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Managing the collection

For over 150 years we have collected objects, photographs and archive material that tell stories of the impact of science, technology, engineering, medicine and media on our world.

Outside of the five museums in the Science Museum Group, we work closely with museums in the UK and beyond to maximise public access to the collection we hold.

Each year we loan thousands of items to institutions in the UK and around the world. We are also digitising the collection and publishing it online, making it available to anyone anywhere at any time.

What do we collect?

Curators across the Science Museum Group actively identify, research and collect hundreds of significant objects each year—through donations or purchases—for our internationally significant collection.

We are ambitious in the objects we acquire for the collection. Recent acquisitions include Tim Peake’s spacesuit, the studio equipment of one of the largest YouTube channels and the first paramedic bicycle in the world.

Each museum in the Group has a particular area of focus for collecting, which is detailed in Collecting Policy Statements.

A close up photograph of Tim Peake's spacesuit showing the helmet
Tim Peake’s spacesuit (2018-9), acquired by the Science Museum Group in 2018

Reviewing the collection

In summer 2018 we embarked on a review of the collection to provide a greater understanding of the items we care for, examining their significance in light of curatorial research.

New insights into the collection will be published online, with the review also identifying priorities for future collecting and programming in our five museums.

Our aim is that the Science Museum Group collection continues to engage and challenge audiences. With 7.3 million items now in our care, the review provides the opportunity to ensure the national collection is sustainable and can be enjoyed by future generations.

Like all major museums, we frequently add to and occasionally remove items from our collection. This review will enable us to focus on future collecting and may also identify objects that are no longer appropriate for the national collection.

We will look to transfer items to other museums and public collections if they are:

  • Better suited to display or research by another public institution;
  • A duplicate of an item we already hold in the collection.

Our aim is that transferred items remain in the public domain and we will give priority to accredited museums who wish to acquire items available for transfer.

In rare circumstances, if attempts to find an alternative public home via a transfer are unsuccessful, we may sell an item (reinvesting the proceeds in the collection) or remove an item from the collection, recycling the item whenever possible.

Although we have experience and expertise in caring for hazardous items, the review may also identify particularly hazardous or significantly damaged items that need to be removed from the collection.

THe TRANSFER PROCESS

We follow a rigorous process when deciding whether to transfer or remove an item from the collection.

The decision must be reviewed internally and then discussed by the Review Board and the Collections & Research Trustee Sub-committee (for items relating to the railways, opinion is also sought from the Science Museum Group Railway Heritage Designation Advisory Board).

The final decision to transfer or remove an item from our collection is taken by the Science Museum Group’s Board of Trustees and our procedures are guided by the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics.

Recent transfers

The following items have recently been transferred from the Science Museum Group collection to more suitable museums or public collections.

Photography of a railway carriage in a warehouse

The medical examination carriage was acquired as part of the Science and Industry Museum’s collection in the early 1990s. After a more recent review of the carriage’s significance and in light of collections already held at the National Railway Museum, a decision was taken to advertise the carriage for transfer to find a more suitable home which would maximise public access to the carriage.

The London Midland & Scottish Carriage Association expressed interest in the carriage and in early 2018 the transfer was completed. Restoration work is underway, with the carriage due to enter public service on the Peak Rail heritage line in early 2021.

Photograph credit: Ian White, LMSCA.

A photograph of the Altair 8000b

The Altair 8800 is widely acknowledged to be the first home computer. Several Altair computers were given to the Science Museum in the 1990s but some were duplicates of items already in the collection. In 2015 we transferred an Altair and its components to the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, where it forms part of a greatly expanded Altair display.

A British Railways Southern Region 4VEP electric unit at the National Railway Museum was offered for transfer as the museum held a similar 2-HAP ‘slam door’ commuter train. The East Kent Railway approached the National Railway Museum about the transfer of the 4VEP and collected the unit in late 2016. Restoration work began in 2017 and the 4VEP unit will enter passenger service later in 2018.

The Science and Industry Museum’s Electricity Gallery contained many 1950s furnishings as set dressing to evoke domestic life in the 1950s.

In 2016 when the gallery closed, over 100 of these items were moved to Beamish North of England Open Air Museum. The items represent everyday 1950s domestic design and will be used by Beamish to establish and furnish its 1950s town, a new development part of Remaking Beamish which is due to open in 2021.

Objects available for transfer

The current list of objects available for transfer is published here:

Items available for transfer from July – September 2018

FURTHER INFORMATION ON TRANSFERS

If you would like more information or are interested in acquiring an object from the list please email us and include the object(s) number, a description of how you intend to use and care for the object(s) and information about the museum or organisation you represent.

When a transfer takes place, we gift the object(s) to the most suitable museum or public collection. Recipients will be asked to sign our transfer paperwork, with the legal change of ownership completed once the objects are collected. Recipients are responsible for the arrangement and cost of collection of the object(s) from a site specified by the Science Museum Group.