by Amber Druce, curator of history
“Where does it all come from?” is one of the questions we get asked the most whilst showing people round our museums.
In the history department, we get messages almost every day offering us objects. Most commonly, they’re from people downsizing their house, or clearing a deceased relative’s home. Recent offers include 1960s dresses, milk bottles, glass plate negatives, toys, a gun, petrol coupons, and oral history projects.
The first thing we always ask is ‘does it have a Bristol connection?’ We keep our collections locally focused to make them as relevant as possible. Our storage space is quite limited at the moment so that’s a good incentive too.
If there’s a strong local connection, we check whether we have anything similar already. If not, and if it’s something that would enhance the collections, we’ll ask the person to bring the item to one of our museums (usually M Shed or Blaise Museum). We have a chat so we can get as much background information as possible, and we complete some forms if we’d like to accept the object. If it’s something organic, we wrap it and put it in the freezer for about a week to make sure we kill any bugs.
Documentation then begins so there’s a record of what’s come into the museum.
After that, one of our conservators assesses it to see how much work it needs and what storage requirements it has. We work out any costs so we know whether to fundraise or not. Then management either approve or deny the proposal.
We don’t just wait for offers though, we actively collect too. Some recent things we’ve sought out are climate change protest placards, Extinction Rebellion stories and photos, Bristol Tattoo Convention posters, and a Yo Bike.
We’re also looking for material to represent St Paul’s Carnival, the Windrush, homelessness, and Brexit.
If you’d like to offer us a donation, we’d love to hear from you. It’s always worth asking!