By accessing this resource, you agree to the Spectrum licence.
Use this procedure when you take ownership of objects. In legal terms, this is a ‘transfer of title’ from the previous owner to you. The procedure gives you proof of ownership, and it assigns a unique number that will link each object to the information you hold about it.
If you acquire objects for your permanent collection, you will ‘accession’ them as part of this procedure. This has a very specific meaning: accessioning brings with it ethical responsibilities to preserve objects over the long term, and should not be done without careful thought in the light of your agreed collecting policy. This procedure assumes that most of the objects you acquire will be accessioned into your permanent collection.
However, you might acquire objects for other, short-term reasons, such as using them in handling activities or as display props. In that case, use part of this procedure but do not formally accession the items. Occasionally you might accession into the permanent collection things you already own, but which have become significant over time (such as Victorian display cases).
This is a Spectrum primary procedure. UK museums must meet the standard set out below to fulfil the requirements of the Museum Accreditation Scheme.
The Spectrum standard
You must have a policy on acquiring objects (which might be part of a wider collection development policy covering disposals too). You should include answers to these questions:
- What kinds of objects might you acquire and why?
- What legal and ethical issues will you consider before acquiring objects?
- Who can authorise acquisitions, particularly accessions into the permanent collection?
- What are your normal terms and conditions for acquiring objects?
- What steps will you take to check the provenance of potential acquisitions?
- How will you calculate the ongoing costs (eg additional storage) of potential acquisitions?
- How will you establish who owns any associated rights (eg copyright) and what is your policy on acquiring such rights?
- What is your format for numbering new accessions and the preferred marking and labelling methods for different types of object?
- How long should it normally take to complete the accessions process?
You must also have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when acquiring objects. Spectrum’s suggested procedure is a useful starting point, and is available as a workflow diagram or as a text file you can edit. However you do it, your own procedure must meet the following minimum requirements:
|Minimum requirement||Why this is important||See (cross-references to be added in final version)|
|You only acquire objects in line with your agreed policy and applicable laws, treaties and codes of practice.||Your collecting activity is ethical and serves your museum’s mission.
Objects are not acquired at the whim of individuals.
|You have written evidence that the undisputed owners of acquired objects have transferred title to your museum.||You can prove legal ownership of your collections.
You do not acquire heirlooms whose ownership may be disputed within a family.
|You make donors aware of the terms by which their gift or bequest is accepted by you.||Donors understand that objects they have given might not always be on display, or might be disposed of in future.
You minimise the risk of reputational damage if donors or their heirs are later unhappy.
|You give a unique number to each object, and securely label or mark it with this number.||You can link each physical object with the information you have about it.|
|You have tamperproof registers, recording all the objects accessioned into in your permanent collections, using their unique numbers.||You have a formal record of your permanent collections.
It would be difficult for a thief on the inside to cover their tracks by deleting all record that an object ever existed.
|As backup you have a security copy of the information in the accession register, and keep it up to date.||You do not lose this important information in a fire or similar disaster.
You have an extra level of security against anyone tampering with the primary accession register.
|You keep all relevant information about the acquisition of objects, accessible via their unique numbers.||You have as much documentation as possible about the provenance of your collections.
You can refer to the original documents in case of any future problem, such as the heirs of a donor thinking that a gift was only on loan.