Saying goodbye to historic loans


An important part of getting our house in order at Hat Works has been to review all the items we have on loan. Many of these loans date back to when the museum opened in 2000. We have had hats and headdresses from the Horniman Museum, regalia belonging to The Company of Worshipful Feltmakers, Philip Sommerville’s hat blocks owned by Parkin Fabrics to name a few.

These loans have been featured in The Gallery of Hats at Hat Works and have enabled us to tell stories that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. They have enhanced our displays and increased access to other museum collections. That’s the positives. The down side is that we no longer have the people power needed to administer loans.

Housing ‘long-term loans’ is not an acceptable practice for museums anymore. They are expensive to insure, they need to be monitored / condition checked regularly and the loan agreement has to be renewed every 2/3 years. Add the need to store the original packing materials and you have a potentially overwhelming situation!

So I have been on a mission to return items on loan to Hat Works. This isn’t easy! It relies on the lending organisation having time to come to pack and transport their objects. Sometimes the lender has to secure another venue to look after their objects and then there are the troublesome loans, the ones where individual lenders may have passed away or the paperwork may not have been completed accurately at the point of entry.

Whilst it is sad to see them go, returning the loans has provided some great learning opportunities. I recently assisted Textiles Conservator, Julian Gresson pack a collection of hats / headpieces on loan from the Horniman Museum. Being able to see the Javan dance headpiece up close, was just incredible. I have packed hats before but watching Julia condition check each hat, prepare the mounts and lift each one into its custom made box for transport was a real learning experience for me.

Returning loans is also creating spaces for our own collection – which is growing all the time thanks to work Emma is doing on the backlog backlog as part of the wider project.

Bronwen Simpson, Museum Officer, Hat Works

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