Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Acquisition Events: Methodology

Chris Wingfield
Researcher 'The Other Within' project


Unfortunately the museum’s Filemaker database does not have a function for identifying acquisition events. However the accession registers, on which the database is based, group accessions by donor, broadly reflecting the sequence of acquisition events. In addition, most of the museum’s accession numbers have been generated retrospectively on the basis of these groupings in the form year.acquisition number.object number.

For much of the collection, the middle number in the sequence provides a key to the acquisition event, as all objects donated at the same time by a single donor should have a single number, starting with 1 each January and generated sequentially. In addition the year that begins the accession number can place each accession event in a chronological sequence.

Obviously this is an ideal picture and does not account for instances when single donations may have been recorded in separate batches and so appear to be separate acquisition events. It also assumes that the information recorded in the registers is accurate, but if it is not, this is a limitation of the museum documentation and not of the approach. For most of the museum’s history, isolating these acquisition events is relatively straightforward since accession numbers have been based on the formula described.


The Problem Years


However, between 1939 and 1965, the second part of the acquisition number came from the month (1-12), rather than the collection number, meaning that more work was needed for acquisitions between these dates to identify separate acquisition events. These had to be generated by looking at all records for any given months, and in instances where there are multiple acquisitions from a single source trying to determine by the sequence in which they have been entered whether they represent a single or multiple acquisition events.


How the Work was Undertaken


Identifying acquisition events in this way is obviously a laborious process, and it was greatly aided in this case because work by Alison Petch had already identified all the donors of English material to the Pitt Rivers Museum, as well as created a separate database which only included the museum’s English objects. In addition a student volunteer, Katy Barrett agreed to spend a period of the summer in 2007 between her final exams and the commencement of her masters degree undertaking the initial work of carrying out database searches for each identified source of material and identifying the number of acquisition events they were involved in.

This initial work was then followed up with a detailed analysis of those sources of material who had been identified as being involved in multiple acquisition events, as well as analysis of the different forms of acquisition events such as loan, exchange and sale by the author. The work has generally proceeded by exporting a series of database records to a spreadsheet, in which by sorting the records by accession number order it is possible to isolate particular acquisition events. It has then been possible to interrogate these spreadsheets in various ways in order to produce a range of lists as well as graphs, examples of which can be found on other pages.

Overview of results