Transit Totem Blog Post Mortem

By Brett Dion

Alex Gallafent with a lengthy sign in "Transit Totem"

Alex Gallafent with a lengthy sign in “Transit Totem”

Angela of Registrar Trek was very kind to credit the “Tell a Tale of a Transit Totem” program at the New York Transit Museum as an original concept in presenting museum collections. But I must confess that I drew inspiration for my proposal from a session at the 2013 AAM conference in Baltimore. The overall theme there was “The Power of Story,” and the session was with Rob Walker, of the “Significant Objects” experiment.

How it all began

In the four years prior to that moment, I had happily toiled away on the cataloging of NYTM’s three-dimensional artifact collection. Coming across found-in-collection tools and parts of the infrastructure and business of urban transportation, then determining a general history or context, was a genuine pleasure. Just as finding out a concrete fact or two held meaning for a trained archivist like myself, I also walked off to lunch or to the evening ride home and free-associated about the unknown track worker who worked with a wrench the size of my arm or the engineer who performed conductivity tests on a sample of third rail.

Rob Walker brought all of that conjecturing back to the forefront for me. I could imagine putting a formal or informal writing group in a room with some of the less familiar and abstract artifacts, along with the definitive and iconic objects that are universally associated with NYC Transit history, and invite those writers to “story slam.” I came back from that AAM epiphany and shared the idea with a select few in management and our Education/Programming staff. I never considered it my job to execute such a program, but I wanted to support it. So for several months, I sporadically brought it up to those individuals to keep the idea alive.

The project picks up steam

Participants wrote, as well as read, their fictitious exhibit labels.

Participants wrote, as well as read, their fictitious exhibit labels.

In late 2013, the museum had made new strides in program development by hiring a producer devoted to public programming. Wisely, Julia Malta-Weingard brought the museum into a new era of public programs by petitioning and crowd-sourcing program ideas from the museum’s staff and patrons. It was one thing for Julia to generate content proposals. But simultaneously, she also brought different museum departments together on a creative effort by staff members who have creative impulses, but don’t necessarily utilize creativity as a primary instrument in their workdays.

Here was a chance for me to answer a solicited call for some programming ideas. Because I had stored up several, and discussed them informally over time, I was ready to easily hone them into the fine points of some proposals that ended up on paper. One of those ideas melded my familiarity with the artifacts collection, the Significant Objects project, and improvisational storytelling forums like “The Moth.”

Finding an audience

Susan Augenbraun reads her supernatural subway token-inspired short story to the group.

Susan Augenbraun reads her supernatural subway token-inspired short story to the group.

Calling the proposal “Tell a Tale of a Transit Totem” was a bit of bait-and-switch promotion. I thought we could draw people in with an emotional or nostalgic connection to the iconic elements of NYC mass transportation, then include the rarely seen, and abstract as well, to spark some truly original creative ideas. My initial proposal was modestly aimed at inviting an undergraduate level creative writing class to participate. In retrospect, I can see that being an OK program, but not a very public one.
In early fall, with a date set for November 12th, 2014, the Collections staff sat down with Julia and we agreed to promote to student writers, museum collections professionals, community writing groups, improv schools and theaters, and NYTM patrons. With just a few weeks until the free event, we attracted more attention and RSVP’s by posting several images of objects and archival photos to the museum’s Tumblr page to prompt advance submissions. This also provided a way to participate for those not inclined to improvise on the spot or to read aloud. Those initial, online “totems” and the subsequent “pop-up” exhibit of 25 more for the museum program were selected by the in-house, ad-hoc production team.

The evening event

Alex Gallafent kept moving and kept the group engaged.

Alex Gallafent kept moving and kept the group engaged.

While the program attracted a modest RSVP list of nearly 50, and the actual attendance was about half that, it was a really fun pilot for what we hope will be a perennially or seasonally recurring event. A key to that night’s success was Julia’s booking of an appropriate M.C. to keep the crowd engaged for over 90 minutes. Alex Gallafent not only participated in the writing, but he improvised with some hilarious off-the-cuff remarks. While we had staged a formal podium and seating arrangement for the night, we didn’t use it. With the exception of two short snack-fueled writing sessions at tables, Alex and the group stayed on its feet and on the move. He kept the mood loose and the crowd entirely engaged throughout.

