Polishing Up the Silver Collection

During most Thursdays and Fridays through April this year, you might encounter two volunteers in the Colours Room working with silver pieces from the collection. That’s us, Audra and Jeanette, working to improve and digitise the records of the silver collection at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum. 

We are both postgraduate students at the University of Glasgow working towards an MSc in Museum Studies. We chose to take up a work placement with the museum to gain experience working in the museum sector, with the added benefit of getting out of the city and spending some time in a castle each week. 

Throughout the museum you can see many items from the silver collection, but many more remain in the stores, unable to be displayed partially because not enough is known about them. The project we are working on will help the museum learn more about what it has. The silver collection includes a wide variety of objects like trophies from sports competitions, commemorative gifts, tableware, and some more unique items like inkwells created from the hooves of officers’ horses. 

Our task in the first part of the project is to produce a set of photographs for each object and record its metadata – the regimental associations, measurements, inscriptions on the object, condition reports, accession numbers and location in the stores. The second part of the project will be to edit and input all the photographs and metadata we have collected into the museum’s online collections management system. 

During the course of our days in the museum we build more complete records of the silver collection by inspecting the objects as well as consulting accession books, silver hallmark indexes, and the knowledgeable museum staff. The accession books tell us general information about the objects recorded when they first arrived in the museum, but the information is often sparse, as is the case with the digital version of these records. 

There are some challenges in this process. While inspecting the silver we often come across hallmarks which tell us where, when, and by whom that particular item was made. These are sometimes difficult to decipher, and we are learning to identify these with lots of help from the staff. The photography aspect of the placement has also been a learning process, as the reflective nature of the polished silver makes capturing good photos difficult. We are learning how to manipulate the lighting and camera settings to avoid reflections on the objects and create a useful set of images for the digital record. 

We have already begun learning skills in object handling, photography, data collection, and digital databases, and by the end of our placement here we will no doubt be more equipped for success in our postgraduate programme and future museum careers. 

Feel free to stop by and ask us about what we’re documenting today!