HOW TO Start A Fire Museum
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How To Pages -  How To Start A Fire Museum      Business and Organization      Fundraising      Collections  
COLLECTIONS - Ahh - now we are getting to the good "stuff"...

When first thinking of starting a museum, everyone immediately thinks of collecting artifacts (affectionately referred to as "stuff" in the professional museum biz). Actually it has been my experience that the "stuff" is the easy part. The minute you announce to the world you are starting a fire museum, basements, garages, and attics open up and old fire stuff comes pouring your way, (especially large stuff - like fire apparatus).

Before you start accepting items into your collection you should have some basic groundwork established. You should have a mission statement, and a collection policy. These two documents help you establish goals,. and limits to your collection. They also dictate how you do and do not aquire objects, and what you can and can not do with them once you've got them in hand. As part of your collections policy, you should establish your collections procedure. Develop donor "deed-of-gift" forms, develop a numbering and cataloging system, and start keeping meticulous records.

As for collections policies and forms - you probably know that there is no one "correct form" It is more important that you have one than what it looks like.

See also -

• The “how-to” page on mission statements

• The “how-to” page on collection policies

• The “how-to” page with sample museum forms

Okay- now the big question - inventory and numbering!

I've worked with a variety of numbering systems and again contrary to popular opinion it is better just to have one than to worry about having the correct one.

If you don't have a collection yet - this may be a blessing - you can start from scratch.

If you have a collection with or without some numbers, and you want to implement a new system, it can be done in two ways. You can try and reconstruct the donations (figuring out the donor, the year and so-forth) or you could accession the entire collection as being “donated” to your museum in this year (or last year).

If you have any old numbers you should save those and somehow work them into your system. It is not good to have two different numbers/numbering systems on the same artifact - yet it is NOT recommended that you remove any old numbers because you never know where or when that old number may be recorded or referred to?!

As for the actual numbering system, Some institutions have two separate collections - a “permanent” collection used for displays and kept safe and carefully preserved and an “educational collection” which often has duplicate items or even reproductions of items. Items in the “educational” collection may be brought out and used during tours or demonstrations, or they may be considered for loan to other museums.

It has been my experience that it is not practical to differentiate between these two collections when numbering an artifact. What if an item is deemed in the “permanent collection” but you suddenly get five more of the same item and your original then gets relegated to the “educational collection” - do you want to renumber that item?? (I'd think not)

Some institutions have do try and differentiate between artifacts, library items, photographs, etc... That is a bit more practical, (once a book always a book, once a photo always a photo). I happened on a numbering style developed by the Wisconsin State Museum Association. It is about 25 years old now, but I still like it, it still works, and IF the Aurora fire museum were ever going to renumber, this is the system I would choose to use. It is your basic three-part numbering system but it has a letter at the beginning designating one of four collections. It uses the acronym "L.A.M.P" for easy remembering.
"L = Library items"

"A = Artifacts"

"M = Manuscripts and documents"

"P = Photographs"

See also -

•  Museums and non profit managment resources and links

As for actually "numbering" objects, most museums use a “permanent” - but reversible system. It entails painting a thin stripe of a clear base-coat lacquer, painting a thin stripe of a white “paint” over this lacquer, marking the number using a thin permanent marker of India ink, and then painting another thin stripe of a clear base-coat lacquer over the top of it all. This creates a “lacquer sandwich” and the lacquers that are used are nondestructive, and easily removed using a lacquer solvent. (WARNING - Only use an archival museum quality lacquer purchased from an archival museum products distributor, or use a good brand of clear nail-polish as an alternative.)

Do not use this method on books, paper items, it is best to simply number them in pencil. Fabrics should be number on a tag which is carefully stitched into an inconspicuous place.