The improvised exhibit label-writing was a great entry point to get everyone’s creative writing flowing. A few guests did make the greater commitment to read their on-the-spot short story drafts. And several of the preliminary online submissions were read aloud.

Engaging with the audience – and the team!

We discovered, I think, a wonderful and malleable template for sequels to this program. I lean towards establishing a link with an undergrad writing program that would assure a core audience of peers who are likely to be comfortable sharing ideas and fragments of stories already. Then, the rest of the outreach could build on that alliance.

One other resonant and firsthand discovery for me was that I saw a great group of museum colleagues coalesce around this event. If we never did another one, I’d still be very proud of the team-building opportunity that grew out of this program proposal. Museums often can’t show off most of their collections to the world, but we know the curiosity is there. Collections and archives are arguably the most content-rich departments of a museum, but the other behind-the-scenes employees don’t get to see much of them. Internally, this program showed me that untapped curiosity and creativity in our versatile and trustworthy staff can be interpreted and shaped into the programming.

There’s a bomb in my collection!

Most assume that working in collections management is relatively harmless. I’d say that’s true most of the time. But then again, there are those days… read the story of Julie Blood, Collections and Exhibit Manager at the San Joaquin County Historical Society & Museum in Lodi, California:

Hand Grenade

Hand Grenade

It was back in August 2009. I had been working at the San Joaquin County Historical Society & Museum for about 8 months when a volunteer and I came across a box marked “ammunition”. It was a late Friday afternoon. We opened it up to find World War II era hand grenade (with pin and not secured!), a Japanese mortar round, and a canister that we assume based on the markings on it to be picric acid.

When this collection was first received by the museum in 2000, many of the potential objects were inspected by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and removed and detonated because they were deemed unsafe. For reasons unknown the current artifacts were either not inspected or deemed to be safe by the Sheriff’s Department. To this day I have no idea how or why these objects made it into the collection.

Japanese Mortar Round

Japanese Mortar Round

So Monday morning, I contacted the Sheriff’s Department and a deputy came to have a look at them immediately, but apparently, military equipment was not his area of expertise either and I was waiting for him to pull the pin or something, it was kind of scary… Finally he talked to his supervisor and they contacted the local Air Force base. They sent their ordnance team to the museum to pick up the objects, which we immediately deaccessioned.


I can tell you that sometimes ignorance is bliss because that was the longest weekend ever for me. I have since used these items as a teaching moment to point out to our docents, volunteers, and student tour groups about the hazards you sometimes find working in a museum. I hope to God that I never find anything like this again, that’s for sure. It gave us a really good scare!

Julie Blood

European Registrars Conference 2014:
Moving Collections

Niin makaa, kuin petaa.
One sleeps like one makes his bed.
(Finnish proverb)

Moving, moving, moving... we sure do a lot at the TECHNOSEUM.

Moving, moving, moving… we sure move a lot of stuff at the TECHNOSEUM.

As a collection manager in a museum where over 3 % of the collection is permanently on the move due to exhibitions, loans and other purposes, I was extremely interested in this panel.

Moving Collections and Organizations

Per Hedström from the Nationalmuseum Sweden talked about “Moving Collections and Organizations”. As they had to close their main building down due to restoration, they had to move 700,000 artifacts out of the building and into permanent storage. They were successful, nothing was broken or lost and now they are waiting to come back in place. The reopening is scheduled for 2017.

Per pointed out what made the project a success and how to approach occurring issues:
One crucial point was that the relocation project has to be made top priority. One should take into consideration that change is always a source of uncertainty and one has to recognize that staff will be nervous. One needs to find extra money for the move, because you will need a few extra hands.

Then it came, the statement that I would love to write in capital letters and to put a golden frame around:


It’s not a documentation or conservation project. It’s even not the time to experiment with new packing material. It’s simply the project to get all the artifacts safe into the new place and that’s enough.

One has to keep the audience in mind. They will be disappointed that they can’t see the artifacts, so you have to find ways to keep them engaged. One also has to consider staff: you have to keep them engaged so they won’t leave.

