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Cunning Collection Technicians

Cunning Collection Technicians

By Danielle Lucas
Fri, 15 Jan 2016

The Auckland War Memorial Museum's World War One Collection Technicians are a crafty bunch (if I do say so myself). Flexible, driven, and endlessly interested in the stories which can be gleaned from items in our collection, we help provide digital accessibility to the First World War objects that aren't able to be displayed.

WWI Collection Technician Nick Keenleyside in the Auckland Museum Collections Hub, 2015.

WWI Collection Technician Nick Keenleyside in the Auckland Museum Collections Hub, 2015.

Dani Lucas.Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

In our job we're lucky enough to physically handle objects and catalogue information about them, including their dimensions, materials and distinguishing marks. Additionally, we're tasked with taking photographs of the objects so they can be displayed online, which is especially important for objects which are too big, too fragile, or too valuable to be displayed physically.

The challenge with medals

Medal set, awarded to Charles M. Gibbs CB CBE. Mackrell Collection.

Medal set, awarded to Charles M. Gibbs CB CBE. Mackrell Collection.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 2001.25.424.
Some objects are more difficult to digitise than others and we came across a number of these in our medal collection - sets sewn together for the recipient to wear more easily. As each medal in the set requires individual photographs, this presented us with a problem. 

Some may think that the solution would involve invasive methods to separate them such as removing stitching for the duration of the photoshoot and reattaching them later. Others may dismiss this and opt for the less hands-on method of taking a photograph of the set and cropping in to each medal for focus. However, this appears messy and doesn’t do the individual medals justice. Additionally, cropping the image causes the quality to suffer and may look unprofessional.

Our crafty solution

Faced with this exacting challenge for the Museum's entire collection of approximately 2,500 war medals, we decided that we could have the best of both worlds – clear and uncluttered images of the medals as separate entities without causing damage by removing them from their sets. All it took was a piece of paper with a slot cut into it, which proves that simple set ups are sometimes the most effective.

Photographing medal sets as individuals is fiddly work, requiring careful handling and careful placement of photo backdrop paper to ensure a clean and tidy image.

Photographing medal sets as individuals is fiddly work, requiring careful handling and careful placement of photo backdrop paper to ensure a clean and tidy image.

Dani Lucas.Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Feeding a medal through the slot in the paper visually isolates it from its neighbours without the need to remove it from the bar. This is done with each medal in turn while ensuring that, wherever possible, paper blocks the other medals from view. The result is images of the individual medals that are of the same high standard and are stylistically very similar to those which aren’t attached together as sets.

It’s not quite lashing things together with number-eight fencing wire, but we’ve used the same brilliant Kiwi ingenuity to come to this result.

The result. Distinguished Flying Cross GRI awarded to Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Charles M Gibbs, RNZAF RAF, WWII.

The result. Distinguished Flying Cross GRI awarded to Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Charles M Gibbs, RNZAF RAF, WWII.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 2001.25.424.1.

Surprises from the World War One Collection

Understandably, medals are one of the types of objects we get to get to work with, however the World War One Collection in its entirety is an adventure. Immensely varied and regularly fascinating, we're often surprised by some of the objects the collection contains. We expected the medals, uniform pieces, regimental badges and the like - obvious candidates for a war collection. However, we've also been faced with a piece of the Cheops pyramid which was broken off as a souvenir, a tiny lucky charm in the shape of a pickelhaube helmet, a gas mask that we dubbed Gasper due to its similarity with a friendly ghost, and, my personal favourite, an Australian boomerang bomb.

With all these astounding (if, at times, somewhat disconcerting) objects we handle, catalogue, and photograph, our days as World War One Collection Technicians are certainly an incredible experience.

  • Post by: Danielle Lucas

    Dani is a WWI Collection Technician at Auckland Museum and works towards digital accessibility for the collection.

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