Category Archives: Humor


…and the livin’ is easy…

While it seems that some of us just can’t stop working…

(Plug: Reibel’s Registration Methods has seen a major revamp that brought it to the 21st century thanks to Deb Rose van Horn)

…we have set up a creative workshop using meta-planning techniques in our garden. Starting off with neither a solution nor a problem after 3 hours of intensive creative work and purposeful improvisation, only using the materials and tools at hand we finally came up with this:

We are still not quite sure which problem we solved but we are somewhat proud of the solution. (Most obvious: everybody agreed that whatever problem we solve, the solution should be adjustable in height.)

Enjoy the summer!


New Unknown Pest Detected – Have Your IPM in Place!

Last week there were several sightings of a new pest. Colleagues especially from the U.S. and Germany reported having spotted unknown species in their galleries and storage areas. Even the administrator of this page was not spared, see the picture.

The odd thing is that this new pest seems to be only detectable by using smartphones or tablets. They seem to pass sticky traps unhindered. So far, has not listed them.

Pokemon in the admin's storage area

Pokemon in the admin’s storage area1

As the senior and mid-career museum colleagues were clueless, some younger colleagues stepped up and offered help. They were able to catch some specimen and pointed to resources like this one to find out what was caught. It seems that they all belong to a family called “Pokémon” with a whole range of different species. The one depicted here seems to be called a “Pidgey”.

So far there was no immediate damage to collections reported. However, as registrars and collections managers we stand on guard. Some interns and student assistants pointed out that these pests can be trained and become much stronger, which doesn’t sound good. But they also pointed out that the real problem might be the trainers who want to catch more “pokémon” and therefore tend to ignore their own safety and the safety of their surroundings.

Being aware that we still do not know the extend of this new infestation, nor if it causes damage to collections, we at Registrar Trek have collected some recommendations on an new IPM – Integrated Pokémon Management:

  • The trainers catching these “pokémon” might not be fully aware of their surroundings – remind them in an appropriate and polite way that they have to follow your house rules and respect the safekeeping measurements for your objects and fellow visitors.
  • If there are serious issues with a gathering place of those creatures (“pokestops”) or places where trainers meet for challenges (“gyms”), you can report them on this website:, i.e. you can ask for having them removed from the game.
  • As there are now a couple of people in the vicinity of your museum that might not be the typical visitors but maybe an audience you like to involve more – how about talking to them, learning what they are interested in and inviting them inside? How about a reduced entrance fee for pokémon trainers that are first time visitors? (unlike pokémon, you don’t have to catch them all, but attracting a few would be an idea…).

We keep watching this new phenomenon and might inform you on further ideas for Integrated Pokémon Management.


  1. Note that some of the boxes in the picture are positioned directly on the ground, which is NOT how you should store them. Unfortunately, the pokémon decided to pop up where we were preparing some objects for transportation, so you can see a collections management fail at the same time. Always level your boxes above ground, so they won’t be damaged by water or feet, folks!

Waste Separation: What to do with old emails?

Oh, fear not, you who struggle with a crammed inbox. Just today a colleague sent me the ultimate answer to the question: “How to properly dispose of those spam mails, outdated telephone lists and irrelevant listserv postings?”



(In fact this crate was used to store a collection of enamel (German: “Email”) signs in the past who now have a new and better storage.)


How NOT to number objects

It all started on an early Friday morning when I opened a box and found a cast iron plate with its accession number as well as object title and year or production written down on a post-it and the post it secured all around with adhesive tape. I found this both horrific and hilarious, so I shared my experience with my colleagues at the RCAAM listserv ( Apparently, I was not alone. Here are the experiences our colleagues shared:

  • I remember working on an object where the accession number was painted over the original manufacturer’s label.
  • That sounds like the types of things I witnessed when I first started at my job! My predecessors didn’t know how to accession anything or where to write the numbers. Some of the beautiful frames have the accession numbers written on all 4 sides in giant sharpie letters. It is horrific!
  • And then there was the fine 19th century linen handkerchief with the number written in 1/2” high characters in red nail polish directly on the fabric. Still makes me teary-eyed to think about that one.
  • 1880’s playing cards with white paint and ink numbers
  • I actually saw a director of collections where I used to work write an accession number with a large black sharpie on a cardboard hat box!!!
  • Sharpie marker on unglazed ceramics…
  • Another example of stapling the tag to the textile

