the object is removed from display. The dilemma for the museum staff is whether to reunite them or not. Ideally we would like to have all parts of an object with the same accession number stored in the same location. However, being designed for travel, some objects need to be dismantled in order to fit into their boxes. This requires unscrewing fragile and complicated parts, which may damage these delicate mechanisms.
As museum collections expand into a limited storage space, questions over how best make use of the available space become more and more pressing…