Acquisition and accessioning – suggested procedure

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You should have a written procedure that explains the steps to follow when acquiring objects. This suggested procedure is useful starting point. It is given as text and also as a workflow diagram. However you do it, your own procedure should meet the minimum requirements of the Spectrum standard.

Assessing potential acquisitions

Make a case for the proposed acquisition.

This should usually be done in writing, following your acquisition policy. Depending on the circumstances, this might involve due diligence research into legal and ethical matters, or to clarify the intellectual property rights associated with a proposed acquisition. Keep a copy of the acquisition proposal and record its location so that you and others can find it in future.

Evaluate the proposal.

Follow the procedure and guidelines set out in your acquisition policy. See also Note 1 for additional guidance. Keep a copy of the formal evaluation (eg the minutes of the relevant board meeting) and record its location so that you and others can find it in future (cross-referenced by the numbers of objects you go on to acquire).

Inform the owner if you are not acquiring the objects, and return them if they are with you already.

This should usually be in writing, and should set out your reasons for not accepting an offer, with reference to your acquisition policy.

Obtaining title and recording copyright

Obtain title to the objects and written evidence of this.

See Note 2 for guidance on the kind of acquisition records you should keep. Evidence of title to the objects should include the following documentation:

  • A reference to the formal title of the legal body that is acquiring the object.
  • The name and address of the previous owner of the object and of any agent.
  • A brief description of the object.
  • A signature confirming transfer of title to you.
  • The method of acquisition.

See Note 3 for additional documentation recommended for bequests, field collection, gifts, purchases, exchanges and treasure. See Note 4 for advice on how to proceed with objects found without numbers (eg during the Inventory procedure).

All original documents supporting title should be located in a secure, fire-proofed area as a core part of the long-term documentation about the collection. Record the Document location of supporting paperwork, in the relevant object records so you and others can find them in future.

Record copyright or other associated rights if known.

If not done already, where relevant and if possible establish and record the owner of the copyright and other rights associated with new acquisitions.

Go to Rights management.

Receiving objects not already with you

Plan for the arrival of the objects.

Considerations might include where they will be stored and who will carry out the acquisition process.

Go to Object entry.

Processing new acquisitions

Label or mark each object, or group of objects, with a unique object number.

Your policy should specify the format of object numbers. If relevant, numbers for unaccessioned objects (eg in handling collections) should have a different format from those for accessioned objects. Parts of a single object may be assigned the same root number, but with a unique extension appended to each one. Where large numbers of similar objects are gathered together in a secure container, the container may be numbered, its contents counted and the total recorded (eg beads in a box, a box of sherds, or a tray of insects).

The method used for labelling and marking an object, or group of objects, will depend on its material and condition. You should normally physically mark objects, but in some cases this may not be possible and labels should be securely attached instead.

Generally, labelling and marking techniques should not damage an object, but this may not always be possible (eg in the case of larger objects). Sometimes durability is more important than reversibility. Seek specialist advice from a conservator if in doubt. You should develop written conventions covering the location of labels or marks.

Record initial information about the acquisition and the objects acquired.

Record the following information for each object, or group of objects, identified by the object number:

Object identification information

  • The Object number.
  • The Number of objects Number of objects acquired associated with the Object number.
  • The type of object – Object name (use a standard term source).
  • Any Title of the object.
  • A Brief description containing sufficient information to identify each object, or group of objects, and any separately numbered parts. The description should be sufficient to allow identification in the absence of the object number (including, eg a simple name, measurements).
  • Any Other number and Other number type (eg a number allocated by another organisation before the object was acquired).

Acquisition information

Record any other relevant information about the acquisition, including:

Object history and association information

Object use information

  • The acknowledgement that should be used when the acquisition is displayed and published – Credit line.
  • Any information about restrictions on using the object, or group of objects (eg may not be loaned, only accessible by staff, or not accessible by external researchers):

Object owner’s contribution information

Try to note down all available information associated with each object, or group of objects, at the time of collecting, particularly where objects are removed from their context.

If the objects were a gift, send acknowledgement to the donor.

Include the relevant object numbers and information about how they can access the items in future.

Accessioning new acquisitions

If the objects are to be part of your accessioned collection, create a formal, tamperproof record that the objects have been accessioned.

