Amgueddfa Blog: Collections Services

Cultural heritage collections need a friendly home. 'Friendly' means: a building that protects the collection from the elements – wind, sun and rain. Conservators worry a lot - and rightly so - about pigments fading when they are exposed to light, about stuffed animals being eaten by insect pests, about war time medals corroding because of the presence of air pollutants. But it’s no good having a fantastic pest management system if the roof leaks. Getting the basics right makes the job of the conservator an awful lot easier and is better for the collection.

Like many museums up and down the country, National Museum Cardiff is housed in a historic building. The museum contains 30 public galleries and 50 collection stores which accommodate almost 3 million objects. This is only part of the national heritage collection of Wales and arguable something we want to protect for the benefit of current and future generations.

But being in a historic building, as beautiful as it is, has its challenges. Much of the building infrastructure is aging and needs modernising. Our roof needs some tlc. Our air conditioning systems are so old, there is nobody left in the museum who was around when they were first installed. And the electrics in parts of the building are not far from receiving a birthday telegram from Her Majesty the Queen.

All of those issues are a problem not just for visitors and staff, but also for the collections. Therefore, we have started modernising our museum building. In the past few years we already had parts of our roof replaced. Less publicly visible was the recent replacement of the electrical infrastructure in the west wing. We are now in the process of undertaking much more work to improve the building.

Some of this work will happen behind closed doors: replacement of our chillers and humidifiers with new, modern and efficient technology, making the museum leaner and greener. Other work will be more obvious to our visitors, including works to the roof of our south wing. Various works will require the temporary closure of some of our public galleries – please bear with us during this time, we are keeping the rest of the museum open and, once the works are completed, all galleries will be accessible again.

One difficulty remains: once all the works are completed the museum will look like nothing ever happened – we do not have a brand new building to show off for all our efforts. BUT the building will feel and operate differently. It will form a more reliable envelope around our collections. It will require less maintenance, saving us money and staff time. It will be more energy efficient and environmentally friendly, reducing our energy bills and forming a substantial contribution towards lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.

During this time of potential disruptions please bear in mind the end product, which will include a better museum experience for visitors today (well, next year) and in the future. And a building that continues to help us look after Wales’ national collection.

Should you have any questions at all about our refurbishment programme in relation to the collections, please do get in touch. We will be happy to assist in any way we can.

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

The Museum holds a very significant library collection of Molluscan books, known collectively as the Tomlin Library. They were donated to the Museum in 1955 by John Read le Brockton Tomlin (1864-1954), a founder member of the Malacological Society of London, along with his extensive shell collection and archives.

 

To celebrate the Year of the Sea, we are focusing on some of the books in the Tomlin Library, and highlighting some of its treasures.

 

First up is Historiae sive synopsis methodica conchyliorum by Dr Martin Lister (1639-1712). Dr Lister was a physician to Queen Anne, who also had an interest in natural history and communicated with other leading naturalists of the time such as Edward Llwyd, John Ray, and Robert Hooke. He is generally thought to be the founder of conchology in England.

 

He had created a small version of this book for circulation to friends in 1685, but almost immediately began work on an expanded version which was produced from 1685 to 1692. This copy had 490 pages, with 1062 engraved copper plates, showing 2000 figures of molluscs.

 

The illustrations were the work of two of his daughters Susanna (1670-1738) and Anna (1671–1704). Their father had encouraged their drawing abilities, and they would have used the shells in his collection, or those sent by friends such as Sir Hans Sloane, from which to make their drawings. They were also responsible for etching or engraving the plates on copper and it is generally assumed that the printing was done by the family at home, rather than taken to a professional printing firm.

 

The publication of the first edition of Historiae Conchyliorum was a lengthy and laborious undertaking, it is an impressive feat for anyone to be involved in, but even more so for Susanna and Anna as it is thought that they were between the ages of 13 and 15 when production began. It was initially published in four books, or parts, and then a second, complete, edition was produced almost immediately and became available in 1697.

 

In 1712 Lister bequeathed the original copper plates to the Ashmolean Museum, and in 1770, the curator of the Museum, William Huddesford, published a third edition of the book. He reprinted the illustrations from the original plates, included additional notes from Lister’s manuscript, and dedicated it to the famous shell collector, the Duchess of Portland.

