All posts by RegistrarTrek

Museum professional, lover of all collections work, former collections manager of the TECHNOSEUM in Mannheim, Germany. Now Professional Services Specialist for Gallery Systems. Independent museum professional. Cat wrangler and #SciFi enthusiast. Views are my own. Of course, they are. I can't make anybody responsible for the garbage my brain produces!

Lazy Dad – understanding the behavior of acid gases in buffered paper enclosures

The problem of how acid gases behave with buffered paper enclosures is interesting and not quite what we might expect. Most of us, even industry scientists working on stability issues, have learned that buffered paper reacts with acid gases and therefore prevents them from passing right through. Some of later heard that maybe buffered paper enclosures won’t necessarily protect the object inside from external acidic gases, but buffering will at least protect the enclosure and make it last longer (and as a physically protective armor, this should be good for the object as well.)

Well, the first problem is to sort out what this buffer is. The Oxford Concise Science Dictionary defines a buffer as “A solution that resists change in pH when an acid or alkali is added or when the solution is diluted.” Since we need to keep our paper enclosures relatively dry, a buffer in paper doesn’t fit the scientific definition of the term. ISO 18902 Imaging materials – Processed imaging materials – Albums, framing and storage materials, uses the term “alkali reserve” instead of “buffer”.

Certainly the typical things that we expect to find as buffers in paper are all “alkalis” by definition. These may include alkaline earth carbonates such as calcium and magnesium carbonate or some metal oxides such as zinc oxide. If we add an alkali like sodium hydroxide (lye) or sodium carbonate or borax, to the pulp solution, they’ll dissolve in solution and disperse into the paper. Much of it would come out with the water being drained from the pulp and the rest just affects the pH of the paper. Generally, as acids entered the paper, the pH of the paper would simply go down. So while these substances are alkalis, they aren’t reserves of alkali. The reserve aspect is accomplished by using alkalis of low solubility so they have a minimal impact on the pH of the paper, but are still available to react with acids. For example, if we start with pure water at 25 degrees C, we should be able to dissolve 0.007 grams of calcium carbonate into a liter of water. Just as a reference, the paper industry says that they produce common office photocopy paper with the intent that it leaves the mill with a water content of 5% by weight so a typical sheet of this paper contains about 0.2 grams of water, enough water to dissolve 0.000001 grams of calcium carbonate.

So rather than being dispersed through the paper, the alkali reserve exists as discrete particles in the paper at a rate of typically 2% or 3% by weight.

The final piece of the problem consists of the acid vapor molecules and how they move. Gas molecules move randomly so we have no idea what any individual molecule is doing at any particular time (unless we specifically watch it). Fortunately there are statistical rules that allow us to predict the behaviour of a large number of gas molecules. However, we’re interested in individual molecules. Buffer particles have no attractive force pulling acid gas molecules towards themselves so whether or not an acid gas molecule happens to run into a buffer particle is completely a result of random chance. There are a very large number of random paths through the buffered paper that don’t end at a particle of the buffering agent and as a result, acid gases can pass right through the paper. In addition, acids and buffer particles can co-exist in the paper.

We first observed this back in the 1990s following a nitrogen dioxide fuming experiments with photographs in buffered paper envelopes. In the presence of water, nitrogen dioxide forms nitric and nitrous acids with the nitrous acid decomposing into nitric acid and nitric oxide. Much to our surprise, the paper envelope had both a high acidity and a high alkali reserve together. Years later, the same thing was observed in experiments with deteriorating acetate film with buffered paper envelopes: high acidity and high buffer content coexisting in the same envelope paper.

After explaining how a system with static buffer particles and randomly moving acid gas molecules could produce this situation, a colleague suddenly exclaimed, “It’s lazy dad!”

As my colleague explained, lazy dad is sitting in front of the television and doesn’t want to miss a minute of the game. (Fill in your favorite sporting event here.) Lazy dad, the buffer particle, isn’t going to move unless the house burns down. Meanwhile, the kids, the acid gas molecules, are running wild through the house. They don’t particularly care where they’re running, they just want to run around. Nothing is going to change this system unless a child happens to run too close to dad who will then scoop the child up (react) and tell the child to “knock it off and stop running in the house.” There are many random paths for the children to run that don’t happen to go near dad and they aren’t going to stop unless they run into (react) Lazy dad. Lazy dad isn’t going to chase the children so Lazy dad and the running children can co-exist in the same house (paper.)

Note that other solid additive in paper have the same limitations. For example, we filter our air in certain labs using activated charcoal supported on pleated paper and the filters more or less obey the same physical laws, although there are a few differences. The filters have fans blowing large volumes of air through the filters so molecular motion isn’t limited to strictly random movement and the loading of charcoal is much higher than a few percent. The filters are pretty black with charcoal. However, at a lower loading rate and without the fan, these filters would be limited by the same physical laws as buffering in buffered paper.

So buffered paper envelopes don’t quite do what we expect them to and it’s because of the laws of nature rather than a design failure of the product.


Douglas Nishimura

Image Permanence Institute

Rochester Institute of Technology


Then they were 20…

Picture by Nico Kaiser

Picture by Nico Kaiser via flickr

On July 8 we called out to the world that we are in need of translators. The reaction was overwhelming. When we called out we were four authors Matthew Leininger, Anne T. Lane, Fernando Almarza Rísquez and myself and three translators, Liliana Rêgo, Araceli Galán and Georgia Flouda.

Within one and a half week our little team of seven grew to twenty! They came from nearly all cardinal directions and a broad range of professions:

There are the museum studies and museology students Patrícia Melo from Portugal and Carolina Vaz from Brazil.

