Amgueddfa Blog: Collections Services

Archibald H. Lee was the first Secretary appointed to National Museum Wales in 1909 and held the post for 44 years. His professional life began in 1899 when he entered the service of the Cardiff Corporation as a junior clerk in the old Town-hall on St Mary Street. During this time he would have worked on the City’s case for the establishment of a National Museum, so it must have been gratifying for him to join the fledgling staff of the new Museum.

After a few quietly productive years, the outbreak of WWI saw a large number of staff leave the museum for military service and Lee was no exception. He commanded a company of the 5th Welch Regiment and was awarded the Military Cross after the Battle of Gaza.

After the war, Lee resumed his position as Secretary and the Library holds a great number of photographs showing him at the forefront of important events and gatherings. In 1927 the new building at Cathays Park was officially opened by King George V and Queen Mary and Lee lead the Royal party up the steps to officially knock on the door with the ceremonial staff.

He established a life time bond with the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society when he joined in 1909, going on to hold the posts of Honourable Secretary, Council Member, President [1931-2] and finally Honourable Member in 1954. Some highlights during these years were helping to organize and celebrate the Society’s Diamond Jubilee, contributing an article titled Museums in Cardiff for the Society Transactions [1932] and being awarded the Honorary Degree of M.A. by the University of Wales [1937].

During WWII, he was an active member of the 16th Glamorgan Home Guard ‘National Museum Wales Section’. The Museum suffered some damage through enemy air raids on Cardiff and extensive precautions were implemented to protect the collections. These involved the transfer of important specimens to the basement strong room, sandbagging of sculptural and bulky exhibits, the protecting of all glass cases and windows with gummed strips, and night time ‘fire-watch’ duties, all of which  Lee would most likely have been involved in.

In 1953 Lee retired as Secretary with a civic luncheon held in his honour and the award of an O.B. E [Officer of the British Empire].

He passed away in 1970, aged 87 years.

 

This year the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society is celebrating its 150th anniversary. You can read about the history of the Society, and its close links with the National Museum here and here.

 

Right from the outset the Society amassed its own Library focusing on natural history, geology, the physical sciences, and archaeology.

 

Many of the publications in the Library were received as exchanges with societies and institutions around the world. They would send out copies of their Transactions, and then receive copies of those organisations’ publications in return. Some of the institutions and societies they were exchanging with included; the Edinburgh Botanical Society; the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences; the South West Africa Scientific Society; the Polish Academy of Science; the Royal Society of Tasmania; the Sociedad Geographia de Lima; and the Kagoshima University in Japan.

 

A number of the publications in the Library were later bound by William Lewis, a bookseller and stationer based in Duke Street in Cardiff. They all have beautiful marbled covers, endpapers, and a matching marbling pattern on the edges of the text block. Each one also has a bookplate with an embossed image of the Society logo, they are incredibly beautiful examples of bookbinding.

 

Not all the items in the Library were received on exchange, a great many were also the result of donations, especially by members. A lovely example is a copy of a second edition of An illustrated manual of British birds by Howard Saunders from 1899. Many of the pages contain annotations relating to whether the previous owner had encountered that particular species in the local area, such as spotting the nest of a pair of mistle-thrushes in Penylan in 1900. Unfortunately the signature of ownership is somewhat illegible, so it’s not possible to make out their name, all that we can tell is that they lived in Richmond Road in 1900.

 

There is also a copy of Claudia and Pudens, a book by John Williams published in 1848. The book was presented to the Society by C. H. James Esq. of Merthyr, and in it is attached a letter to T. H. Thomas (a prominent member of the Society) dated 1892. The letter discusses Roman remains in Cardiff, and advises Thomas not to get drawn in to the ‘Claudia myth’, a popular theory suggesting a Claudia mentioned in the New Testament was a British princess. The author of the letter is quite scathing about the claims, calling them “a ridiculous fabrication”.

 

In 1996 a copy of Castell Coch by Robert Drane, a founding member of the Society was donated to the Library. It was published in 1857, and is now quite rare, as according to John Ward (former curator at the Cardiff Museum, and the National Museum), Drane subsequently destroyed as many copies of this book as possible! The copy donated to the Society contains annotations throughout, correcting or commenting on the contents, and a listing of all the people the author presented with copies.