    Another example of stapling the tag to the textile

    Stapling the tag to fur collar instead of sewing in the tag.
  • Sharpie on Duct tape wrapped around 19th century leather-bound books (to prevent them from opening).
  • Wow – you had the fancy Sharpies. In my museum previous staff had to make do with the inferior Marks-A-Lot brand for marking cardboard and silk.
  • I’ve got red oil paint on unglazed ceramics. Does size count? The numbers are about 3/4″ tall…
  • How about paper tags written in pencil that’s completely faded after less than five years?
  • Many of our older paintings are victims of the old “red nail polish” method….
  • One place I worked had numbers written in sharpie marker on nearly every object in the collection. In addition, the number written object often did not match what was listed in the Accession Book, e.g. different year.
  • Many of the documents in our archive are labeled with a layer of clear or white acryloid, then the number written with an archival pen, then sealed with another layer acryloid… it still puzzles me every time.
  • The university administration used to keep track of “items” by assigning property numbers, sometimes with metal plates on the objects. Fortunately, we no longer do this. Yes, we are learning…and we are a learning institution.
  • At a museum I worked at years ago I had a parchment land document from the 1770s numbered on the front, in large letters, in blue ballpoint pen. And the person made sure they pressed really hard, and went over the numbers many times to make sure it was really on there.
  • I found a box stuffed with artifacts. Some in (too large) plastic bags, and one pair of boot moccs (not old, very, very modern). Someone wrote on the plastic bag with sharpie, didn’t let it dry and put all bags and unprotected moccs in the box…well the sharpie ink rubbed off on the moccs. Backwards object number at the top.
  • I have seen a lot of ink in books, well paper in general. And just not numbering at all….
  • We see things constantly that were done 50 or more years ago and it just makes us shake our heads a bit. Here are two of my favorites.

    1. With metal tools, I’ve seen pieces where someone ground away a noticeable amount of metal (enough that it changes the shape of the artifact) to make it smooth, then used a rotary tool to incise the numbers into the surface.

    2. You know the plastic tape that you emboss numbers into with a little hand punch? I’ve seen that directly stuck onto artifacts and on top of that, stapled into the surface on each end. The adhesive is so strong that it can’t seem to be removed without risk of damage, so I usually just leave it when I see it.

    You find some interesting things with a 100+ year old collection!

  • How about carved inside a wood mask? I can say this was not done by anyone claiming to be a museum professional. It was done by the donor in an effort to keep an inventory of the collection. As you can see from the photo, hanging hardware was included for no extra charge. Lucky me!

    How about carved inside a wood mask? I can say this was not done by anyone claiming to be a museum professional. It was done by the donor in an effort to keep an inventory of the collection. As you can see from the photo, hanging hardware was included for no extra charge. Lucky me!

    Our office of inventory control for the university still assigns property numbers, but a long time ago someone explained to them that actually putting them on the art would damage it. Now they just send us the tags which I place in the object file.

    When I first got here I found it amusing that when inventory control did a random inventory of the museum they didn’t want to see the object, just the tag. In the past few years this has changed and they now want to see both. I am so appreciative that they really seem to care about our collection and want to make sure we’re taking care of it.

    As funny as all of these things are, we should remember that at some point people thought they were doing the right thing with their marking. I wonder what future registrars will be saying about us in 50 years…