Then I’m glad we have a professional translator on board: Salvador Martínez lives in Spain and translates Spanish/French and Spanish/English for a living, but agreed to lend us a hand for free!

Then the great colleagues who work in the jobs this blog is all about: Maria O’Malley, the Collections Manager/Registrar at the Southstreet Seaport Museum in New York, Lucía Villarreal, the Exhibitions Registrar at the Museo del Prado in Madrid and Cleopatra, the Registrar of a photography collection in a Folklore Research Institute in Greece and Sylviane Vaucheret, the Documentation Officer for Natural History at the National Museum of Ireland.

Then two colleagues from the profession that is closest to our own in respect of philosophy, viewpoints and aims: Molly Hope is a textile conservator from New York who already translated for the Ixchel Museum of Textiles in Guatemala and Rosana Calderón, is a Senior Conservator at the National History Museum of the National Anthropology and History Institute in Mexico.

And I’m especially glad an proud of the four colleagues that looked over the fence of their own professions and are willing to help us, because museum work is always a combined effort, no matter if you work in collections, education, exhibition and/or marketing:

Jiska Verbouw works as a science communicator at the Museum for Natural Sciences in Brussels. Arina Miteva is working for Smart Museum, a company that develops museum mobile apps. Tegan Kehoe works as a museum educator at the Old South Meeting House in Boston. Phineas Chauke is the Regional Marketing Officer at National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe.

With this great new team we will explore new languages, adding Dutch, French, Russian, Zulu, Shona and Shangaan. And we will travel onwards to new galaxies… oops, wrong film… to new stories, articles and other helpful contents for the registrars, collection managers and curators of collections around the world.

We will also explore a new medium: you can follow us on twitter ( Here we will announce any new post or article on this blog and more things that we find interesting.

Stay tuned!


This post is also available in French, translated by Sylviane Vaucheret


Join the Registrar Trek as translator

Hi there!

Seems we missed celebrating the first half year of Registrar Trek due July 1st and the 200th subscriber to our feeds! Well anyway, never too late to celebrate, so

Cheers to all our faithful visitors out there!


As you can see, you come from all parts of the world: registrars, collections managers, curators of collections, students of the arts, art history, history, museums studies and many, many people who are just interested in what goes on behind the scenes in a museum.

As numbers show, we have been visited by nearly 10,000 people until now, who have read nearly 18,000 pages. This is great! But no reason to lean back, but to lean in. As we said in our starting post in January it’s our aim to give people the possibility to read registrar’s stuff in their own language. To achieve this, we need


If you are speaking two languages and are willing to translate something, please, drop us a line at or write a comment.
We are not expecting anyone to translate ALL our articles and posts. We are looking for people who have read some of our stuff and say “Hey, this should be available in my mother tongue” and then translate this story or article. Every language is welcome, but especially welcome are people who are able to translate in the five languages we already have: English, Spanish, German, Portuguese or Greek.
We are enthusiasts, so we can’t offer you any money for that. But we can offer you our appreciation and the possibility to work in a wonderful multi-national team of museum enthusiasts.

Talk soon!
Angela and Fernando


The bear in the elevator

Picture (c) by Klaus Pichler

Picture (c) by Klaus Pichler

Are time travels possible? Well, I believe they are, at least in our mind. A picture, a sentence, a smell and you are suddenly somewhere else, a few years back, undergoing a certain situation once again. These sudden recalls are sometimes nice, sometimes awful and sometimes just funny. The last time it happened to me was when I first saw the bear in the elevator from the “Skeletons in the Closet” project by Klaus Pichler (see his article “On tour with Noah’s helpers” for more details).

I was visiting some former colleagues at the Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit short before the opening of the exhibition “Kosmos im Kopf” (the cosmos in the head). I pressed the button at the staff elevator and waited for it to arrive. The door opened and I suddenly jumped backwards. A gigantic Great Dane stood before me, staring at me, jar slightly open. For a moment I considered this a rather ridiculous but somehow adequate way to die for a museologist, but then I thought again. It was not logical that a man-eating dog would use the elevator to search for its next prey. After the first shock I looked closer and discovered that the Great Dane was just stuffed. Apparently, the dog was “parked” in the elevator until the preparators would need it.

I decided to join the dog in the elevator and it reminded me of another occasion a few years earlier. I had just started studying museum studies and was still trying to make up my mind which path I wanted to chose in the field. So I took an internship at the Naturkundlichen Sammlungen (Collections of Natural History) in Berlin-Charlottenburg. In the workshop of their taxidermist stood a stuffed wolf that looked so realistic one had to touch it to be sure it wasn’t alive. Their taxidermist was a real artist. He explained to me how he “stuffed” animals (a term he used to distinguish ordinary “stuffers” from real taxidermists who learned and studied the trade). Before he did anything with the dead animal, he tried to get a picture of the animal when it was alive. A picture in the most comprehensive meaning of the word: he tried to get pictures, videos, tried to talk to people who knew it when it was alive and so on. He explained that if you don’t do this, you just prepare an animal that is one of its species. If you want to do a taxidermy of a certain animal, only this unique animal, then you have to know its personality otherwise no-one will recognize it when it’s ready. And this is true. Try it yourself when you are visiting a museum of natural history the next time. I promise you that you will spot animals that look just “right”, nearly alive. And there will be some that look just “wrong” although they are anatomically correct (you will find some that aren’t even that – but that’s a different story).

Since this internship I have a great respect for the job the taxidermists do – and I discovered that I will never have the patience to be one myself.

Book: ‘Skeletons in the Closet’, photos by Klaus Pichler, texts by Klaus Pichler, Julia Edthofer and Herbert Justnik, english edition, is out now and can be ordered via the homepage of Klaus Pichler.


Registrar’s Jokes

What’s the difference between a terrorist and a registrar?
You can negotiate with a terrorist.