At the same time, a closure is an opportunity you won’t have again. You could focus on the future, ponder and discuss new ideas. You’ll end up with 100 new ideas and the difficulty is to choose from them and choose the ones that are strategically right. Per said during the closure they focused on three points:

  1. Vision and brand
  2. Strategically important exhibits
  3. New collection display

"Selfies – Now and Then"

“Selfies – Now and Then”

One of the things that were discussed was if lending should go on during the closure. They decided to limit it down to exhibitions they decided to be strategically important. Among these were for example the exhibition “Slow Art” featuring Swedish designers at the Swedish Institute in Paris or the exhibition “crossing borders” which they decided had high experimental value.

Concerning the new collections display they decided to put emphasize on things that are significant in their collection and focused on what they are good at. But he also admitted: “It’s not easy, perhaps we do too much, maybe we have to focus on less and do this better.”

Storage Relocations at the Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar and Management Challenges of a New Museum

Those two presentations held by Marie-Astrid Martin and Nancy Konstantinou dealing with the challenges of collections management and relocation issues in the Gulf region were breathtaking.

To sum it up: imagine doing what you are doing in your museum right now – only that what you do is more or less done for the first time at the place where you are. You have to implement all procedures and policies you are used to in the North American and European museum world in Qatar for the first time. This in an extreme climate where even short periods without climatization could do tremendous damage to the artifacts and with an infrastructure that is far from what you are used to. Needless to say that few insurers take the risk of insuring something there and Qatar hasn’t a state indemnity in place so far. Like they put it “Living in the desert is the main challenge”. But the museum folks there took up the challenge and managed the move the collection into a newly built warehouse with 9,940 square meters of high shelf units. Kudos to Marie-Astrid, Nancy and their colleagues!

Relocation of XXL Collections – You can’t make an Omlette without breaking eggs

I guess there was no presentation on ERC 2014 that saw me nod more often than the one done by Joachim Hüber. I guess I looked like one of these nodding dogs…

The "move" as the black box between the old and the new storage.

Joachim Hüber: The “move” as the black box between the actual situation and the future situation.

Joachim stated that most of the time “the move” is regarded as black box between the situation that caused relocation and the new location that is of course built with best practices in mind. While much thought is given on the new building by the architect, museum director, head of collection department, conservators, head of relocation project and head of logistics the move is only given much thought from the latter two. Therefore the move is often underestimated and understaffed.

Joachim recommended keeping in mind that the collection move and storage equipment are closely interlinked so it pays to use synergies. Part of the underestimation is often the workload. The move will inevitably need extra resources. It is also crucial to understand that it is necessary to reduce loans and use of objects in-house during the time of the move.

Joachim also warned that the idea of shifting resources from other departments and using them in the move is not a good one. Collections moves have special needs that can’t be met by just bringing in people who are used to do something completely different. Instead, there are three possible options: Hire more staff, contract staff or contract whole packages like transport or cleaning. Whatever the decision may be, keep in mind that you need extra staff, trusted staff, reliable staff. Joachim stated that the cost of relocation ads up to 20% of the whole storage building project and that this is often underestimated. Also keep in mind that the more risk you impose on a contractor, the more costly it will be.

On the practical side you will need several independent working groups, both on the “old” site and in the new building. A thorough recommendation: have a stand-by-hand on each side who is just there to run around to fetch material and so on. You will also need a decision maker on both sites so processes aren’t slowed down because nobody is there who is eligible to decide. This decision maker has to be someone who knows all the tasks and has to be an allrounder and troubleshooter by personality – he/she is the most important person on site.

Crucial to managing XXL relocations is that you stop thinking in objects and start thinking in bulks. If you go for 100% object security in every case you won’t be moving at all, because every move is a risk. To manage a move in a cost-effective way, we have to take some risks. We have to shift from minimal risk to acceptable risk. This includes that we should look to have 95% of the objects requiring standard handling, only 5% special handling. We have to give a close look which tasks are really mandatory and which are optional.

move runningIt is very important that the correct sequence of steps in the move/packaging/transport is planned beforehand. But also: do not over-plan.
What proved to be helpful is using visual packaging so one could see what is transported and therefore immediately see where the problems in handling are. Also, things should go on rolls as early as possible. Using standard packaging makes things easier and cost-efficient. Standard pallets, standard boxes that fit in standard shelves… And always keep in mind that space, space, space is everything!

