All posts by Angela

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!

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.
Read more…
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.
Read more…


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.


Registrars on the ISS!


A look on google analytics today revealed an unknown fact: There are registrar’s on the International Space Station (ISS) – or at least people who are watching Registrar Trek! Seems our Blog title isn’t as futuristic as it may seem…

Well, in fact it’s one of googles April Fool’s jokes, but a rather brilliant one, especially as the location moves with the real track of the ISS. Keep watching the stars!

As we are in a nonsense kind of mood today, here is a link to a game called “Must Escape the Museum”. A point and click adventure for the dark side of your registrar personality… you can actually touch those statues, dinosaurs and – to come back to our original topic – space suits. At least the standard mouse pointer is white gloved… Must escape the museum!



Of Docks and Doors

As registrars we are all familiar with standards, policies and norms. Recently, I stumbled upon a passage of the German Industrial Norm (DIN) standard DIN EN 15946:2011 for the packing procedures for the transportation of cultural heritage that recommends that the external dimensions of a crate must be smaller than that of the narrowest point which has to be traversed during transport. And that small items should be packaged together if they match and are going to the same destination (you can find the said passage under 5.2.1 “General principles”). My first reaction was an outright:
Later on my colleague Anne T. Lane informed me that this might sound like an order from Captain Obvious but is in fact a very wise one:

Since our university museum loading dock is, of course, impossible for a real truck to back into, we often use the neighboring one belonging to the theater department if a full tractor-trailer has to pick up or drop off a shipment. This means we have to haul our crates out through the gallery and through a series of hallways and more doors. Kevin, one of our preparators, was trying to maneuver a crate out of the museum through the double doors but it kept getting stuck. I came over to help and found it was so tight a fit that I had to depress the push bars on the doors on alternate sides. The crate was a fairly standard one of plywood with exterior framing that divided the sides into panels. As the crate went on by the push bars, they snapped back out again once they passed by the framing boards, so I had to keep going back and forth to depress them again until we finally got the thing through. Since my arms aren’t long enough to span the doorway, we had to keep the crate at just enough of an angle to depress one bar while I went over to the other one. If that crate had been 1/2″ larger, we would have had to take it outside and around the building.
All in a day’s fun.

Text: Anne T. Lane


Hello registrar’s world!


On January 2nd we started off with a weird idea: A platform to connect registrars around the world. Now, three months later it’s time for a first review. Now, what does the map say?

We see where the visitors of Registrar Trek in March 2013 came from:
North America: 1165
Europe: 426
South America: 94
Oceania: 84
Middle America (including Mexico): 18
Asia: 7
Africa: 3

We guess that means we reach registrars around the world and we can easily spot the areas where the registrar is a known species and where it is still a profession that is scarce.

When we look at the overall visitors from January 2nd to March 29 we have 9,576 visits by 4,453 unique visitors which we think is, well, how should we say it best?…


Moving on we hope that you will continue with telling us great stories from your everyday work or about how you became a registrar or write great articles about our profession that we can publish and translate (mail us at
We are grateful to everyone who is willing to translate something into a new language. Just drop us a line if you feel like joining our team.

Angela and Fernando


The registrar: A strange, endangered breed of animal rarely spotted

Recently, I read an email by Alana Cole-Faber, Registrar at the Hawaiian Mission Houses in Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. The context doesn’t matter here, but her words were:
„…us who are, literally, isolated. Like, on islands. In the middle of oceans. Where registrars are a strange, endangered breed of animal rarely spotted.“


A registrar in his natural habitat: caring for collections. Thanks to Matt Leininger for the picture.

I was thinking again and again about these words. Alana works on an island, so her words hold especially true for her position, but I found it a brilliant description of our jobs as registrars, collection managers or curators of collections in general.

Sometimes, when I go through the aisles of our outside storage, searching for an artifact that has to go out for a loan and is marked in the database as “location unknown” I can nearly hear the voice of Sir David Attenborough: “The registrar sneaks through the jungle of objects in search of its prey. Some way down the aisle an artifact sits together with some fellows, suspecting nothing. The registrar comes closer. She looks, checks the record and with a short, purposeful snatch grabs the artifact.”