How many registrars does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One. We hold the bulb and the world revolves around us.


You might be a registrar if…

The Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums has a really outstanding listserv. A place to turn to when in need of advice, thoughts, ressources… and sometimes a good laugh. Recently someone started the thread “You might be a registrar if…” and well over fifty mails with sentences came in. These are too good to stay internally. Enjoy and feel free to add more in the comments!

You might be a registrar if…

...your mother got this mug for you for your birthday...

..your mother got this mug for you for your birthday…

[001] …you drive halfway home before realizing you’re still wearing nitrile gloves.

[002]…your car has been used to transport 19th century longrifles, a Civil War artillery sword, and crumbling pieces of a plank road.

[003]…your work clothes are always in danger of being ruined by soot -covered plows, loose nails, and oily machinery.

[004]…you’ve been cut by blue board, corrugated polypropylene, steel shelving, and T-squares.

[005]…you make sure you’re up to date on tetanus shots.

[006]…you’re stingy with your personal finances, but think nothing of spending $30 on a storage box for an artifact worth $5.

[007]…you have to force yourself to touch things in an antique store or junk shop.

[008]…seeing the destruction of Washington DC in the movie “Independence Day” your first thought is for the Smithsonian’s collections!

[009]…you think a $10 million insurance value is chump change.

[010]…you see a disaster movie and your first thought is: but that painting is owned by a different museum than the one shown… is it on loan?

[011]…you find yourself labeling the names and dates of your personal photographs just in case someone else finds them later.

[012]…you carefully order all your correspondence by date and store them away in the best temperature control part of your house.

[013]…you hesitate to handle your own jewelry without gloves.

[014]…you put Mylar circles under all your personal collections at home.

[015]…you totally do not understand how people can fail to recognize the absolute need for separate scissors for adhesive tape and non adhesive tape use (and there are separate paper cutters on the counter for sticky vs. non sticky).

[016]…you have two pairs of scissors, one labeled for cutting adhesive materials, one threatening death if so used.

[017]…you get over-excited looking at a tractor-trailer loading plan.

[018]…your favorite birthday gift (which you requested with the exact product number) is an archival metal-edge box with unbuffered tissue paper for your private collection.

[019]…you feel guilty about flying business class when you are accompanying an artwork in transit, but resentful when you must fly coach when you are not with the artwork.

[020]…you become delirious with joy if a conservator working on a piece of old furniture reports finding a few old threads of upholstery fabric clinging to an old nail.

[021]…you create an accession register to track all of your DVDs/Blu-Rays, a separate one for CD’s and yet another for books.

[022]…you track all outgoing and incoming loans of aforementioned goods (see [021]), using said register.

[023]…you scold your own mother when you walk in and find her using a regular bic pen on family photos instead of the nice pigma micron ones you bought her.

[024]…your children chastise other kids for touching objects in a museum.

[025]…you retrieve old family vacation slides from the trash bin where your mother has thrown them after scanning them.

[026]…you go to an exhibition in which you have no loans and the first thing you look for is a hygrothermograph in the gallery space.

[027]…your “random act of kindness” is rubbing down the edges of a label that is slightly curling, and hope if it happened in your galleries a fellow registrar would do the

[028]…you can give a detailed description of how fabulous the mounts and/or installation techniques were, but can’t remember the art pieces you went there to see in the first place.

[029]…as a child you catalogued the contents of your dollhouse, and recorded how much each piece cost or if it was gift from a family member.

[030]…you cannot enjoy a special exhibition of paintings by your favorite artist because all you can see are condition problems that should be noted or brought to the attention of the resident registrar.

[031]…you make note of Climate controlled trucks / companys while on a road trip.

[032]…you find yourself labeling your kids’ artwork on paper carefully on the reverse on the lower right hand corner in #2 pencil.

[033]…you scream in horror, Don’t Touch!, at the little kids happily petting the raggedy old moose head at the local thrift shop because you are dead certain that thing has arsenic.

[034]…your friends and family no longer ask about your love life but instead open every conversation with: Sooo, what exhibit are you working on?

[035]…when personally moving, you label each box with a number, location, color coding system (with that color coded system extended into the rooms of your new living space), and alert symbols and/or stickers AND have a detailed spreadsheet to item level of what is in each box. It makes unpacking a breeze and you already have a box estimate established for when you move again (plus whatever percentage of increase during your residency at that dwelling)!

[036]…whenever you visit a new museum you beg their registrar for a tour of storage and get more excited about that than the exhibits.

[037]…you keep an extra pair of clean cotton gloves in your purse, just in case, and have actually been thankful when you’ve needed to use them.

[038]…you visit another museum and see only the storage space and loading docks and not the public spaces at all.

[039]…you have a pencil for the registrar’s use and only the registrar’s use. If someone else wants to borrow it you require a deposit and rental fee.

[040]…you use the tape measure next to the lipstick in your purse more often than the lipstick.

[041]…your son spots the accession number on an exhibited artifact and you explain it to him and the half dozen other people who noticed it.

[042]…when you go to an exhibit, you look closely at the plex vitrines to see if there are bubbles in the seams… and security screws on the lids!

[043]…you don’t notice the art so much because you are looking up a t the track lighting and wondering whether there are too many foot candles of light.

[044]…you get a little too close to the art to see if that inattentive guard on his cellphone will chastise you… and say something to him when he doesn’t! (Never let it be said registrars don’t defy authority when necessary!)

[045]…you are visiting an exhibition in a foreign city and begin to describe the methods of object display/housing to a family member and turn around to find 25 people trying to inconspicuously ‘listen in’. Then they realize you notice them and begin to ask questions about the object and museum practices. Soon – you have a larger group than the official tour guide and are chastised for taking away the focus from the ‘paid professionals’.

