Effective collections

Supported by the Esmée Fairburn Foundation through the Museums Association

Project dates : June 2011 – March 2012


The MoDiP team was supported in this project by Alison Porter, Museum Association coach; Stuart Davies, social historian and horn expert; and Caroline Reed, consultant in museum practice.


The purpose of the Effective Collections programme was to support museums in identify underused parts of their collections and to increase their use, principally by sharing collections through long-term loans and a more active approach to disposal.

MoDiP’s particular aims were to:

  • Enable better understanding of the significance of the horn collection on long term loan to MoDiP from the Worshipful Company of Horner.
  • Develop MoDiP’s confidence in terms of loans procedures and disposals.
  • Make better use of the horn collection by loans to other museums.


Outcomes were of two kinds: better understanding of the significance of the horn collection and adoption of better procedures and protocols.

A preliminary review of horn collections nationally and the standing of the Worshipful Company of Horners’ collection within them was undertaken. Conclusions included that ‘the tools are in fact perhaps the best general collection known. Only the workshop collection at York is more important’; ‘about 40-50% of the Company’s collections have some sort of provenance. That alone puts it in the top five of recognised horn collections in the UK and probably the top three’; and ‘this collection is already much better documented than others we have examined’.

We were introduced to a methodology for reviewing significance.  As well as contributing to our appreciation of the significance of the horn collection, it has proved vital to the process currently underway of finding better homes for objects in the collection not relevant to its plastics’ focus.

We also reviewed our existing loan procedures and as a result developed new protocols. In the words of MoDiP’s Collections Manager: ‘it gave us the confidence to do the right thing’.

The intention had been also to tailor-make displays to the needs of other museums at no cost but there has been little take up for this offer. Barriers are:

  • Current financial climate and uncertainty hanging over many museums.
  • Therefore, unwillingness to take on new projects, new partners or do anything involving risk.
  • Lack of curatorial staff to do creative things with objects.
  • Perceived unattractiveness of horn (to the general visitor).

We remain interested in furthering appreciation of horn through the loan of artefacts to other museums. Do get in touch if you would like thus to collaborate: modip@aub.ac.uk.