 

A final edition was produced in 1823, which included an index by Lewis Weston Dillwyn (1778-1855), the porcelain manufacturer whose shell collection is now housed in the Museum zoology department. This edition includes the notes from the Huddesford version and identifications of the species and remarks by the compiler. It is technically the fourth edition but is known generally as the third.

 

The Tomlin Library contains a copy of the first edition from 1685-1692, a copy of the 1770 Huddesford edition and two copies of the 1823 Dillwyn edition. For the duration of Women's History Month the 1685-1692 version will be on display in the Main Hall of National Museum Cardiff, along with a variety of shells from the zoology department.

Don’t know what to get the children for Christmas this year? How about a little inspiration from the museum collections. Some of these items are going to be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History in the autumn of 2018.

Miniature toy sewing machine

Accession No: F82.51.63

Got any budding sewers in your family? This lovely little sewing machine belonged to Margaret Eckley of Sully who played with it as a child in the 1930s. It is hand operated and decorated with an image of Little Red Riding Hood. It comes with an instruction manual too.

 

Set of toy soldiers

Accession No: 56.313.134 – 154

You could try the classic set of toy soldiers? These came from Brecon. Did they march all the way? They were donated to the museum in the 1950s and probably belonged to the donor’s children, who were born in the 1890s.

 

Corgi Toy Tractor

Accession No: F00.27.9

You could try the ever popular Corgi toy range. This tractor was played with in Cardiff in the 1950s – 1960s.

 

Welsh Costume Doll

Accession No: 30.316

This doll dressed in traditional Welsh costume was played with in the middle of the 19th century. She must have been a treasured item, she was in the donor’s family for eighty years. To see more Welsh costume dolls visit the People’s Collection Wales website.

 

Lego Christmas set

Accession No: 2000.194/1

Would Christmas be complete without Lego? Here’s Father Christmas with his sleigh made in the Lego factory in Wrexham.

These objects are not on display at the moment, but you’ll soon be able to see them on our website along with many of our Art, Archaeology, Industrial and Social & Cultural History collections. Thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery for support with this ongoing work.

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.

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Forget Raindrops on roses, you can keep your whiskers on kittens…

With such varied collections that we have in the museum I can’t help noticing some fabulous objects.

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, soon you’ll be able to search the museum catalogue and discover your own favourite things.

These are a few of my favourites:

Image in chalk pastel on paper of Welsh rugby player scoring a try against the All Blacks

The Try that Beat the All Blacks by Frank Gillett (1874 – 1927)

What a fabulous picture this is! (I may be a little biased). This picture shows the first ever test match between the Wales and New Zealand rugby teams in 1905. Wales won 3 – 0 (a try was only worth 3 points in those days rather than 5 points as it is now).

Seated figurine of a mouse holding a disc

Roman copper alloy figurine of a mouse

This lovely little mouse (only 3cm high) was found in Loughor, or Leucarum as the Romans knew it. Is it nibbling some cheese, or has it found a biscuit somewhere?

Locomotive painted bright yellow and black

Electric locomotive

It might look like something from Thunderbirds, but this is an electric locomotive used in Glamorgan Haematite Iron Ore Mine (Llanharry Iron Ore Mine) from the 1960s. These locomotives replaced the use of horses for haulage in the mine.

Section of blue damask fabric with intricate silver thread embroidery.

Detail of the silver thread embroidery on the court mantua. 

This shows detail of a dress from the 1720s. This is a very grand court dress (known as a mantua) which would have been worn for presentation at court by Lady Rachel Morgan the wife of Sir William Morgan of Tredegar House. Just look at the incredibly detailed embroidered silver thread on silk damask. The best thing about it I think, is that it was altered during the 19th century by one of Lady Rachel’s descendants, probably to wear as fancy dress! The dress will be on display in the new galleries at St Fagans National Museum of History in the autumn of 2018.

Jug with a cut out trellis-like design of circles and lozenges at the top, with a ring around neck from which protrude three bulbous spouts.

Puzzle jug made by the Cambrian Pottery c. 1800

What’s the puzzle about this puzzle jug? Try and pour from it, and you’ll end up with beer all over the place. To find out how these were made, and importantly, how you’d use it, check out this video by the V&A museum.

If you want to see more of the collections you can explore online or come and visit one of our museums. Not all of our items are on display, so before you make a special trip to see something specific, check that it’s on display first.

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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 Honorary 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.