[046]…you have a separate stash of acid-free folders that you hide from other staff members so they are safe for your accession and loan files.

[047]…you go through your accession files and curse anyone who placed rusting paperclips, rubber bands, or other fasteners that are now causing problems.

[048]…you have been told by other staff members that couriering an artifact will be a really fun trip and you rolled your eyes at them.

[049]…you use Nomenclature terms (including the format with the comma) to describe items to others – whether they are museum objects or not.

[050]…after losing countless clearly labeled pairs of scissors, you begin hiding a pair in your filing cabinet. You only tell your intern and stress that guarding said scissors is one of their most important responsibilities.

[051]…you struggle to keep yourself from asking your server to pass along that the mechanically reproduced prints on the wall are in an acidic mat and will be fried in a few short years of direct sunlight. Of course you still mention this to everyone you are dining with.

[052]…you take great umbrage to being referred to as a “curator” and insist that your partner, family, and anyone within a five foot radius knows that you’re a registrar, and what, exactly, you do.

[053]…the security guards in galleries hover when you come in the gallery because you’re squatting and and walking back and forth to try to get a raking light so you can see any condition issues with a painting

[054]…you can pinpoint the location of one bone fragment from a multi-thousand collection to the shelf and box without consulting the database, but you can’t, for the life of you, find your keys, passport, or birth certificate at home.

[055]…you have the shortest job title in the whole institution, but you need the longest amount of time to explain what it means.

[056]…you refer to your child as 2012.1

[057]…you forget to bring your favorite cakes along when you go shopping, but are able to memorize the last 100 items accessioned in the right order with ease.

[058]…your boss calls you up to ask if we could use an XYZ and you reply: “we have one and it stands in A 17, third shelf, half right” without even checking the data base.

[059]…your community Reverend calls you to tell you that he loves that you volunteer for the “Bingo Wednesdays” at the retirement home, but could you please stop to shout out a list of artifacts after you shout “G 32”?

[060]…when you visit the homes of friends and family you automatically make sure any framed piece hanging on a wall is level! (And then mentally note any damage or condition issues.)

[061]…you are tempted to use cavity packing when sending Christmas gifts to out-of-town relatives.

[062]…you actually apply U/V film to your windows at home.

[063]…you are performing a full condition report on your personal stuff you are selling on eBay.

[064]…the security guard in every museum you visit has to tell you to step away from the vitrine, painting, object (when all you are really doing is trying to see how it was mounted)

[065]…you organize your summer trips on an excel spreadsheet cross referenced with 3 ring binder

[066]…you walk into a restaurant with animal heads on the walls and refuse a table under one because you KNOW there is arsenic in that mount (really has happened)

[067]…you get confused by lists that are ordered by some criteria other than accession (or loan or temporary) number.

[068]…you are writing a blog post/rant for artists who pack their own work for shipping.

[069]…you reconciling an FIC 1 is the high point of your week/month/year.

[070]…you get a thrill out of a well-designed and constructed packing crate.

[071]…you catalog your collection of pencils on an excel spread sheet, and use them down to a tiny nub before “retiring” them (the equivalent of deaccessioning!)

[072]…you love the snarky Museum Director in the original Night at the Museum movie because he’s voicing what every museum professional is mumbling under their breath about visitors.

[073]…you offer to organize, catalog and scan hundreds of family photos and documents, then distribute them on flash drives to family members, and (of course) donate the originals to an archive.

[074]…you acquire a pH pen for testing your own personal collection of calligraphy & bookmaking papers.

[075]…you find yourself turning over the silver and china at a dinner party to check out the marks.

[076]…you shock your friends and especially your mother, when you compare the pros and cons of Peterbilt, Kenworth and Volvo cabs, mention reefers (that gets everyone excited!), or call out lengths or heights of trailers at a glance.

[077]…you shock your mother and impress your friends when you show them your certification to operate an order picker forklift.

[078]…while travelling on family vacation, random truck drivers wave and call you by name.

[079]…you use so much packing tape on each box during an impending home move that someone has to tell you to stop (repeatedly), b/c you’re using too much tape. Repeat a few dozen times and make several trips to buy more packing tape.

[080]…you label each box (during the same impending home move) with a letter and number on each side and corner that corresponds with a room in the house or a theme. You keep a corresponding log book with the box number and contents listed for easy identification.

[081]…you tell your home movers how to pick up, tie down, and stack furniture and boxes.

[082]…you alphabetize your dvd collection, have all of your books catalogued and organized by theme/topic, and have your vintage Star Wars collection catalogued and photographed. Ok, maybe that just makes me a nerd! : )

[083]…you have a color chart for all of your nail polish bottles. (My mom once told me that this was a little sick. I just think I’m extremely organized!)

[084]…you find yourself trying to use EMu shortcuts on Google and searches. I’m not even a registrar and I still find myself hitting CTRL-F after entering search terms instead of the ENTER that everything else uses 😛

[085]… your husband catches you mumbling SQL coding to yourself while you’re driving, because that is the best time to think through a problem with your report codes.

[086]…you are a “conduit of information.”

[087]…when you walk into a restaurant your husband says “uh oh” because some of the pictures on the wall are crooked and he knows you have to be seated in another area or you will whip out your (purse -sized) level.

[088]…you seem to find cotton or nitrile gloves in the pockets of every piece of clothing you own.

[089]…you make a game of hunting for visible accession numbers on objects in other museums’ exhibits

[090]…you find yourself looking at the font of other exhibit labels and wishing you knew where to find it (but you forgot to actually read the text!)