For those objects acquired to become part of your accessioned collection, this will be an archival record of the accession. See Note 2 for guidance on what form this record might take. If you use a traditional accession register, enter a subset of the information you recorded for the acquisition:

  • Entry number.
  • Object number.
  • Date acquired.
  • Who it was acquired from.
  • Basic descriptive information, including:
    • Object name.
    • Title (if relevant).
    • Brief description.
    • Any other important historical information about the object, or group of objects.
  • Any other relevant notes.

Guidance notes

Note 1: Evaluating proposed acquisitions

As noted already, preparing a proposal to acquire objects may well involve due diligence research into legal and ethical matters, or to clarify the status of associated intellectual property rights.

Do not acquire objects if there is any doubt about the seller’s or donor’s rights of ownership, or if you have any other legal or ethical concerns. You are not obliged to accept offers or bequests, and the terms on which collections are accepted should be clearly understood by the donor.

When you are offered collections, you should reserve the right to take out those items not wanted for your accessioned collection. A note about the group in its entirety should be recorded (eg on the entry form) before any weeding takes place. Where, however, you are offered a collection which is an archive, or where the significance lies in the collection itself (rather than its individual objects), the collection should not be broken up or weeded without careful consideration.

As part of the evaluation process, objects may need to be assessed for any potential health and safety hazards.

Objects accepted in lieu of tax are subject to specific requirements that are detailed in the official scheme guidelines. Otherwise, avoid acquiring objects with terms and conditions (eg that they must always be on display). Take professional legal advice if in doubt.

Note 2: Accession records

Security of accession records

Accession records should be maintained and backed up using auditable, futureproof and secure methods, either paper-based or electronic. Access to the records should be controlled, and a permanent, tamperproof record kept of all changes. If your accession records are entirely digital, you should take extra care to guard against tampering and the danger of losing information as formats and technology become obsolete. You can find the latest guidance on keeping accession records secure on the Collections Trust website.

Duplicate copies of your accession records should also be maintained, and kept at an alternative location (ideally another museum or similar organisation). Copies should be produced often enough, and kept securely enough, to prevent the information being tampered with.

Accession registers

If you use traditional accession registers, they should be bound, on archival paper, with numbered pages. They should be filled in, in permanent ink, in accession number order. Archival quality accession registers can be ordered from the Collections Trust. They have 147 numbered double pages with pre-printed column headings.

Object entry forms

The Collections Trust object entry forms have a section for transfer of title, so that the object entry procedure can begin the process of transferring title if applicable.

Transfer of title forms

The Collections Trust transfer of title forms are a useful way of capturing further information about transfer of title, and confirming transfer with the owner. It is not always necessary to use separate transfer of title forms and your museum should decide whether it needs them or not. They can be useful for the following reasons:

  • Listing in detail the items being acquired. It is sometimes not possible to do this on object entry forms.
  • A separate transfer of title form can be filed in the object’s history file for easy reference.
  • Making it clear to the donor that title is being transferred, particularly for very valuable or significant acquisitions.
  • If the person who signed the object entry form was not the owner.
Note 3: Additional evidence of title

Depending on the method of acquisition, obtain in addition the following documentation:


  • Legal copy of the will, if possible.
  • A copy of probate (or confirmation in Scotland).

Field collection

  • A reference to collection site and other field collection information (eg grid reference, site code).
  • Evidence of right of title as appropriate.
  • Evidence of internal and external justification for the collecting.
  • Proof that the collecting is legal.
  • Evidence of external responsibilities (eg memoranda of understanding with others).
  • Evidence of compliance with CITES (The ‘Washington’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) plus export and import permits where applicable.


  • The signed offer of an object from the donor, including any terms specified – although any gift with conditions is strongly discouraged.
  • The signed acceptance of the object by you, including any agreed terms.
  • Information about all gifts should be accessible by donor name.


  • A signed statement from vendors stating that they are the legal owners.
  • A signed statement of the provenance of the object (if known).
  • The original invoice and receipt identifying the goods purchased.
  • The details and conditions of any grant aid received for the purchase.


  • The transfer of title to the object for which the non-monetary exchange was made.


  • A record of the treasure inquest, including any expert report submitted as evidence.
Note 4: Objects found in your museum without numbers

Objects found in your museum with no number or provenance, for example during audit or inventory, may only be accessioned if you are confident that they are your property and they are required. Every effort should be made to trace the origins of such objects, including all possible external sources and internal records (eg entry records, correspondence, and loans files) and to reconcile them with existing records. In such cases, always document and retain all information about the find and any subsequent accession. This will enable the audit trail to be picked up in the case of any subsequent claims to the object.

Date created: 2017

Author: Collections Trust

Publisher: Collections Trust