  • This is not related to numbering objects specifically but…we received a donation of books, photographs, and other ephemera from a donor many years ago that are now a part of our archive. I suppose it was done to identify who owned the work and/or for posterity but the donor stamped everything with an Ex Libris ink stamp that also includes her name. Most of the works have been stamped multiple times in different places (front, back, inside cover). And in many cases (a pet peeve of mine) the stamp is upside down…
  • We ran into a similar situation at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial in Asheville, but with signatures. Thomas Wolfe owned several books that are in the collection and signed them on the flyleaf. After his death, one of his sisters went through the books and wrote “Tom wrote this” and drew an arrow to his signature.
  • I’ve got 45 year-old ball-point pen on masking tape fossilized onto hundreds of pieces accessioned in the early 1970s…
  • At The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York, some industrious soul in the 1940s used a pot of red paint and a small brush to place accession numbers on many three-dimensional objects. Because of the ancient staff person’s lack of skill in that endeavor, he or she has traditionally been identified as the Red Blobber. Finding the number on the object is never a problem, but differentiating a 5 from a 6 or an 8 or a 9 (ad nauseum) can be impossible.
  • I also recall a tale from the late Caroline Keck, regarding numbers painted on hundreds of archaeological metal items that were being catalogued and placed in climate-controlled storage. The rapid drying of the corrosion layers caused almost all the objects to shed their outer layers… along with the numbers.
  • I worked somewhere once where most of the objects had been numbered multiple times, with a variety of numbering systems in a variety of sizes and materials. We used to play “can you see it now” and hold up the items to see how far away one could read the numbers…
  • Great topic and could be a chapter of a book. This is my personal favorite. If the black 1.5″ lettering isn’t legible the White 1.5 lettering should be. Whatever they used as a clear coat has so far resisted any attempt at removal. I have thought of sand blasting but I think the metal might disappear before the clear coat did (only a little bit of gallows humor here).
  • The plague of Mad Number-ers also scourged the woodlands. We have evidence like the above parti-colored markings. On some objects the number is also etched, sometimes with an etching tool, sometimes with a sharpened nail.
  • Cupboard
    Someone, long, long ago, must have found a sale on house paint. Several of our objects look like the pics I am attaching.  The second shows the bottom of a totem, you can see my little number in the center, as well as the yellow painted number I found on it. I just had to re-number it myself to indicate my disgust at the first method. At least they could have gotten the number right the first time (you'll see it is marked out and rewritten, as if one go-round with paint wasn't enough - sheesh!!).

    Someone, long, long ago, must have found a sale on house paint. Several of our objects look like the pics I am attaching.
    The second shows the bottom of a totem, you can see my little number in the center, as well as the yellow painted number I found on it. I just had to re-number it myself to indicate my disgust at the first method. At least they could have gotten the number right the first time (you’ll see it is marked out and rewritten, as if one go-round with paint wasn’t enough – sheesh!!).

    Good to know we’re amongst friends! Here are some of our past sins…sharpie, red nail polish method, yellow nail polish method, metal etching, metal stamping, ball point on paper artifacts, white out (literally numbers painted on with white out), multiple numbering systems labeled on an artifact, stapling tags into textiles, masking tape labels, metal tagging…numbers of various shapes and sizes…I think we may even have some neon painted
  • I am so, so pleased that my institution is not the only one that has a history of using those old plastic label makers! Our intrepid predecessors were apparently afraid that we would be unable to identify the purpose of the artifacts in the future, and so they gave us plastic adhesive labels with things on them like “Wooden Bowl” and “Butter Mold.” Right on the front of the artifacts. Those poor bowls didn’t stand a chance.
  • Actually, I forgot one of the most diabolical numbering applications. Years ago, a previous NC State Historic Sites curator instructed staff at historic sites to write accession numbers on adhesive labels and put them on the objects. Through the years, the labels have dried up, fallen off of many of the artifacts, and then dutiful staff swept them up and disposed of them. Not only do we now have a sticky shadow of where the label was, we’ve been hard-pressed matching records and artifacts–thanks to poor measurements and descriptions. But that’s another story. [sigh]
  • Before I started to work here we had a former director who had the staff use silver fingernail polish as a base with the accession number written on with a red Sharpie pen. This was followed with a topcoat of clear fingernail polish. Over the years these numbers have faded so much they are almost impossible to read. Or, if it wasn’t silver fingernail polish it was White Out.

    This same director also liked to take the eraser on the end of an ink pen (remember those?) and “clean” a spot on coins before marking them with a number.

    One more – when the collection was still at the college a retired professor became the director. He decided everything needed to be clearly marked. He would paint a large white blob on the artifact and use India ink to put on a number followed by shellac that often ran down the artifact. This was usually in the most conspicuous and prominent place on the front of the artifact and the size never varied. It was always HUGE! Sometimes he added two or three more examples of the same exact number to the piece. We have a beautiful polychrome Zuni Pueblo pot that has a number painted on over some of the designs. The shellac then ran all the way down the sides of the pot.
    Oh the humanity!

And the winner is…

Three days after my original cry came an answer we all declared as the ultimate winner:
“At a previous institution, a human skull with the accession number dutifully written in black pen across the middle of the forehead sometime during the previous century. And this was an individual that we repatriated.”