[091]…you go the courthouse for jury duty, and when going through the metal detector are asked to step aside due to a suspicious metal object in your purse…..that turns out to be a tape measure! (true story)

[092]…while driving down the road checking out the cabs on the tractor trailer and saying ” ooooh, that’s a really big cab-I bet they have a great sleeper in there!”

[093] …when traveling to accompany a work of art on loan, in “cargo class”, and you have to wait for 5 hours in dirty, hot customs warehouse, sitting next to the box, yawning and growling (as in cat mug photo), drinking a cup of some kind of brown liquid, which very slightly reminds you of coffee.

[094]…in your car you carry packing blankets, bubble pack, dartek and a measuring tape just in case. Yes, my husband thinks I am a little… well, intense.

[095]…you find bugs in the bug cabinets…

[096]…you can write a full sentence where the majority of the words are abbreviated.

You might be married to a registrar if…

[001]…you are horrified when the guys on Pawn Stars are handling an original Spiderman issue 1 in their bare hands.

You might teach registration if…

[001]…you carefully cut and paste all these great comments into one document and print them on acid-free paper to use on the first day of class as a supplement to What a Registrar Does all Day.

[002]……you notice your apprentice wrote “1936, estimate” in your data base and ask why he writes “estimate” behind such an exact date and he says:
“Well, this type was built 1936 but I haven’t had the possibility to check the serial number with the manufacturer, so, it’s only an estimate, right?”
And you nod, turn away, oppressing the urge to shout “That’s Mama’s boy!”

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Silvia Telmon

  1. FIC = Found In Collection, most of the time an object that was accessioned a long time ago and has no accession number written on it. Normally accompanied by a data base entry that says “location unknown”.

On tour with Noah’s helpers

skeletons_anika.-08 by Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

When I first saw pictures from the project “Skeletons in the Closet” by Klaus Pichler, I was overwhelmed. Somebody did something I and certainly many of my colleagues have often thought about: someone should take a picture of THAT. The beautiful and absurd compositions that appear when collections and everyday museum work meet. Cautiously, I asked the photographer from Vienna if we are allowed to post a text and some pictures from the project. The answer was really positive: Not only that this was no problem, he would also write a text about how it was like to work together with the registrars! Enjoy!

skeletons_anika.-21 by Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

More than four years have passed since my first photo appointment for my photo series ‘Skeletons in the Closet’ in the non-public parts of the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Nevertheless, I can remember my first trip to the basements, depots and storage rooms of the museum like it was yesterday.

Some words on my personal history: I grew up on the countryside and whenever my family made a trip to Vienna I insisted in visiting the Natural History Museum. According to that, the fact that I, as a grown-up, was allowed to take pictures in the ‘private’ spaces of the museum has some kind of sentimental value.

skeletons_anika.-17 by Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

Back to topic: the first visit to the backstage area was fascinating. Think of childhood memories of visits to exhibitions, think of the film ‘Night at the Museum’ or Noah’s Ark with its doors just opened. Animals next to animals, shoulder to shoulder, frozen in their actions, dead, but alive nevertheless. And, amidst of that: the registrars, who guided me through the taxidermied herds with great knowledge and were familiar with every corner of the giant storage facilities. Without them, I probably would still be in the basements of the museum, lost in the roomy corridors.

skeletons_anika.-03 by Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

It is still vivid in my imagination, with how much anticipation they unlocked the doors of a room we have not been before, knowing which special sights were waiting behind the doors. I also remember how quick all my questions were answered by them, no matter how detailed my question were, and their enthusiasm about answering my questions. I often got the impression that the registrars had built up a very close relationship with the exhibits and were enjoying the time amidst their ‘family’, sometimes four levels below ground.

skeletons_anika.-10 by Klaus Pichler

© Klaus Pichler

I was impressed by the registrars’ pride about a specific exhibit, for example a Blue Buck, which is extinct since a long time and only present as a handful of exhibits worldwide. Or the eagerness of some retired registrars who voluntarily spent their time with refurbishing the herbaria of the botanic department.

All I can say is that my whole photo series would only have half its size when not getting a thousand hints and suggestions from the registrars, where to search for special exhibits or where to find photogenic corners of the museum. And I am now using the opportunity of writing a text addressed to registrars to say a heartfelt ‘thank you!’ to the registrars who have guided me through my project.

Klaus Pichler

Book: ‘Skeletons in the Closet’, photos by Klaus Pichler, texts by Klaus Pichler, Julia Edthofer and Herbert Justnik, english edition, will be released on June 15 2013, limited to 750 copies (numberd by hand), hardcover, hardbound, 112 pages, 63 pictures. Price: € 30,- plus P & P. Can be ordered via the homepage of Klaus Pichler.

This post is also available in Zulu and Ndebele, translated by Phineas Chauke


Two paths, one destination

picture by THX0477What initially started “Registrar Trek: The Next Generation” was Fernando and me writing an article about registrar’s work. Without knowing from the other, coming from two different paths, in fact, from two different continents and backgrounds. Fernando published them side by side in the conversemos sobre section of the ILAM website. Now, we have taken again the opportunity to work on a topic from two different sides: Fernando on the registration of contemporary art, Bernd and me on the registration of technological objects. Two paths, one destination: to exchange thoughts and to inspire our colleagues.
Registering furniture and appliances: contemporary art (video-sculptures, multimedia, installations)
Fernando Almarza Rísquez

With the typical humor of a registrar we could introduce the amusing but serious working hypothesis that registering some contemporary art involves dealing with appliances and furniture. But actually, the artist’s talent has found new ways that transcend the search for originality and pleasure of modern art and modifies them into other, dynamic forms of sensitivity, communication and stimulation of the senses. So let’s reformulate the hypothesis: these artistic approaches are much more than furniture and appliances. Ergo, to register these works is much more than documenting furniture and appliances.
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Appliances, furniture and beyond – registering technological objects
Angela Kipp, Bernd Kießling