A look at the figures

But joke aside, isn’t it really so that the registrar is an animal rarely spotted? Most of our work is done behind the scenes. So much behind the scenes that we are even out of sight and sometimes even out of mind for most of our colleagues. I started a non-representative survey on certain field-related LinkedIn groups1 to see if my personal experience of the working setup is right. The question was: “As a registrar: What is your normal working setup (more than 50% of your average working time)?” See what I’ve got:


Fortunately, the lone wolves that have to roam their territory all by themselves with no one within reach are not the majority. But, to stay in the picture, registrars don’t form packs. The registrar’s work has to be done alone by 71%.

The hermit in the storage area

Registrars often work concentrated behind the scenes.Thanks to Lisa Verwys for the picture.

Registrars often work concentrated behind the scenes.
Thanks to Lisa Verwys for the picture.

How is it like to work all alone? I like to quote a comment2 made by Antony Aristovoulou that throws a light on this: „I rarely received inspections or signs of interest from those who were managing me, and it it became a very lonely process. The artefacts became my friends.“
No-one will deny that it is great to be alone in the storage area from time to time. Working alone as a registrar has an amount of freedom few people can afford nowadays. Depending on the architecture and infrastructure of the storage it might even mean no internet and mobile connection. Separated from the rest of the world, on a lonesome island.

What are the consequences? Well, there are certain dangers. Firstly, the pure, physical ones. There has to be a security concept for the one that works all alone. Generally, the one who is forced to work alone should always have the possibility to call for help and assistance. It should be made sure that it is recognized when he or she gets in a situation where he or she is not able to call for help. Possible ways: A routine in calling him or her by phone to check if everything is alright. A mobile phone that he or she always carries with her / him (given there is mobile-phone reception). A checkup procedure that makes sure he or she doesn’t get locked in a storage area. Extra inspection tours of the security guard. All of this should be organized before someone starts working alone.

But there are other, less obvious dangers in working alone. Chances are high no one thinks about the one that works in the storage area when all go out for lunch. Important information in institutions is often passed on over a cup of coffee during a break. People who don’t get feedback or have the possibility to exchange with their colleagues tend to become solitary. It’s the task of the registrar him/herself to avoid total isolation by taking part in the community of the museum. But it’s also the task of his/her colleagues not to forget the one in the storage area. And last but not least it’s the job of the ones that are responsible for the working organization in the museum to create possibilities of exchange between the staff members. This might be the only way that the registrar becomes not the „strange animal from the storage“ but stays the colleague. Okay, make it „the colleague with the strange job“, but still: the colleague.

The one that spoils the fun

Giving clear directions of what to do and what not is part of the job.Thanks to Zinnia Willits for the picture.

Giving clear directions of what to do and what not is part of the job.
Thanks to Zinnia Willits for the picture.

The numbers show why many registrars feel isolated, even within a team. This has much to do with the job the registrar has to perform. He or she has to care for the well-being of the objects in the collection. That includes often saying „no“ when it comes to loans or events within the museum. If the head of the institution wants to have a big party in the galleries, the registrar has to stand his or her ground by saying that this can’t include food and drinks. If the marketing team wants to collect school groups with a historic school bus, the registrar most certainly has to say that this isn’t possible. If a befriended institution wants to borrow a flag and plans to hang it in the entrance of the exhibition without protection, he or she can only shake her head. He or she acts as an attorney for the artifacts, who can’t speak for themselves. Although on paper all staff members are responsible for preserving objects for the future, the buck often stops at the desk of the registrar. But the registrar is not the head of the institution. Usually, he or she is not even the head of the department. This means although the responsibility lies on his or her desk, his or her decision may not be the final one. This adds up to the feeling of being isolated.

For the team members, it is the other way round. Curators have great ideas for upcoming exhibitions. Designers have new ideas how to present the artifacts. Marketing people think intensely on how to attract visitors. And then the registrar comes and just says „no“ to their ideas. Of course, for them it looks like the registrars are strange animals! They are the ones that spoil all the fun! But the painful truth is: that’s the job. If the registrar is lucky, there are also conservators on the team that back up his or her opinion. Otherwise he or she can just point to policies and standards (which is rather boring for the rest of the team) or present cases where it went wrong because nobody listened to the registrar (which is more entertaining, but not necessarily more convincing). In the end, the registrar can’t do more than state his opinion and document the whole process of decision-making to be on safe ground.

An endangered species?

High-quality work is important - and needs enough time and money. Thanks to Sharon Steckline for the picture.

High-quality work is important – and needs enough time and money.
Thanks to Sharon Steckline for the picture.

