What are you doing?

‘What are you doing?’ was a common question asked when the conservation team were up in the Blue Bedroom working on the ceramics collection.

Suggestions included that we were painting, restoring, cleaning, washing, touching up, or gluing objects together. A few perceptive visitors worked out what we doing. Now that we’ve excited your curiosity, we’ll tell you what we doing…

Equipment for inventory marking

Equipment set out for today’s job…

We were inventory marking! Did you guess correctly?

Inventory marking involves clearly marking objects with an identification number.

Ceramic bowl

Objects to be marked included small and delicate ones, and large and heavy ones like this ceramic bowl. Usually we marked them on the bottom, so that they are unobtrusive and don’t spoil the aesthetic ‘look’ of each object

Collection of ceramics

Ceramics ready to be marked. We had our own complex organisational system at our headquarters, which was the Blue Room bed!

Inventory marking is important for a number of reasons. If an object has an identifcation number, it allows us to keep detailed records about it. For example, we can note when objects are sent away for professional conservation. It allows us to add notes about routine checks to an item’s condition report. It helps with locating an object’s whereabouts, and help with security records, in case of any damage, loss, theft, or insurance. Inventory marking also assists us to identify objects that might be of interest to researchers, scholars and National Trust staff by having object records collated in a collections management database.

Staff member inventory marking

Hard at work inventory marking

Ceramic pot

Inventory marking gives us the opportunity to examine the items as we inventory mark them. This piece is a Pyramid food warmer, invented by Samuel Clarke in the late 19th century. It would originally have had a contraption underneath it that would hold a tea light or a candle. They were often used to wean children off breast milk by heating up milk, or to heat up water.

Black ink pen

Writing the numbers with the ink pen was difficult due to the contours and awkward shape of some of the objects we were marking

Small paintbrushes

Small paintbrushes were used to apply the different layers used in the inventory marking process. No surprise that many people thought that we were painting! We were, in a roundabout sort of way…

It’s quite fiddly work, but satisfying to tick items off a list when they have been inventory marked! Just a couple of hundred more items to go…


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