One of our Oxford Conservation Consortium Conservators recently attended a workshop hosted by the ARA Section for Archives and Museums on Labelling Objects (and their containers) presented by Anita Hollinshead.
Labelling links an object to the information held about it by the custodian institution. It should be carried out as part of the accessioning process, to ensure each object has its own unique identifier or reference number. The comprehensive workshop covered all the basics such as the purpose and principles of marking objects in heritage collections, techniques for labelling different types of materials and how to label for salvage and loans.
Using a mixture of presentations and video examples we were shown various methods of labelling objects. These included tie-on labels, which should be used for porous objects and certain plastics where solvents may cause damage, and the paraloid sandwich method which works best on most ceramics, metals and glass.
For specimens or waterlogged archaeological collections an immersible label may be required. It is important to be sure that the ink is fully dry before immersing and it is always best to label the exterior of the container too.
For fragile textile collections you can use a sewn-in label; this can be attached through a button hole. When sewing your Tyvek or cotton tape label, be sure to use long stitches and attach it where it is easy to find but not going to be visible if put on display.
Bound/paper objects can be labelled with pencil in a discreet place, or stamped to record ownership with an indelible ink.
The main takeaways from the workshop were that labelling should be secure, reversible, safe for the object and for those handling it, and discreet. All detachable parts of an object should be marked to prevent disassociation. Finally, there should ideally be a consistent method for labelling, including the location of the label so it is easy to find with minimal handling and moving of the object.
Boxing makes labelling easy, an example of gold tooled labels for archival papers.
For more info on labelling, see the Collections Trust and National Conservation Centre, National Museums Liverpool (NML) labelling and marking booklet, available to download and view online here: https://collectionstrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/labelling-and-marking-booklet-2020.pdf
There are also some videos available on the Share Museums East YouTube channel on this subject including how to put together a labelling kit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osEIQsqG3CU
As well as advice for labelling textiles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zCXNphTv0U
Written by Emma Skinner, Conservator at the Oxford Conservation Consortium