It is a well-known fact that museums cannot display every item that is gifted to them and a reserve collection is kept in storage.
However, if you think that the reserve collection in the Bute Museum never sees the light of day, you could not be more mistaken. In fact, many items have a more exciting life than those on permanent display.
Every few weeks there is a visit to the museum from one of the local schools. During the year, more or less every class from every primary school on the island comes down to the museum, some coming more than once depending on the subjects being studied. A handling collection is put out to match the topic and these are items from the reserve collection. The children are encouraged to pick up the items and look at them closely. It might be a Victorian stereoscope marvelled at in a display of toys, a small butter churn having its handle enthusiastically turned again or World War Two recipe leaflets read to see if we fancied some potato chocolate spread.
The opposite end of the age range is catered for in boxes of artefacts which go out every month to a group of elderly people. They too have a topic, so it might be some of our stuffed birds, a Victorian lady’s dressing case or a Lochgelly belt that is sparking discussion. They also get a range of photographs from our archives to look at school days 70 years ago or life on a farm in days gone by.
Amongst the groups from off the island who benefit from the reserve collection are the archaeology students from Glasgow University. Their annual field trip to Bute includes two days of work in the museum where they study, draw and learn from their lecturers about the archaeological artefacts in the collection. We were also delighted to welcome Orkney college last month and they loved the huge St Blanes book that contains plans of the early excavations there and drawings of the carved stones.
Even the annual Bute Noir Crime Festival can give an item its moment in the spotlight. The curator picks artefacts to match a book title from each visiting author. So last year Dr Penny’s medical bag came out of storage and was on display with ‘The Healer’ by Antti Tuomainen and The Knockdow Charity trophy was on display with a photo of the 1908 winners Royal Victoria Football Club and Alex Gray’s novel ‘Pitch Black’.
So if you have donated something to the museum and are disappointed that it is not on permanent display, remember that the reserve collection has a life of its own.