Currently viewing the tag: "Accessions"

Among the materials we cataloged today was a collection of accession records from the 1930s through the 1950s for materials used in AMNH exhibitions such as the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and on the polar expeditions of Amundsen-Ellsworth and Admiral Richard E. Byrd. The most interesting part of these materials were the inventory lists of Admiral Byrd’s Antarctic expedition equipment. Should you find yourself in need of a reference for what to bring on a trip to Antarctica, I think we might be able to help you.

Sample expedition exhibition inventory list.

Also, it appears that Admiral Byrd’s footwear of choice was made by Thom McAn.

Advertisement for Thom McAn shoes.

Something else we learned today is that the Museum once had a Department of Geography. This department was quite short-lived, starting in 1934 and ending in 1938. According to the documents in the collection we worked with, once the department was closed, its Geographical Exploration collection’s materials were transferred to the Custodial department for storage.

Internal memo about Dept. of Geography's demise and subsequent material transfer.

There are extensive inventory lists from the Dept. of Geography for all items kept by the Museum from various expeditions, such as ones done by Lincoln Ellsworth, Admiral Byrd, and E.O. Hovey. There was also a ledger of geographical collections accession records from the department, which included details about photographs and other materials from expeditions that were once kept by this department.

Page from accession records ledger.

There were plenty of things to explore in this collection. However, one thing that remains a mystery to us is the more recent provenance of these records. They were found in a box with unrelated records from the Office of Public Affairs and seem to have come from the Department of Preparation and Installation. Perhaps they were just misplaced at one time. Hopefully, the data we have gathered will help to place them closer where they belong in the future.

Anthropology has a wonderful website that offers access to a database of their collections including some of what is included in their archive. Luckily they were able to offer the archive data to us, we’ve requested the data as both Excel and Access files. The students will verify and add to these archive records in our Excel sheet as they come across them. The data is a great gift as it contains already vetted records including extensive subject headings.

We are working on moving the data into the Excel sheet that we are using for Phase 1. In the meantime, the team will start with some of the collections that are not included in the database. Any new records that we create will be offered back to the Anthropology department so that they can update their database. These collections will include:

  • Accession Ledgers
  • Accession Envelopes
  • Donor Cards
  • Original Catalogs
  • Original Publication Artwork

Over the course of the project we will be finding many standard departmental records throughout the various departmental archives. That said, the departments often organize and use the records differently.

In Anthropology the accession records are made up of Accession Ledgers, Accession Envelopes and Donor Cards. All of these records relate back to each other and offer an additional perspective on the details of a collection that has been accessioned. For our Phase 1 cataloging effort each of these will be recorded as a different collection which relates to the other. This should help us capture the unique and comprehensive approach that the division uses and make sure it’s reflected in the OPAC records that will be generated.

I thought it might be interesting to share how Anthropology is going to define their Accession Envelopes for the Catalog records. This definition comes from Kristen Mable and Paul Beelitz in Anthropology.

There is an “accession envelope” for each of the x,xxx accessions which have been made by the Anthropology Division since the time of the Museum’s founding to the present.  The envelopes are stored chronologically, and contain documents pertinent to each accession, e.g., correspondence, shipping records, lists, collector’s notes, letters of transmittal (implemented in the 1980s), AMNH accession records, record of payment, ephemera, etc.

We began our first day getting accustomed to the layout of the museum and the Anthropology Archives. Our primary work today consisted of identifying the fields in the cataloging spreadsheet, and entering data regarding the Anthropology Accession files. We also began to count the accession files, and noted where any folders were missing or out of order. Generally the accession folders appeared to be in fair condition, however it is worthwhile to note that this was only our first glimpse of the folders.

While working, we came up with a couple questions to pose to the team regarding how the collection will be accessed:

-Should Inclusive and Bulk Dates for this type of top level catalog record be mutually exclusive? Using both could provide additional detail to the nature of the collection.
-Should we attempt to note provenance for accession files? Should we create subject headings for the accession files?


-The Summary that we entered into the catalog record may need to be revisited, as we only entered a secondhand description given to us when we were introduced to the collection.
-We found it interesting that these historical accession files are still being added to today. As scholars produce new research or publish their findings, this information is added to the appropriate files.

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