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Topic section three: Collecting then and now
TOPIC SECTION:
Collecting then and now
These days no publicly funded museum can function without a clear statement of its collecting policy. A written policy is required for accreditation by the Museums, Libraries and Ar
Image: Delivery of the mirror of the Rosse telescope to the Science Museum in 1914
Delivery of the mirror of the Rosse telescope to the Science Museum in 1914. Holy Trinity church, Prince Consort Road, is in the background
Credit: Science & Society Picture library
chives Council. Yet the concept is one that has develo
If the collections are to justify the investment in preserving them, their likely uses have to be made explicit
ped in its present form only in recent times. For years the Science Museum’s printed catalogues only hinted that there might be an underlying strategy to the material described. Until 1939 virtually everything held was on display and the idea of a collection as distinct from a gallery was non-existent.
A major review in 1910 of the Science Museum’s future display policies devoted surprisingly little space to the underlying thinking behind collection development. For some years more, collecting policies remained simple ‘shopping lists’ and the d
Manual Attendants John Flannery and Pat Tighe watch carefully as the Rover gas turbine car JET 1 arrives at the Science Museum in 1958 Credit: Science & Society Picture library
etail might be in the curator’s head and nowhere else. In fact, most of the time new acquisitions occurred by chance. These offers were taken up if they fitted, or could be made to fit, the collecting policy in force at the time. Special exhibitions on a particular subject take place for many reasons and collecting is specially directed to meet the exhibition’s theme.

In the last 50 years collecting for posterity has largely replaced collecting for display. The number of objects - retained for research and future use - in store far outweighs those in the galleries. If the collections are to justify the investment in preserving them, their likely uses have to be made explicit. All new acquisition cases explicitly balance their importance for the future against their likely contemporary uses. Consequently the Science Museum’s current collecting policy document is the most comprehensive so far. In brief, we select new items for the collections because: 

  • they represent key new scientific work and significant new products;
  • enhanced understanding of history and current practice persuade us that we need to tell new types of stories that the existing collections are unable to support;
  • our audiences look to us to understand and represent new areas (for example, to be properly inclusive, we wish to improve our representation of non-Western science and technology).

The year 2004 was the first in which these principles were fully applied. We show here a large selection from the acquisitions which were processed during that year. They demonstrate the diversity and range of subjects covered.

 
 
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Topic section: Collecting to make an exhibition
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Collecting for display is where the roots of the museum’s collections lie and for many years it was possible to show in the museum galleries everything that was acquired  > more

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Many of the objects now on display and in store came from the dispersal of other museums’ collections. In turn other collections transferred to the Science Museum have spawned two new museums  > more
 
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Click here to see images of objects collected in 2004
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