Collections Management

Part of:
Wellcome Historical Medical Museum and Library
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


These records relate to the management of the collection, and primarily its accessioning and cataloguing. The records provide essential information relating to the objects' provenance, acquisition and placement within the collections.

It is a complex body of records, reflecting the complexity of the accessioning and cataloguing procedure. Some explanations of the procedure may be found in CM/Cla.

The central record of accession is to be found in the 'Main' series of accession registers[CM/Acc], which records information first entered into the notebooks [CM/Not] and transcribed onto invoice slips [CM/Env]. The series of inventory cards [CM/Inv], filed by accession number and in subject groups, replicates the information from the accessions registers.

Supplementary series of accession registers were also kept, relating to specific areas of the collections [CM/Reg]. One of these series of registers is for ethnographical materials transferred to the British Museum [CM/Reg/A].

In some cases, accession registers and records are annotated with details of transfer to another museum.

A group of 'Collection Dossiers', compiled in the 1970s, acts to collate information about groups or collections of material [CM/Col].

This body of records also includes inventories of collections or groups of objects in the stores [CM/Lis], and papers relating to the collecting activities of Paira Mall in India and the Far East [CM/Pam], and to EM Dance's work in arranging the Classical Medicine Gallery [CM/Dan].

Other papers relating to gallery arrangement and research on the collections were transferred to the Western Manuscripts Department of the Library, and may be found in the WMS 8000 series.

Financial records of acquisition are at WA/HMM/FI; records relating to the transfer of collections are at WA/HMM/TR. For guidance on how to locate the records relating to a specific object or collection, see the leaflet Museum objects: accession and transfer records.



Physical description

110 boxes

Acquisition note



WA/HMM Wellcome Historical Medical Museum Archives
Museum objects: accession and transfer records
A guide for researchers

The accession and transfer records of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum [WHMM] form a large and complex body of materials. These records are all catalogued and accessible via the Archives and Manuscripts database or the printed lists.

Due to the size of the WHMM collections it has not been possible to catalogue the records to object level, so researchers should take a broad based approach to locate series of records which will contain the information they seek. In most cases, an object will have information recorded in a number of series of records.

The records vary in the amount of detail they contain about objects. Earlier records tend to be less detailed and less systematic than later ones, reflecting the development of museum methodology.

Accession records

The Collection Management records [WA/HMM/CM] provide information relating to the objects' provenance, acquisition and placement within the collections.

The records are most easily accessed if an accession number for the object is known. Three distinct series of accession numbers were used: 'A' numbers [e.g. A2310], 'R' numbers with a date suffix [e.g. R5736/1936], and an annual series of numbers with a date suffix [e.g. 3370/1939].

The accession number can be used to locate entries within the accession registers [WA/HMM/CM/Acc], notebooks [WA/HMM/CM/Not], and flimsy inventory cards [WA/HMM/Inv]. These records give details of an object's provenance, method of acquisition, price or value, description and an indication of where it was placed within the collections. In some cases entries were subsequently annotated with details of transfer or disposal.

The name of the donor or vendor of the object, as given in the accession records, can be used to generate a database search to locate any correspondence files [WA/HMM/CO]. Typical donor or vendor correspondence may give information on the provenance or history of the object, its value and existence of other similar objects.

If the accession number is not known, searching can take place on a chronological basis, browsing through the accession registers until an entry is found. Objects were not always accessioned on arrival, due to the fast growth rate of the collections. It was only after Wellcome's death in 1936 that accessioning was systematically tackled, with objects grouped into categories for entry into the accession registers; for example, scientific instruments may be entered in sequence. This can help to speed up browsing the register. Once the object entry is located, the accession number can identified and used to access other records as described above.

During the 1960s-1980s a series of 'Collection dossiers' [WA/HMM/CM/Col] was compiled by WHMM staff. These files acted as a reference tool about the major collections acquired by the Museum, and include original and copy records and correspondence extracted from elsewhere in the archive, as well as inventories, published catalogues and research notes.

Transfer records [WA/HMM/TR]

Transfer of the WHMM collections began soon after Wellcome's death in 1936, and reached completion in 1985. The amount of detail in the records varies: with the pre-war dispersals often having only scanty information recorded. It was only during the final dispersals that systematic record practices were established.

In the 1980s an attempt was made to collate information about the earlier transfers of collections (1936-1977), and the resulting files are arranged by name of receiving institution [WA/HMM/TR/Ret]. These files are supplemented by series of inventory cards 1936-1983, arranged by institution, type of material and accession number [WA/HMM/TR/Inv]. The files and cards together act as points of entry into other series of transfer records.

The main body of records falls into series reflecting the different, distinct periods of transfer activity: 'Pre-War dispersals' 1936-1946 [WA/HMM/TR/Pre], ethnographical materials 1943-1956 [WA/HMM/TR/Eth] and final disposals 1978 - 1983 [WA/HMM/TR/Abc].

If the name of the receiving institution or dealer and date of transfer is known, access to the records is straightforward. If no such information is known, the records will have to be approached on a subject basis - browsing to locate appropriate receiving institutions or dealers for the object under research. Appendices of materials sold at auction, receiving institutions, and subject or collection listings with their receiving institutions are given in Georgina Russell, 'The Wellcome Historical Medical Museum's Dispersal of Non-medical Material', Museums Journal, vol. 86, supplement 1986. Russell's article also gives a useful history of the transfer process.

Correspondence relating to the transfer of objects [WA/HMM/CO] can be located using names of individuals or institutions identified in the transfer records to generate a database search.

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