Our Collections Team, Rod and Alli, took part in the annual #AskACurator day over on our Instagram page on Wednesday 15th September. #AskACurator gives our social media followers the chance to ask us the burning questions they would love to know about the Museum, our collection and the team behind it all. We asked our followers on Twitter and Instagram to submit their questions, and here are some of the best.
What’s the most unusual thing in the museum?
Rod: “It has to be the giant wooden spoon! The spoon was awarded to Sergeant W J Collins in 1925 for coming last in a running race while the 1st Battalion were in Egypt. It grabs the attention of our visitors due to its size – it’s an impressive 2ft 7in long.”
What is the oldest item in the collection?
Rod: “A silver punch bowl collected by a member of the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders during the Peninsular War (1807-1814). It dates from 1688.”
What are the hardest things to clean or restore?
Rod: “By far textiles are most difficult to clean – the Colours in particular. The silk material they are made from is very fragile and can disintegrate or break away if given the wrong treatment. Many of the Colours in our collection have been ‘netted’ to stabilise them and prevent further damage from hanging for many years.”
How many objects are in the museum collection?
Alli: “Between our galleries and stores we’ve got over 12,500 recorded items (items that have been catalogued and have a digital record). However every museum has its backlog of items waiting to be documented so there are definitely a few extras.”
How do you know where everything in the collection is?
Alli: “Some very good collections management skills come into play! We have a digital database called Modes where we record all the info we have about an object. One of the most important things in a record is the object location – this gets updated every time an object is moved. The updates do take a lot of time though as I’m still working through the post-redevelopment location updates. We also have locations listed in our accession registers and an old card index just in case technology should ever fail us!”
How do you remove the exhibits to do them up?
Alli: “Some objects are much easier to remove than others! The Museum collection is really varied, so we can go from moving a large plaster-framed oil painting to a set of miniature medals over the course of a morning. For each object we have to assess how fragile it is, how it’s currently displayed or stored, and then make sure it can travel safely to its next destination. This can be to another display case, into storage or out on loan.”
What’s the best thing about your job?
Alli: “For me it’s the privilege of caring for other people’s stories. We get a look into the past that not many others are able to see, in the hope that we can make these stories more accessible. Seeing how visitors or other groups we work with respond to our items and stories is really amazing.”
Rod: “The access we have to personal letters and diaries, and the ability to read first-hand what someone has gone through is definitely the best thing. You can find yourself becoming quite emotional as you go through these documents. You also never know what items will be coming in next, so that keeps us on our toes.”
What is your favourite item in the museum’s archives/display?
Rod: “It’s hard to pick a favourite in a collection as varied as ours! I do love the sketchbook of Sergeant Sydney Oldham as it gives a glimpse into life on the front during WWI. It really highlights the changing circumstances of a soldier at the Front – one moment you’re in a fight, the next you are taking time out to draw or write.”
Alli: “Like Rod, I have a difficult time picking a favourite! From the displayed collection, one of my highlights is Private George Martin’s letter to Gertie – the letter itself was sent during WWI and was beautifully decorated by George before he sent it off to his sweetheart. Sadly George was killed shortly after writing the letter, and what visitors don’t see from the display is Gertie’s response from 1974 on the back of the letter.”
How do you decide what to collect? What’s come in recently?
Rod: “We have a collections development policy that guides what we collect. We’re really limited by the care requirements of each item and available storage – we’d love to be able to take everything but this isn’t always possible. We will consider adding objects which relate to members of The Argylls and its antecedent regiments. We mainly look for items with a strong personal story, items that we don’t have yet or examples of existing items which might be in poor condition.
Our most recent acquisition is a personal journal which belonged to a member of the 7th Battalion during WWI. When items like this come in to us we often have to do a bit of digging to confirm that it matches the information a donor provides us. For example, this book was thought to have been owned by one soldier, but some research revealed that it was actually another relative.”
What’s the best thing about the new museum?
Rod: “The improvements we’ve made in our displays. Each object having its own bespoke mount means we know that its condition isn’t being compromised through poor display. The objects have their own space as well – cases are less cluttered than before – so visitors can definitely enjoy their stories more now.”
Alli: “The focus on the amazing personal stories too. You see The Argylls through the soldiers’ eyes now and that emphasis on the social history of the Regiment has been a game changer for us.”