When you work as a registrar you often take for granted that you know what other registrars in other museums do. But when you talk to colleagues from different museum types you often realize that some things are similar and other things are very different. When Fernando told us he was preparing an article on the registration of contemporary art, we accepted the challenge to write one on the registration of technological objects. So, if you are into the arts: let us unfold to you the wonderland of technology. If you are into technology: Look over our shoulders and tell us if we forgot something important.
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Appliances, furniture and beyond – registering technological objects

When you work as a registrar you often take for granted that you know what other registrars in other museums do. But when you talk to colleagues from different museum types you often realize that some things are similar and other things are very different. When Fernando told us he was preparing an article on the registration of contemporary art, we accepted the challenge to write one on the registration of technological objects. So, if you are into the arts: let us unfold to you the wonderland of technology. If you are into technology: Look over our shoulders and tell us if we forgot something important.

Registering technological objects: a look on the surface

Blaupunkt (picture)

Blaupunkt Florida from 1954/55 (picture: Eckhard Etzold)

When registering a classical artwork, you normally know the artist and the date of the artwork. You can measure the dimensions and register the technology used in the classical way: oil on canvas, watercolor, lithography… Most of these things can be easily seen with one’s eye, given you have the proper knowledge and training in art history and techniques used by artists – and the whole process of accessioning has gone right. Granted, when something went wrong and you don’t know who painted the artwork, things can become tricky. Then you have to get your registrar’s and art historian’s senses together and start to investigate.

When registering technological objects, that’s just the beginning. Let’s take a simple ancient radio. It has a manufacturer and if you are lucky it is written on the device. It might also come with a type label that provides additional information. If you are very lucky, this label shows the year of construction. But that’s not often the case. So you go and look for old radio catalogs and try to find this type of radio. If you have a good library of ancient mail order catalogs and catalogs for radio retailers you have a good chance to find the year, or more likely years of construction.

If you have no manufacturer and no type label, which isn’t uncommon, the catalogs are also a great place to start your research. Of course, you should have a certain idea from which time span a radio is, otherwise you will have to dig through decades of catalogs. That’s where the art sphere comes in. You can vaguely estimate the years of construction by looking at the design of a radio. But this can fool you, too. For example:

Braun SK2 von 1960 (Bild: Nite_Owl)

Braun Kleinsuper SK2 built similar from 1955 to 1960 (picture: Nite_Owl)

Manufacturer BRAUN developed an incredible clear and functional design, inspired by the Bauhaus movement and in parts developed by professors and students of the famous Ulm School of Design as early as 1955. If you look at certain radios from this period, you would swear they were made deep in the 1960’s. At the same time manufacturers like Grundig produced radios that look a bit like neo-baroque (although, if you take a look at Braun’s SK61 and Grundig’s SO271 both built in 1961 it’s hard to stay neutral and to suppress the urge to tag the latter under „monstrosity“).

So, what do you enter in the data base? In the first place you enter the manufacturer and then, in some rare case, where you can figure it out, the designer. A little upside down situation to the arts world, where it’s common that you have the artist in the first place and only in some cases an additional manufacturer, most commonly a printer.

Staying with the dates: for our design approach can lead us off the track, it’s safer to stay with technology. It gives us great hints to stay in the right era. Some manufacturing techniques are labor-intensive, and therefore point us to early decades: riveting is more labor-intensive than spot-welding, for example. In times of war, economy of scarcity rules and you will realize that on the used materials: a necessity to use materials you don’t have to import and to use as little as possible of them. Speaking of materials, they also give clues for the date: synthetic materials were developed through the last hundred years and are still improved. So were production processes that you can trace on the object: injection molding will leave marks of the ejector on the formed parts, for example. So, the knowledge of materials and technology will help you a great deal in dating the object.

Next, you want to find out where the radio is made. That will be another research. You will most certainly find the place where the manufacturer has his head office but that’s not necessarily the same place he manufactures the radios. Big companies tend to have production places throughout the nation, if not throughout the world. Some might even produce the same radio in different plants. Some might cooperate with other manufacturers so the radio is built in the plant of one manufacturer but has the name of a second manufacturer on it. Much to register…

Easy going: the dimensions

To reach safe ground again we measure the radio. That’s simple. Height, length, depth. But wait! What’s about the cable? It sticks out of the silhouette. If we just measure the dimensions of the box, every showcase maker will be in trouble, because he didn’t know he has to add space for placing the cable. If we measure the maximal dimension with the cable in every direction, we will get ridiculous vast dimensions. If we just fold the cable behind the box and add the measurement to the measurement of depth? Well… someone might re-measure just the box, coming to the conclusion that this can’t be the radio he searches for, because the data differs.

Best solution to this issue – that drove generations of exhibit designers crazy – is to add an information to every measurement. For example: „box“, „cable length“, „measured when closed“ or „with lids open“.

Technical data: A look inside

What about the technical data? In the field of classical arts you can keep it simple and to the point most of the time. „Oil on canvas“ for example includes every technical information you need. You know what to expect, even without seeing the actual picture. As an experienced registrar you can even give a complete catalog of required storage conditions without actually thinking about it.

What is the technical data of an ancient radio? The materials used are wood, metal, glass and most certainly plastics. It might have a textile cover over the loudspeakers, too. And that’s just the outside. When you remove the back board you will find tubes, resistors, capacitors, inductors and cables. So the material list is enhanced with paper, lead, tar, wax, glue and certain kinds of synthetic materials you prefer not to think about too deep (Phenol formaldehyde resin, for example). The capacitors are filled with electrolyte, so you have to deal with liquids as well.

