100 Years – 100 Objects: Accession Ledger

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This first description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

The ledger book shown in these 2 photos (open and closed) is one of the six original such volumes in which the museum’s collections are recorded or registered.

Accession Ledger #1 for the Houston Museum of Natural History.

Beginning in 1929, Mr. Valentine Gesner, the Museum’s first curator, recorded each item which belonged to the museum. His initial work involved recording the backlog of objects which had been collected or given to the Museum beginning in 1909. Once this was completed, he began listing all of the new donations to the Museum. Each record includes the name of the item, where it came from and who gave it. It also lists the date it was entered into the collection and the number of the gift and lastly, the individual catalogue number assigned to the object. The catalogue number was also written directly on the object in India ink so that the information would not be lost. As you can see from the writing across the top, when Mr. Gesner began his work, the Museum went by the name “Houston Museum of Natural History.”

The cover of Accession Ledger #1

These early record books are special based on the information they contain, but they also stand as a record of the hard work of Museum employees over the years, the people who cared for the same objects that we continue to care for today. From their writing, it’s easy to imagine that you know them, that you can learn a little bit about their personalities from their writing. The early recorders, like Mr. Gesner, wrote with a fountain pen and had very fancy writing – you can tell that penmanship was important, and also see that penmanship and writing styles changed over the years. In the 1950s, employees began to write with ball-point pens; in the late 1970s, they printed with drafting pens.

From 1929 – 1993, everything in the museum’s permanent collections was listed in books like this. In the late 1980s, we started to duplicate these records on computers. In 1993, we stopped recording the individual gifts in ledger books altogether. Today, we enter the records on computer and print the Accession records annually to add to the archives. There are no additional handwritten Accession ledgers. The computer and the print-outs do the same job but they don’t have the same sense of personality.

Check back soon for more of the 100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.

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