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  • 1.  Many different inventory number systems

    Posted 01-11-2022 11:30 AM
    Hello all,

    I am in the process of beginning a thorough inventory of a collection and this particular collection was a private one spread over many different locations. The inventory number systems are all different depending on circumstances like location, which auction house it was purchased from etc. Some have traditional museum trinomial numbers and others have three letter codes as the first set instead of numbers.

    My questions are these:

    - Does anyone have tips on reconciling different inventory systems into one cohesive system?
    - With so many different systems, is it best to pick one and fold the others into it (i.e. record what it used to be numbered as and then give it a number according to one of the others that we choose to make the dominant system)?
    - Start a new inventory number system? 

    This collection will be turned into a small museum so I have thought of just creating a new number system and accession them all into the museum this way. I would still record all of the information of how it was inventoried in the past but want to hear what other people's thoughts might be. 


    Andrew Schlauch

  • 2.  RE: Many different inventory number systems

    Posted 01-12-2022 09:21 AM
    Hello Andrew,

    This is something that our repository deals with. We have archaeological collections that have many different tracking numbers attached, including field specimen numbers (e.g., Spec. No. 1), old assession numbers (e.g., A-6), old catalog numbers (e.g., 22/34), temporary inventory numbers (e.g., T106), and so forth. Since the 1990s, we have used a tripartite catalog number that combines an assession number (year of assession and project number e.g., 2022.001) with a project specific continuous catalog number (e.g., 2022.001.00034). All of the various tracking numbers are linked to the tripartite catalog number. It will take time, but since the collection will be turned into a museum, the time and labor starting a standardized number system will be worth it in the long run. 


    Christopher Caseldine PhD
    Acting Curator of Collections
    Center for Archaeology and Social Change Repository
    Tempe AZ

  • 3.  RE: Many different inventory number systems

    Posted 01-13-2022 10:10 AM
    I've addressed this problem a little bit differently in two situations that came up. We have farm equipment that is accessioned and stored off site and previous staff would give a blanket accession prefix (2022.003) to the offsite team and they would assign their own numbers. But the items never got cataloged in the database and, when I went to catalog them, I found many of the numbers were duplicates. After much hair pulling, I finally kept the numbers the same but added an RF (for the site) prefix to them. Problem solved! No more duplicate numbers.

    In the second situation, we received a huge photography collection where the photographer had numbered his photos and negatives 1 to whatever and provided a descriptive inventory based on his numbering system. This resolution was even simpler. We assigned the year / donation number prefix (2022.004) and, for the third number, used the photographer's number.

    Hope this helps,

    Dana Neitzel, Curator
    San Mateo County Historical Association
    2200 Broadway
    Redwood City, CA 94063

  • 4.  RE: Many different inventory number systems

    Posted 01-12-2022 09:40 AM

    I'm curious to see what others have to say about this.  I have a similar situation!


    Paula Phipps

    Manager of Collections and Interpretation



    1600 Rockland Road

    Wilmington, DE 19803




  • 5.  RE: Many different inventory number systems

    Posted 01-13-2022 09:22 AM
    If I understand Andrew's statement, "this collection will be turned into a small museum", this is a private collection which has not yet been accessioned into the new institution's collections.

    IMO, as a new museum, you are not bound to employ the former/private collection's numbering system(s), and I would advise you to employ a standard museum accession numbering system that is simple and works logically for you (such as the 'tripartite').

    However, you should retain the objects' original numbers in the record as part of their history.  All museum databases I know of have fields to record alternative/historical numbers.
    It's perfect to begin assigning new numbers as part of your initial inventory, using temporary tags written in pencil as you work through the collections, as there will likely be adjustments to be made (discovering disassociated parts, unnumbered objects, duplicate numbers, etc.).       

    That said, had these been objects *already* accessioned into your own museum's collections using the original numbering system, I would not attempt to change the old numbering system and reassign new numbers. 

    Retain these old numbers -- unless you discover duplicate numbers assigned to different objects.  Dupes DO need to be corrected and updated (the problem is more common than you think in old collections!).  Sometimes an additional suffix number is appended.    

    For subsequent new accessions and cataloging, move forward with a new, logical system that works for you.

    Regarding physical marking of the collections, if your numbering system is significantly different from that of the original collector, there should be no confusion.   I don't think you should attempt to remove original number markings unless these are causing conservation issues.   

    Many museums (especially our oldest and largest) survive and thrive with multiple historic numbering systems in use within their collections.    Thanks to modern coll mgmt systems, these are just as accessible and researchable and integrated as their newly-accessioned fellows.

    Good luck with the inventory, and may you make great discoveries,
    Batja (certified inventory geek)


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