So, is the registrar an endangered species? Well, the registrar might not be more endangered than any other museum professionals today. When money is tight, cultural institutions are the first that are looked upon with a frown by authorities. But as far as I can see, this is not limited to collection management. Politicians tend to ask if a certain museum can be run by fewer people or is necessary at all. In fact, many institutions in countries outside the US just recently realized what registrars are good for and create more jobs in this field. But that’s just one part of the story.

Another part is that quality of our work is really in danger. When money is tight, decisions on where the money should go are hard to make. And often, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Registrars, trained to act as inconspicuous as possible by trade, often are the ones that are not heard in their requests for archival materials and manpower. But again, that’s just one part of the story.

In many smaller museums money is so tight that it’s not the decision between archival boxes for collection management or advertising in the newspaper, it’s the decision between fixing the roof or having an exhibition. In this cases human resources are a big issue3. Here, the position might be called „registrar“ but it comprises much more. He or she might be also the visitor guide, complaint manager, shop assistant, cashier and curator all in one person. This often means that this person can’t invest as much time in collection management as is needed.
Other museums decide they can’t afford a registrar on permanent staff. They will hire freelance registrars when urgently needed. This is a good idea when it comes to planning new storage units, get consulting on how registration should be organized, have the artifacts of a temporary exhibition in safe hands4 or do an inventory on a certain collection. However, if an institution holds a collection that exceeds a certain amount of objects (not easy to draw a line here, this depends as well on the scope of the collection as on how it is „used“ by the institution), collection management is a full-time job. The idea to let a registrar do an inventory on the collection and then have „someone do it along his regular duties“ or „all the staff cares for the collection“ doesn’t work.


Quality in museum work is always a combined effort. Teamwork is the key. Thanks to Matt Leininger for the picture.

A registrar is more than a human data base. If you have all collection items absolutely accurate in your data base (name a museum that has!), this doesn’t mean it stays that way. Keeping track of the objects is a permanent effort. Having everything correct in the data base, too. You can have all staff members swearing an oath to always document every movement of objects in the data base, you will still have St. Entropy messing around in your storage area! A good registrar will have an eye on that. But there’s more to it. Like in every library, some objects get „lost“ by being put in the wrong storage place. A registrar that is familiar with his / her collection will have an idea where to search for it – based on his experience and on the knowledge who handled the object recently. Don’t forget you usually not only contract a registrar – you contract an elephant’s brain! Lastly, a registrar who is in charge of a collection for a long time will somehow merge with his or her collection and storage area. He or she develops something like a sixth sense for things that are wrong: an unusual increase in humidity before someone checked the hygrometer, an object that just doesn’t look the way it always looked, a voice telling the registrar to take a walk around the outside storage hall once again before leaving… That’s something that develops over time. You can’t have it with short-term contracts for only a few months or a year.


As we saw, the registrar is in fact an animal rarely spotted. It is a combined effort not to let it become an endangered animal:

  • As an individual: all who work in the museum have to take care that the registrar is safe during his time working alone and doesn’t become isolated from the rest of the museum community.
  • As a professional: all the colleagues need to understand what is the job of the registrar. It’s not that he or she wants to spoil the fun, it’s his or her job to protect the objects so others can enjoy them in the future, too.
  • As a museum: authorities should think in-deep about the value of professional collection management. It is an old hat that preventive conservation and professional storage saves costs in the long run. Cutting budgets here might result in higher costs later.
  • As a society: politics, communities and tax-payers in general should think about the value of museums and their collections. We all know that a person that loses his memory will lose himself. It’s the same with a society that loses its history. Preserving our heritage is not only a cost factor, it has high value for a society.

Just my two cents on this issue. Now, I got to go, I need to roam my territory, I think I spotted some undocumented objects further down that aisle…

Angela Kipp


  1. Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists, Collections Management and Collection Preservation and Care, dates collected from 01/27 until 02/23/2013
  2. Comment made concerning the survey posted in the Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists Group on
  3. When I asked „Calling all museum staff responsible for collection management and registration! What are the main issues in your job?“ on LinkedIn „Collections Management“ Group, an overwhelming 50% answered „Staff issues“, before „Funding for climatization, security, etc“ (16%), „Funding for packing material, racks, etc“ (12%), „Donations“ (10%) and „Borrowing and loaning“ (9%). The discussion thread there is rather interesting and highlights the issues collection management has to deal with:
  4. I strongly recommend to have a registrar in the exhibition team when doing an exhibition that contains a certain amount of artifacts. See my article „5 tips for dealing with registrars“