 

In 1925 the Society decided to place its Library in the Museum Library, with the following stipulations;

•              To the ownership of the Society’s Library remaining with the Society

•              To all accessions to the Society’s Library being entered in the Society’s register

•              To all accessions to the Society’s Library being stamped with the Society’s stamp

•              That members of the Society may enjoy the same privileges as at present in the matter of the volumes and periodicals belonging to the Society

•              That this proposal does not refer to the “Transactions”, offprints, and other publications of the Society

 

Later in 1927 they decided to make it a permanent deposit, provided the Museum agreed to the additional stipulations;

●     That members of the Society may enjoy the same privileges as at present in the matter of the volumes and periodicals belonging to the Society, and which may be received in the future in exchange for publications of the Society

●     The Museum will bear the cost of all binding, which shall be undertaken as and when, in the opinion of the Museum Council finances permit. There shall be no differentiation, in this respect, between the Museum Library and the Society’s Library.

 

Although the Society’s Library had been in the care of the Museum Librarian since that time, the Honorary Librarian had always been a member of the Society. But, from 1964 the Honorary Librarian was both a member of the Society and a member of staff in the Museum Library.

 

List of Honorary Librarians

R.W. Atkinson          1892-1902

P. Rhys Griffiths       1902-1906

E.T.B. Reece             1907-1911

H.M. Hallett               1911-1948

H.N. Savory               1949-1962

G.T. Jefferson           1962-1964

E.H. Edwards            1964-1970

E.C. Bridgeman        1970-1976

W.J. Jones                1976-1985

J.R. Kenyon              1985-2013

The photography department at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales looks after images for all of the seven museum sites including the Archaeology department. That means taking new photographs of archaeological objects, and scanning historical photographs (e.g. prints and slides).

Here’s an example of how both are used.

Segontium Roman Fort, Caernarfon

These photos from the 1920s show the excavations at Segontium led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, the then Keeper of Archaeology and later Director of National Museum Wales. They were scanned from glass plates. Here’s a few of the 102 images from this collection:

Black and white photograph of excavations

Cellar in the Headquarters building (praetorium)

Black and white photograph of excavations

Headquarters building (praetorium) during excavations in the 1920s

Black and white photograph of group of people visiting excavations

Sir Mortimer Wheeler (left) showing visiting dignitaries around the site including Lady Lloyd George (front right)

The photographs may be of use to modern archaeologists interpreting the site, but personally I like spotting the shadow of the photographer and his tripod (we’ve all managed to do that haven’t we?) and checking out those fabulous 1920s hats!

Here’s where modern photography comes in. The following images were taken recently of objects from the 1920s excavations.

Roman flagon

Flagon found at Segontium, but produced in Oxfordshire will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History

Stone alter with latin inscription

The Goddess of war must have protected someone in their time of need, in return he vowed to dedicate an altar to her which was found in the strong room of the Headquarters building. It reads: To the goddess Minerva Aurelius Sabinianus, actarius, willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.

The images are digitally archived so that they’re accessible for use in exhibitions, publications, presentations and online.

 

Some of the finds from Segontium will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History opening in 2018.

You can see more historic photographs here.

Learn more about Segontium Roman Fort on Amgueddfa Cymru’s website or on the Cadw website.

With support from the players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we’re working hard getting our collections online so you can search our object database and see information and images of the collections for yourself.

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Last week saw the 50th anniversary and the 18th conference of ICOM-CC (Committee on Conservation), the largest of the committees of ICOM (International Council of Museums). ICOM-CC has almost 3,000 members worldwide from every branch of the museum and conservation profession. In addition to their day job of preserving the world's history and culture, these members also promote the conservation of cultural and historic works. I was able to attend thanks to generous support by the Anna Plowden Trust.

The conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was enormous: more than one thousand conservators headed the call to report and debate. While Copenhagen is an amazing city there was not much time to explore it, what with 5 parallel sessions and hundreds of talks to listen to during a packed conference programme. I would like to pick out and share just a few of my personal highlights.