Open backside of a Philco PT-44 Transitone from 1940/41. Can you name all the materials you see?

Open backside of a Philco PT-44 Transitone from 1940/41. Can you name all the materials you see?

What are the ideal storage conditions for this material mix? Well, the one thing I can tell you is that there are no ideal storage conditions for this. You can just try to keep the climate stable but you will certainly knock off some bars for some materials.

And what about the techniques used? Well, wood will be sawed and joined, glass will be blown, metal can be pierced, bent, rolled, pressed, welded, spot-welded, riveted, soldered, screwed,… Are you still with me?
So, if you are detail-orientated like most registrars are, you will find many, many things to register. Take into account that each component like an electronic tube has its own manufacturer and year of construction, has its own purpose like amplifier tube or rectifier tube and technical data like voltage and power that separates it from the other components that might look similar at first glance. And this is just a simple radio. You don’t have moving parts like little electric motors and drive belts you will find in a tape recorder. And it’s far, far away from the things a car consists of.

Beyond technical data: the context

Human beings use technology to shape their environment. And vice versa technology shapes human beings. Don’t believe us? Just take a look at people waiting at a bus stop today and try to remember how it was ten years ago. While then they were reading newspapers or books or were staring as life went by, nowadays most people stare at their smartphone. So technology shapes our behavior and this is a fact since the first human discovered that he or she could use a stone as a tool.

Coming back to our radio, the use of this device changed people’s lives. Before its invention, you got news from the newspapers, about a day after they happened. With the invention of radio broadcasts you had the news only a few minutes or hours after they occurred. When radio came up, it was a sensation. There were only few broadcasts, not the 24/7 broadcasts we are used to today. When something was broadcasted, often the whole family would gather around the radio to listen – in the early days every family member with a headphone.


Young child listening to a radio, 1920-1930 (Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.)

Manufactured radios were scarce and expensive, so many people started to build radios themselves. It was a tremendous do-it-yourself movement. Manufacturing developed soon and in the 1920’s German manufacturers developed plans to build an affordable radio by sharing costs through standardization. It is often believed that the “Volksempfänger” VE 301 was a development pushed by Hitler, but in fact the plans reach back much further.
After the war the use and role of radio changed. Efforts were made to make the radio a portable device which could be done effectively after the invention of the transistor. When TV came up, it pushed aside radio as the place the family would gather around in the evenings. Listening to the radio became an activity done alongside another, more important activity like cooking, ironing or driving a car. That’s where radio is until now – well, not quite. With internet radio humanity has broken up the limitations of just being able to listen to radio stations within the reach of the own antenna. It was possible to listen to radio stations around the world through short wave even in the earliest radio times, but then it was still necessary to understand the technology involved. The right device, the right length and shape of antenna, propagation conditions… Nowadays you just turn on your little WLAN radio device and flip through a station list that allows you to listen to a country station in the Middle-West, a samba or bossa nova station in Brazil or some traditional music in Mongolia. You don’t need to know how it works, you just need to know how to handle your device (given, some menus are so complicated to understand that you just wish they were as easy and logical as the calculation of a dipole antenna).

How does this help in the registration of our radio? Well, if you have the development history in mind, it’s easier to track down and understand signs you find on the radio.

You might be able to trace the story of a common household appliance: while it might have been the center of family live in the beginning, layers of grease mixed with dust can indicate that it was the kitchen radio after a new and better model or a TV set came to the family. Signs of seams of glasses can indicate it was used frequently to put the drinking glass down, telling you it had a place in the household where one was tempted to do so, maybe the bedroom of a teenager? You might find someone decided to wrap it with self-adherent design foil to give it a fresher outfit in the 1970’s. Or, to the opposite, grounded off the original varnish and painted it over white to make it fit in the modern living room. You might find signs of restoration from the time the model gained collector’s value. Or maybe it is in an incredible good shape, looking just like it came from the plant, because it was held in high esteem over the years.

Header of the category "Which wiring do I chose to build?" of the popular German monthly journal "Radio Amateur" (taken from the issue 12/1928)

Self-made radios were common in the ealy days of radio, so was the knowledge of the technology involved. Header of the category “Which wiring do I chose to build?” of the popular German monthly journal “Radio Amateur” (taken from the issue 12/1928)

If you open the backside you might find alterations to the original wiring scheme, done to listen to frequencies originally not intended to be received with that radio. Maybe just because the original owner wanted to receive another allowed frequency, but maybe because he wanted to listen to “forbidden” stations (foreign broadcasts in wartime, for example). You might also find alterations done to insert a different type of tube, because the original one was no longer available or others were cheaper.

It is your responsibility as a registrar to be able to read the signs but also to act as a good investigator. Assumptions have to be marked as such. They can be verified by asking the donor about what he or she can remember about the object. If you are lucky, the radio came with documents: the original invoice, the license to use it or a photo of the proud owner. These documents have to be properly filed and referenced in the data base. If you get additional hints and stories from the donor, they have to be documented as well.

The radio is a part of human history. Maybe a small part but as we are keepers of the cultural heritage we are responsible to keep important information together.

How deep is your registering?

Having read so far you surely feel overwhelmed by information and possible things to register. They all seem important, adding context and meaning to this special object as well as to the history of radios in general. Your observations on this object might indeed be helpful to verify or falsify theories of historians.

