Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Monday, October 6, 2014

Found in Collections

On Friday I resolved FOUR FICs!!!!

Oh wait, not everyone knows what that means.

FIC stands for "Found in Collections" and it is yet another concept that can be baffling to non-museum folks. I mean, as a phrase it makes sense: an item is an FIC when it is discovered among the collections items, but has no identifying marks and we haven't been able to connect it with a known accession.

The baffling part is that this term exists. How can things just show up in the collection without anyone knowing where they came from? And that it happens enough to have a term for it? Are the artifacts breeding?!?!

No, collections work is not that sexy. Like most museum problems, the root of the issue is staff time. MOHAI went through long stretches when there was only one paid collections person, and frequently they were also expected to work on exhibits and programming and probably cleaning toilets too. Correctly processing a collection and numbering everything takes time. Maybe you skip labeling that one piece of lace because you think it will be obvious it goes with this other piece, but then when it becomes jumbled up in a giant box of lace it becomes much less obvious. Or maybe new accessions just pile up and you set them aside to work on "later" but then it sits there long enough that no one remembers what that pile was all about.

Then there is also the fact that we deal with all kinds of man-made objects from 1850 to the present, and it is shockingly easy to get non-artifacts mixed in with actual artifacts. When we moved into our new storage space, someone was using a mallet to adjust the shelf heights. They walked away for a moment and set the mallet down on shelf across the aisle. When they came back, they realized they had set the mallet down ON A SHELF OF MALLETS. They had to go through item by item, checking for numbers to make sure they picked up the right one. If they had forgotten, left it there and just found another mallet, that one would be an FIC. It is also why some of our office furniture looks like this:

So nowadays we do our best to avoid creating new FICs, but as we do inventory and delve into unexplored corners of the collection, we still turn up mysterious stuff.  Every item we come across has to be accounted for, so if something does't have a clear number we give it a temporary FIC number just so we can track it.

The scary thing about FICs is that you can't really get rid of them unless you figure out what their deal is. If you just tossed everything you couldn't identify you would run into real trouble. That bit of lace that had no number and that you thought you could safely discard could turn out to be made by some important pioneer grandmother and it was actually on loan and the family wants it back and now YOU have to tell them that it got used for a kids craft activity and was thrown out after it was covered in macaroni.

So we hang on to FICs, hoping that one day the can be "resolved" meaning that they connect with some known accession, or you find information clarifying that yes that is a prop or reproduction or something someone accidentally set down in the wrong place.

ANYWAY so on Friday I was searching through the database for something else and came across a record for a hat with an unknown location that sounded SUSPICIOUSLY like a hat I had just put away. The one I had just boxed had an FIC number. So I pulled the hat and it matched the description exactly.

Artifacts reuniting with numbers (Dramatization)

I was ELATED. But then I thought to look up the other items in that accession. There were three other hats that came in with it and all had unknown locations. And what do you know, their descriptions matched three FICs hats that had been found at the same time as the first hat. I was like...

Ok, actually my victory dance looked more like...

1 comment:

  1. My thought process, reading:
    "FIC, I know that!"
    "OMG, resolved four, thats amazing!"
    "So jealous"
    "Haha, I remember that show"
    skips to next gif - "Haha, I remember that chair"
    goes back to previous paragrah - "OH MY GOD, the person that lost that mallet was ME."
    Bahahaha, true story.