One of the oldest and largest collections that Museums Worcestershire has is the Herbarium. These are plant specimens that have been dried and mounted on sheets straight after they had been collected.
The majority of the specimens are British, with a large amount collected from Worcestershire and the surrounding counties.
As a collections assistant, I have been working on a project to get a section of the collection out of their potentially damaging environment, into a better contained shelving rack which will keep them clean and better preserved. Specimens collected by Mr Mathews and Mr Towndrow in the 19th century, which were originally kept at Malvern Museum, have been contained within three wooden shelving cupboards which are no longer acceptable in order to keep them clean and in good condition.
Funding from the Arts Council England PRISM fund enabled us to purchase two custom built metal shelving cupboards with vents to house these collections. The process has been lengthy. They were first of all checked for pest activity and keeping them in their bundles, placed in the freezer. After two weeks, the bundle was taken out and set aside on a shelf in the store to acclimatise and relax. The specimens were then photographed and entered into an inventory. The specimens were kept in their bundles and then wrapped in acid free tissue, given a new bundle number and placed on a shelf in the new cabinets.
Each shelf has a number which is also entered into the inventory. This gives us a good location reference for each specimen, should we need to pull out any for exhibitions, talks or research.
As I was working on these specimens, it made me think of the people going out collecting them. What was the weather like? How did they travel to these places as the car hadn’t yet been invented? Some of the locations were miles away.
Some of the specimens had stamps on them from botanical exchange clubs. Rather like swapping cards at school of your favourite superhero, these collectors were swapping specimens. It makes sense as the rare specimen you wanted in your collection might only grow in certain locales or habitats. We even have a specimen of lichen from one the stones at Stonehenge!
The project has been fascinating and allowed me to handle and examine a very unique and fragile collection that normally isn’t on display.
Registrar – Museums Worcestershire