Thursday, 30 June 2016

Collections Care: Boxing Clever

The Pitt Rivers Museum is currently in the process of packing over 100,000 objects in the reserve collections to move them to a new storage facility. Many of these objects have not been stored in suitable conditions during their lifetimes in the Museum. The project team are endeavouring to improve these conditions for the future. This work includes packing into chemically inert boxes, so either physical movement or pollutants do not damage the objects. To achieve this, large numbers of acid-free cardboard boxes in a range of standardised sizes are purchased from G. Ryder & Co. Ltd, based in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. Founded in 1914, Ryder's specialise in hand-made boxes for museums and galleries. They also produce the boxes used to hold the scrolls given when receiving an honour from the Queen, hence holding a Royal Warrant since 1988.

In an effort to understand the box making process, and to discuss future requirements for the project, some of the OPS move team visited Ryder's on 26 May 2016.

OPS move team at Ryder's. From left to right: Andrew, Ashleigh, Meghan and Marina
Firstly, we were amazed at how small the premises were considering the quantity and size of boxes they produce for us, let alone all of their other customers. The second thing that stood out was how labour intensive the process is, with lots of people - each one working on one particular element of a box's production throughout the day.

Monique using the machine that creates the crease line in the card to enable folding
Tania using the machine that cuts slots in the card before the box can be folded

Janice using the machine that wire-stitches the boxes together at the end of the process

Each of these processes seemed quite manageable for the boxes they were working on that day. We realised their tasks would become infinitely more difficult with some of the large boxes we have ordered, which are over a metre long and nearly half a metre wide.

Another thing that our host, manager Rob Honour, explained was how many of the machines they are still using are upwards of 50-100 years old. This makes servicing and repairs a nightmare, with replacement parts needing to be specially made. It also limits the size of the flat sheet material that can be used to make a box. Considering these constraints, we are now working with Rob to design a box that is 1.5 metres long to be able to pack wooden clubs largely from the Pacific Islands. Rob is worried about a revolt from the ladies on the shop floor given how complicated this will be!

To see updates on how the team are using the boxes, and for news on the project, keep an eye on this blog or follow us on twitter

Heather Richardson
Head of Conservation

Friday, 3 June 2016

On the Move

The Pitt Rivers Museum is home to more than 300,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects from around the world.

The Museum is known for its dense displays and has more than 30,000 objects on display in the galleries. However, the vast majority of the collection is stored at several off-site facilities.

Over the next two years, the collections housed at the largest of these facilities will be moving to a new location in Oxford closer to the Museum. This will involve packing and transporting more than 100,000 objects, ranging from beads, baskets, and barkcloth to shields, stools, and spears. This is a daunting prospect but also a wonderful opportunity to improve access to the collections. Each object will be photographed and enhancements made to its documentation. This will facilitate future object retrieval for research, exhibitions, loans, conservation and teaching, and will enable the Museum to provide researchers with improved information about the objects in its collections.

This is the biggest project that any member of the Museum’s staff has ever worked on. The stores house some of the Museum’s most valued and fragile objects. Work has already started on this ambitious project, which will present some difficult challenges but will also uncover many amazing finds. A team of highly skilled and dedicated museum professionals has been employed, aided by members of existing staff from all departments of the Museum.

These ‘hidden’ collections will be available to the Museum’s visitors and source communities around the world both digitally, via the online database (, and physically through the Museum’s visiting researchers program.

Follow progress on this blog and our dedicated twitter feed