Even if it is always part of our considerations we should keep in mind that in the case of a move security is a minor problem. Joachim put it that way: Secure the process, don’t secure the single object. If you keep your staff in a good mood and pay them well you have a minimal security risk.
Also Joachim warned us to think early on materials, be aware of considerable costs, use standard products and order tools and materials on time. Using easy solutions instead of complicated ones makes it unlikely that something goes wrong. Sometimes special solutions are needed, then you should pay attention because most of the time the answers are around you.

Some words on hiring: hire the experienced staff early; this is especially important for the decision makers. Do not hire too much over-qualified staff. Again: keep your staff in a good mood and pay them well.

To sum up:

  • Don’t underestimate costs
  • Design suitable processes
  • Use adequate staff, tools and materials
  • Don’t be afraid of taking acceptable risks

Feeling a bit dizzy from all the nodding, I went for lunch break.

The „Old Guard“ or why registrars are so picky about words

guard-206487_640Recently I took part in an interesting discussion on Linkedin that followed an article by Paul Orselli called „How Can Museums Shift, If The “Old Guard” Doesn’t Budge?“

It was a heated debate and suddenly it occurred to me that at least some of the disagreements sprung from different interpretations of the term „Old Guard“.

In regards to museums it can mean:

  • Decision-makers at the top of museums that have held this position for years.
  • Museum professionals who have been doing their job for many years.
  • People who hold tight to norms, procedures and practices that were established a long time ago.
  • People who are skeptical towards trying new things and believe it’s best to do things the way it’s always been done.

I bet your first reaction if you read that four points is: oh, yeah, I know those guys! And I guess this was exactly what Paul had in mind when he gave the title to his article. On a second look this isn’t half the homogenous description it seems to be. And this is where the issues start:

There are „old“ museums professionals who continuously try new things. There are decision-makers who would like to change their museum completely, from roof to cellar and don’t let anything be like it was before. There are young museum professionals who are skeptical towards new things and want to preserve their museum the way it is. There are museum professionals of all ages that believe that some norms, procedures and practices are in place for a good reason and should remain untouched – and are open at the same time for new ways in visitor engagement and outreach projects.

Against this background it is easy to see that a discussion about the „Old Guard“ is likely to go off track. As someone who cares for collections and is very critical towards everything that might put an artifact at risk, I would almost immediately categorize myself as member of the „Old Guard“. On the other hand I believe that „We’ve always done it that way!“ is one of the most dangerous sentences in every language. We should always try new things, if we don’t try, we can’t improve. So, someone who thinks of the „Old Guard“ as an aggregation of all the four points mentioned above will put me in a drawer I don’t belong.

How does all this relate to registrar’s work? I think it’s a good example why we who deal with museum documentation are putting such a great emphasize on using the right terminology and categories. It’s also the reason why we try to use standardized terms and avoid slang and metaphors. If we who live in the same era and work in the same field understand each other wrong because we use a term that can be interpreted in different ways, imagine what that means for future generations with a totally different background.

So, next time you overhear a conversation between your curator and your database manager whether it’s a „Jeep“ or a „vehicle, off-road“, keep smiling but bear in mind that this might be a conversation that will be indeed relevant for the future.


As a side note on the article:

It’s always startling that discussions concerning „new ways in museums“ nearly inevitably are pushed towards technology discussions. Surprisingly enough by both the believers that technology will solve every problem as well as the believers that technology is the downfall of humanity. In my opinion this leads to nothing more than driving participants to take sides with no middle ground to lead fruitful discussions.

If you ask me, we should always place the question „What do we want to achieve?“ first, before we look for tools to achieve it. And we shouldn’t allow anything to narrow our view – neither a gadget that we “have to” implement in our museum no matter what nor the assumption that all technology is distracting attention from the artifacts.

Inside the mind of a registrar

I often hear that people envy collections people for their interesting jobs. Being surrounded by art every day, being allowed to touch the originals, isn’t it wonderful? Granted, it is. But there are downsides, too. And I’m not talking about low payment, too much work and too few jobs or taking on responsibilities no one can really take (Preserving stuff in a way it’s still accessible in over 100 years? Find someone who accepts this bet!). I talk about what happens in your brain when you go to an art exhibition.