The perfect way to store technological objects? Certainly not! (picture: Philip (flip) Kromer from Austin, TX)

The perfect way to store technological objects? Certainly not! But it’s still how some people think it is in the storage of a science and technology museum… (picture: Philip (flip) Kromer from Austin, TX)

But in reality we don’t have as much time to invest in a single object. We have to make decisions on what to register and what not. Especially, as we registrars in science and technology museums are often carrying a burden from the past: For years, the custom in collecting technical objects was similar to how you run a junk yard: You just collect them and pile them in large industrial halls without documentation. Heck, they are just industrial mass products; you can document them sometime in the future, right? Well, we all know that this was not right, that we lost information because of the carelessness of our ancestors. So part of our work is to research and to give the objects in our collections their history back.

So, we have to limit ourselves in the registering of the single object to get more done in the whole collection. Sometime in the future we will write something about how to conduct a “triage” to protect and document as many objects as possible as primary care.

TV storage gone wrong? Nope, we are back in the arts sphere: That's "idiot boxes" by Nam Jun Paik (picture: Artiii)

TV storage gone wrong? Nope, we are back in the arts sphere: That’s “Sensory Overload” by Nam Jun Paik (picture: Arti Sandhu)

How deep we go with registering an object is a decision on a by-case basis. For most exhibitions or loans a documentation of basic technical data that can be measured and can be found on a type label is sufficient, along with a rough estimate of the manufacturing time. There are specialized research and exhibition projects that need a more thorough documentation. But then again, that’s where you can use synergistic effects. These projects can have specialized curators and scientists that provide additional data. Or the projects are funded in a way that you can invest more time on detailed registration.

In a way, registering technological objects is squaring the circle: When you register most accurate, you can’t register many objects. If you register not accurate enough you might reach high numbers but produce data base entries that are all but helpful. While “The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642, oil on canvas” says sufficiently enough, “Radio, BRAUN, 1950-1959, wood” says nearly nothing. So, it’s up to the registrar to find a good middle ground between being too detail-oriented and being too common.

Angela Kipp, Bernd Kießling

Bernd Kießling holds the job title of “Museologe” at the TECHNOSEUM, Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit in Mannheim, Germany. His working area can be compared to the work of a registrar. His areas of expertise are the collections of radio, television, radiocommunication, computer technology, office technology, photography and nuclear technology.

This text is also available in Italian translated by Silvia Telmon.


Match-ball for the Registrar!

When you think about registrar’s work I bet most of the time you think about fine arts, archaeological findings or fossils. Lesser known and recognized are sports collections and museums. But, hey, sports and museum? Sounds like a win-win to me. I was glad to meet Antony Aristovoulou who has worked for several sports collections. A registrar’s game seems to be always the same: sort, catalog, data base, crate, store. Not much of a surprise, you just play by the rules. But what happened to Antony was nothing like expecting a grass court and discovering it’s a clay court. It’s like expecting a 100-meter sprint and discovering on the day you show up for the match that it’s an Ironman and you are supposed to do it with your flip-flops on.

tennisMy work with the Melbourne Cricket Club Museum/National Sports Museum collection relocation/registration/rehouse was coming to an end and I secured new work with Deakin University’s Centre for Leisure Management Research (CLMR) in December 2006. I was told that as of January 2007, Tennis Australia had a tennis heritage collection which needed to be relocated and registered. The whole kit and kaboodle. At this point I was not told that no foundation work had been made (i.e. off site facility, cms, shelving, etc…). Hell, the contract between the University and Tennis Australia (TA) hadn’t even been finalised yet! So, here I was all proud of myself, thinking I’d finish one job, have Xmas holidays, and after New Years, go straight into a new job. How wrong was I!

Things slowly started getting off the ground from March ’07, where I was taken to a shipping container holding facility. Basically the whole collection was contained in this container – direct from California, U.S.A. This was the private collection of a German ex-pat named Rolf Jaeger, who exhibited them in a private museum in California. They were bought by the then President of TA, Mr. Geoff Pollard, in the hope of kick-starting a Tennis Australia heritage collection, for a new tennis museum based at Melbourne Park. This Jaeger Collection was to complement the historical artefacts held in the offices and storerooms of Melbourne Park. Australia was the only Grand Slam nation which did not have a Grand Slam tennis museum. All the artefacts were stuffed into the container and I knew straight away there be some casualties. My jaw was agape and I was wondering what I had just gotten myself into.
Anyway, my job was not just to do all of the above, but I had to source a storage facility, computer hardware, imaging software and cms, photography equipment, advise on security, shelving. etc…

I got all this done, had the shipping container delivered, and over the course of a few months, slowly sorted through the items. Money became scarce after a short while – I got what I wanted with the facility, computer, cms, and photography equipment, but I didn’t get what I wanted with regards to rehousing materials (acid free boxes, etc..) and shelving ( I got some, but not enough to satisfactorily house all items safely). For many items – the hundreds of racquets in particular – I had to store these in large acrylic containers (with cling wrap across the top) which came in the shipping container, each sitting on wooden pallets. :-/
Nevertheless, everything was tagged, registered, catalogued (Vernon CMS), given locations, photographed and image linked, and, of course, rehoused (to the best of my abilities).
I conducted comprehensive damage reports for the unprotected and minimally protected items coming out of the shipping container, and that was pretty much it.

Oh, no, not quite. I also had to (also unbeknownst to me when I began) manage TA’s non collection excess furniture and Australian Open equipment. These took up a huge amount of the storage space, and it took me months to rearrange all this stuff to condense it and maximise space for the collection, AND, manage it in a way so any dirt and dust from this impacted on the collection as little as possible.

Well, that’s it – as far as I can remember at the time of writing. I don’t know what has happened to the majority of the collection since I finished this project in April 2009, but around a year later, I did see that some of the artefacts I worked with had been loaned to the Kooyong Tennis Club (the former home of the Australian Open), and that was good to see. At least some of the gems i worked with were getting some show time! 🙂

Text: Antony Aristovoulou

This post is also available in Russian translated by Helena Tomashevskaya.