The data generated during collections monitoring in museums can be explored sometimes beyond their original intention. Cristina Daron and Matija Strlic from University College London explained how unexpected patterns can be discovered by analysis of existing data sets. For example, they discovered a clear link between damage to archival objects and use of these objects in a reading room. This sort of data mining produces results that cannot be captured by experimental studies, but which can be used to improve decision making.

On the theme of data, I co-presented a talk with my colleague Jane Henderson from Cardiff University on new ways of presenting conservation data; you can find a copy of the paper here. Our suggestion is to present results not simply in the all too ubiquitous bar charts and line graphs, but to use more meaningful visualisations that are easier to interpret and send the correct message to the receiver. This will help make quicker and better decisions and ultimately improve the care of collections.

Conservation of cultural heritage involves a lot of risk assessments – there is so much to do that we try to figure out as objectively as possible where the most urgent need for resources is. Alice Cannon from Museum Victoria, Australia, explained how the deterioration of an object does not always mean a loss. Hence, when attempting to judge value loss, judgments must be made by experts from different fields. The potential value loss of an object needs to be considered when undertaking a risk assessment that might want to predict the estimated deterioration of that object in, say, 100 years.

Every museum has a store (or several), hence storage is a subject close to the heart for most people in the sector. Lise Raeder Knudsen from Conservation Centre Vejle, Denmark, summarised almost 30 years of experience of building low energy collection stores in Denmark. The main principle of such stores is high thermal and hydric inertia. The Danish cultural sector has proven that such stores can have both lower construction and running costs, while at the same time producing a stable environment suitable for the long-term storage of cultural collections. One issue currently still undergoing research is the potential problem of indoor pollutants which may accumulate if there is insufficient fresh air supply.

Likewise, training is an issue that keeps resurfacing in conservation as in other disciplines. Alice Boccia Paterakis introduced the Interdisciplinary Training of Archaeologists and Archaeological Conservators Initiative (ITAACI) programme from the USA, where archaeologists and conservators are being brought together to work jointly and raise awareness of each other’s needs. The training theme also carried through to the poster sessions, where Monika Harter from London informed us how the British Museum, with some clever planning, had used succession planning to train two conservators for the price of one. This included the passing on of hard-to-come-by expert knowledge from one generation to the next.

My final highlight is Jonathan Ashley-Smith’s analogy of coffee shops to explain why, in his opinion, conservation needs a new approach to ethics. He explained that a new, bespoke, code of ethics would use a variety of ingredients to design something that suits each of the various and diverse disciplines that make up cultural heritage conservation. The internet would provide the ideal tool to publish a bespoke code of ethics, as well as conservation intentions, proposals and records all in one place and, ideally, in Wikis. Jonathan’s talk created more debate and Twitter traffic than any other talk and I suspect his idea will keep being discussed.

The conference programme was rounded off by various specialist working group meetings, technical visits, opportunities to see Copenhagen’s museums and social events. A packed week with countless inspiring conversations with colleagues from all over the world. Not always without controversy of course – some ideas out there are interesting but perhaps require further scrutiny. Perhaps a topic for a future blog or paper.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter.

This is one of our fabulous, weird and wonderful stores at St Fagans National Museum of History. It’s chockablock full of objects. We’re still collecting new things, but we have to be very selective in what we take in. We just don’t have the space!

Store at St Fagans National Museum of History

You can come across all sorts of things in a social history store like this one, from grandfather clocks to prosthetic limbs.

When a colleague of mine first went into this store and was told to ‘mind the mantrap’ she thought it was a joke. It turns out there really was a mantrap lurking at the end of a dark corridor!

For a long time I’ve known that the majority of museum collections are hidden away in storage, that what you see in galleries is only a small portion, but I had no idea to what extent until I started working here.

Of the 5 million objects we have across seven museums ranging from vintage motorcars, moon rock, world famous paintings, Iron Age slave chains, to a public urinal. How many objects are on display?

Only 0.2% of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ collections are on display.

So if there is a specific object you want to see at any of our museums, check that it’s on display first, and if it’s not, you can always make an appointment to view it. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we have had funding so we can enhance records and add images for you to view in Collections Online which will be up and running in the autumn. Keep an eye out for behind the scenes store tours with the curators and conservators who look after our collections, these can be really enlightening!

We’re looking after the collections, on your behalf. We hope you enjoy exploring them as much as we do.

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