How bad can it be? Well, I made a snapshot of my mind when I visited the Midsummer Party at the Kiasma at the European Registrars Conference in Helsinki. They had their 13th collection exhibition and I was standing before „Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus from 2004.

„Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus, 2004

„Laajentuja“ („Expander“) by Kimmo Schroderus, 2004
[Helsinki, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art]

„Oh, look at this, it’s gorgeous! Do you see the telescopic expanders? This thing will fit in literally every room. You understand? Every room. You can set it up in a castle, an aisle, a large exhibition hall, no matter what. And this should be easy to ship, too. I guess for the center sphere you will need a special crate, but the expanders should fit into a standard one. Well, only if they are really telescopic. Maybe they just look telescopic. If they are separate pieces, do you think they are hollow, so they fit into each other? Well, no, I guess this is too risky, think of the attrition. We will need several crates in this case. Or could we use pallets? What do you think, would they be good on pallets?“

And then my right brain snapped:

„Oh, shut up, left brain, I’m trying to enjoy the art!“

That’s it. That’s why you can’t really enjoy exhibitions if you are a collection manager.


BTW: Several weeks later I discovered a „making of“ from Kiasma that solved a few of the questions I had:

Tell a Tale of a Transit Totem

new york transit museumTransit artifacts can glimmer like icons (the token, a lit station globe) or provoke a sense of mystery and whimsy with their antiquated purpose (a Bend-o? a scleroscope?). Join our archives and collections staff as we bring objects and photographs from the Museum’s collection to life through writing, storytelling, and imaginative interpretation.

A sampling of artifacts and images are available online now – join us Wednesday, November 12th at 6:30pm to see these and many more in a pop-up exhibit designed to inspire your writing.

Create an exhibit label, poem, or short story; try your hand at the nuanced craft of lexicography; or show off your expertise by schooling us all in the true provenance of an object.

Fill the evening with a mixture of truth and fiction; we’re on the hunt for both the crafty and the credible!

Submit your pieces in advance or join us for a writing session and open mic on November 12th.
Wednesday, November 12th | 6:30pm | Free
New York Transit Museum
Downtown Brooklyn

View our first set of artifacts and RSVP here: transitTotem

Brett Dion

FAUX Real: News from Art and Craft

Hello Trekkers!

The discerning eye - Matt Leininger uncovering Landis

The discerning eye – Matt Leininger uncovering Landis in Art and Craft.

The Art Sleuth here greeting you on a cold Sunday morning in Cincinnati, Ohio. Art and Craft ( has been doing extremely well here in the US. Opening in new cities every Friday since September 19, Art and Craft comes to Cincinnati this Friday the 24th at the Mariemont Theatre. I will be doing a question and answer session after the 730pm screenings on October 24 and 25. If you cannot see the film in theaters, you can now pre-order Art and Craft at iTunes (

I also wanted to share this blog from the American Institute for Conservation ( A very well thought out piece from the blogger!

I will keep you posted on any new findings on Mark Augustus Landis as I am in my seventh year now tracking him.

As always, talk soon and keep on Trekking,


Matt is now also on Twitter, follow him @artsleuth2008

Birds in collections

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.(c) Hans Bleh

One single bird can keep a registrar occupied for quite a while.
(c) Hans Bleh

We talked about #registrardreams lately and I have a special one: I wish that only one time when my director shows up he finds me all dressed up in a clean working dress with a tidy desk and reporting “no serious incidents”. Alas, it never happened in the last 10 years. Whenever he meets me I’m for some reason or another all dirty with dust and/or machine oil and some colleagues swear that I once told him to hurry up because I had work to do. Be that as it may, I’m really glad he didn’t show up the other day when I was running up and down the storage, swinging a broom and shouting, all in the attempt to shoo a bird out of the hall. Not only did I behave like an idiot, I also looked like a contemporary artwork made out of spider webs, because the bird flew in the most distant corners that haven’t seen a broom in ages. Standing there looking up at the bird who constantly ignored the wide open gate I asked myself if I was the only collection manager on earth mocked by a bird and if I could do better.

