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Kern & Co « The Polar Museum: news blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Kern & Co’

It’s object time!

Friday, January 23rd, 2015


Nearly three months into the Antarctic Cataloguing Project and I nearly feel like I’m ready to get going properly. As well as continuing to work on our gold standard object catalogue record (a much bigger undertaking than I ever imagined!), this week we’ve been trialling the object study side of things. There are three elements to this: describing and measuring the objects (me), conditioning assessing them (Sophie and Christina, our conservators), and photographing them (Chris and Tom, two very skilled photographers). As ever, it’s about figuring out what the process is – who needs to do what and when so that we can maximise efficiency and minimise the amount of handling of each object.

For the sake of the trial phase, we’ve been looking at a representative selection of objects which vary in shape, size, material, age etc. in the hope that this will help us understand and think through some of the issues that different types of objects will present. So we’ve looked at goggles, fossils, penguin eggs, leggings made of reindeer fur, trousers and anorak, boots and liners, a knitted balaclava, a pair of skis, snowshoes, crampons, scientific equipment and a dog harness.

My task is to produce a detailed physical description of each object – what it looks like, what it’s made from, any marks or inscriptions, how big it is etc. Looking at the object and making notes and sketches is pretty easy; the difficult part comes when trying to translate what you’ve seen into a succinct description – especially as I feel that I’m lacking the necessary vocabulary most of the time to describe what I’ve seen. It’s particularly difficult when you have no idea what the object is (as with this ‘surveying instrument’ Y: 2005/9/4). With advice from Sophie and Christina I’ve also been noting down anything we might need to take into account when it comes to photographing the objects, such as how we might position them or whether they can be photographed on a mannequin etc.

Y: 2005/9/4. A 'prismatic surveying instrument' made by Kern & Co. of Aarau, Switzerland.

Y: 2005/9/4. A ‘prismatic surveying instrument’ made by Kern & Co. of Aarau, Switzerland.

While I’ve been doing this, Sophie and Christina have been carrying out a condition assessment of each object – recording the category of the object, the materials and the types of damage, and rating it for stability, need for treatment, need for repackaging, and overall condition. For me, it’s great to be working with them as they’re far more knowledgeable than I am, especially about materials, and it’s always good to have an extra pair of eyes.

A few days later, our two photographers came to the stores to have a go at photographing some of the objects. They brought along an amazing adjustable flexible table-top background (a thing of wonder!) which we just about managed to squeeze into the store (note for next time is that we can use the smaller table inside the store but are better off setting the bigger one up in a different space). This was a chance for them to see some of the material they’ll be working with, to think about where we’ll be able to take photos, what sort of background we want, and just to get a feel for how it’s all going to work. It was a great success and the pictures looked fantastic! (I should point out that all photos in this post were taken by me and, as such, are definitely not fantastic).


While it’s been good to work on a range of objects, we’re all agreed that the object study­–condition assessment–photography process will be a lot simpler, smoother and quicker if we work by object type (which is what we’re planning to do from now on). Many of the objects are stored by type, so it makes them a lot easier to access. I plan to do some preliminary research on each type of object (e.g. goggles) before we even look at them so that I’m aware of the key points in goggle design and the things I need to look out for and so that I have the necessary vocabulary to describe them (is it a nose piece, a nose wire, a bridge?). Although the condition assessing is about judging against a fixed set of criteria, rather than in relation to the condition of other objects, I think it will be easier for Sophie and Christina to work on the same types of objects rather than jumping from goggles to skis to boots. It will also be quicker for Chris and Tom to photography objects of the same size as they won’t need to keep changing lenses and positions of lights, and the ease of access to the objects should mean that we can get a flow of getting objects out, photographing them and putting them away.

So, like I said, I’m very nearly ready to get going properly and I can’t wait! Just got to finish that cataloguing template…