Obviously, if you ask yourself the answers are limited, so I asked my colleagues from the RCAAM listserv. I received a whole bunch of enlightening hints and some fabulous stories about birds in collections. So, now I’m able to provide a step-by-step guide on how to handle birds in collections (if they are not dead and taxidermies, that is):

  1. Close all inside doors to the room the bird is in.
  2. Open all gates and windows that lead outside.
  3. Turn out the lights in the room, so the escapes appear lit for the bird.
  4. Clap hands, swing brooms, shout, behave like an idiot, do everything to shoo the bird towards the openings. The higher the open window/gate, the more likely the bird will get out.
  5. When the bird flies out, close all doors and windows.
  6. Search for holes that made it possible for the bird to come in and seal them (like Elizabeth Alberding put it: “Unless you can seal your building you are soon to be known as the “bird whisperer” of your museum.”)

Kara Vetter pointed out that there are sonic deterrence devices that can be installed near gates if that’s where they come in.

Anne T. Lane provided a true MacGyver story:

It's a good idea to inform the colleagues with a sign.

If you closed the door to a room because there is a bird inside it’s always a good idea to inform your colleagues

“We used to have this problem in a very open building in which I worked, where there was no way to close off between floors. They didn’t get into collections storage, but they could and did weaken and die in crevices around the windows high up on the mezzanine level. We caught one once by making a sort of fish landing net out of a wire hoop, a broom handle, and some light plastic sheeting. Oh, and blue tape. My registrar got up on a tall ladder under one of the rotundas and took wild swings at the bird – I was terrified that he’d swing himself right off the ladder onto the ceramic tile floor. But dang if he didn’t catch the poor thing. I took it outside and released it, and it flew off.”

No bird, but a bat mocked Janice Klein when she was a director in a small museum:

“The museum had a wide open plan and (other than the rest rooms) my office was the only space with a door, so when a little brown-nosed bat appeared late one afternoon when everyone else had gone home, that was where I had to chase him. Once I got him in the room he started panicking and echo-locating (and frankly, I also made some of those little squeaky noises, since I didn’t know anything about bats). I managed to trap him under a box top, but then didn’t know what to do next. It was freezing cold outside, which was probably why he found a way in to the nice warm building, so I didn’t want to just show him the door. I called one of my board members (it always pays to have a naturalist on the board who is willing to give wild creatures refuge in his basement) and while we were waiting, I finally realized why one of my motion detectors had gone off the night before.”

And Suzanne Quigley provided hands-on advice on what to do if woodpeckers are an issue:

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

Of course, there are birds in collections that are not an issue.

“I am also in a rural area (a recent change of lifestyle). After living my whole life in big cities, there has been a lot to learn. But germane to this discussion, I have learned a bit about woodpeckers. This has become important as I live in a wood-clad house. Once we figured out what that horrible noise was, and saw what the little devils were doing to the side of the house – it was war. The battle was won in a rather bizarre, but funny way. No one notices (cause they aren’t looking for it), but scattered around the exterior in more or less discreet spots we have pinned (with clear pushpins) about a dozen 10-inch long shiny, strips of silver mylar ribbon (the kind used to wrap presents) made into curls over the edge of a pair of scissors – this was three years ago and no more woodpeckers!”

Well, I learned much more than I thought. Thanks to Kara Vetter, Anne Lane, Elizabeth Alberding, Julie Blood, Suzanne Quigley and Janice Klein for the responses and Maria O’Malley for convincing me to write a Registrar Trek post about it.

Oh, by the way, I finally managed to usher that little fellow out of my storage, securing my colleague on call a good night sleep. Chasing a bird is one thing but being called in the middle of the night because the burglar alarm went off is much, much worse.

The case of the mysterious earphone

Beaujour, mes amis,

today, I’m proud to announce the opening of the French version of Registrar Trek! Now our French readers have the possibility to read posts directly, not only as PDF and to subscribe to a French newsfeed. Thanks to Aurore Tisserand for translating all the necessary texts to make this possible. We celebrate this achievement with a post about a French-German cooperation in collections research made possible by the fantastic Registrar Trek network, especially by Marine Martineau.

À bientôt



„Didn’t you take French at school?“ my colleague Bernd Kießling asked across the table, looking up from a set of earphones he was documenting.

“I can order you a tarte flambée and a café au lait but might accidentally provoke an international conflict when trying to order a hotel room, why do you ask?” I said, looking up from a long list of objects that had to be cross-checked with our data base.

“This earphone is made in Paris, but I’m not sure about the manufacturer. Have a look.”
I moved over and took a look at his monitor where he showed me the tiny inscriptions he magnified by using an USB microscope*.

Detail of one receiver of the earphone, picture taken by the USB microscope

Detail of one receiver of the earphone, picture taken by the USB microscope

“Slé INDlle des…” I spelled out, “I don’t know, seems like an abbreviation of some kind, maybe the manufacturer, but I don’t know. You know what? I’ll send the picture over to Marine. She’s in Paris, so maybe she can help us with that.”

Marine Martineau, registrar and translator for English/French at Registrar Trek received the mail a few minutes later. She took a look and passed it along to Thierry Lalande, collections manager at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. He and his colleague Marie Sophie Corcy had the idea to ask Frédéric Nibart, a wide-known expert of the French phone.

Within a few days we knew that the earphone was built in July 1928 by the Société Industrielle des Téléphones in Paris. We even received an article from M. Nibart about their company history which we immediately included in our data base.

It was a great feeling of international collaboration made possible by the worldwide network of Registrar Trekkers. We really hope we can return the favor one day.


Storage solution for the collection of earphones: These long archival boxes are usually used for storing maps but have exactly the right dimensions to support earphones in the position most “natural” to them. For final storage we will support them with some bubble wrap and make a hood out of polyethylene foil for the boxes.

Storage solution for the collection of earphones: These long archival boxes are usually used for storing maps but have exactly the right dimensions to support earphones in the position most “natural” to them. For final storage we will support them with some bubble wrap and make a hood out of polyethylene foil for the boxes.

* = The USB microscope was originally part of a hands-on demonstration in a temporary exhibition and has a second and very useful live now in artifact research.

A Registrar’s Wish List #registrardreams

Nicht in meinem Depot! Superhelden-Fähigkeiten wären manchmal praktisch...

Not in my vaults! Sometimes we all could need some registrar superpowers…

As an spin-off of a discussion following the release of an article from Sheila Perry about their barcoding project at the National Galleries of Scotland (“If it moves, barcode it” ) Dan Smernicki (twitter @DanSmernicki ) came up with the idea for a new post on Registrar Trek:

“A Registrar’s Wish-list. Things that *should* exist, but for some infernal reason don’t.”

I guess you all have your dreams and wishes – some concrete and easy to realize if the Money-for-collections-care-fairy (“You’ve got 3 archival wishes”) appeared, some futuristic (magic glasses that let me see the object I’m searching for marked red in the rack) some out of wishful thinking (white gloves that remain white).

So far we have:

  • Dan Smernicki @DanSmernicki : a system which tracks items, and people, and reconciles the two.
  • Me @RegistrarTrek : condition reports on-the-fly and an app telling me if I have a fitting crate
  • Cecilia Peartree ‏@ceciliapeartree : Works of art that shriek loudly if nobody has notified the database team of their location change.
  • Maggie Mazzullo: I wish I had a special sixth sense that alerted me when people are/were in the vault area ‘rummaging’ around or otherwise causing an upsetting mess. Kind of a vault alarm and then I could appear right behind them and catch them in the act.
  • Maggie Mazzullo: I also wish I had a laser system that would target and vaporize pens, beverages and other verboten items as they were coming into the student study area to interact with artwork.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: I would have to add onto the aforementioned condition report one and say glasses that examine an object and let me know of any lose, unstable, or otherwise-about-to-break-in-my-hands parts.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: Also, a magic system that creates Crystal reports on the fly based on what I need at that moment.
  • Caitlin (Schwartz) Rumery: Lastly, a drone to follow my trucks so I can spy on my shipments and the drivers. That way I can make sure there is no funny business happening on the road…

Please add your wish/dream to the list, either by commenting or by using twitter and the hashtag #registrardreams