The significance of ephemera collections often comes from their social history and cultural context. To best capture this often means they require careful thought in the the initial cataloguing structure. In Part 1, we asked why catalogue your collection? In Part 2, we look at how you can do this.
Ephemera collections sometimes require a slightly modified approach, as frequently it is their social and cultural history that gives them significance.
I’ll examine two possible approaches – one simple, and one more ambitious. The steps are somewhat simplified, but I am happy to be contacted if you have specific queries.
1. The absolute basic approach
You need: Excel or another spreadsheet application (eg Google Docs). Cost = $0
This basic approach is an inventory listing of what you have, with limited documentation. If later on, you then decide to progress to more advanced options, this spreadsheet will form the basis of your database, so none of this work is ever going to be wasted.
Step 1. Develop the data points you want to capture for the items in your collection. For books, it might be: Title/Author/Publisher/Year/Edition/ISBN/Comments. For small objects, it might be: Title/Object Type/Manufacturer/Country of Origin/Date/Condition/Dimensions. These become your column headers, and each item in your collection fills one row.
Example of a spreadsheet
Don’t be too concerned about getting it right first time. Try filling in some test data for a few items and you’ll quickly see if you are on the right track. If a column is irrelevant or unknown for any item, just leave it blank. You will probably edit the columns and column headers as you go, but with a spreadsheet it is simple to add, delete and edit. Click here if you would like to download an example of an Excel collection template.
Step 2. One important step (often overlooked) is to create an inventory numbering system, so every item is allocated a unique reference number. You could just number them 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. but then problems arise if you want to group like items together, or you want to list in a particular order. What happens when you add a new item to your collection – does it just go to the bottom of the list? A better approach is a flexible alphanumeric system that allows for insertions – eg:”TC.001” or “1915.027”. Unique reference numbers also mean labelling photos becomes simple (eg “TC.001b.jpg”) and you can easily cross reference items in your collection.
Step 3. The best way to begin is to begin! Even a simple system like this will enable you to organise your collection, give you a fresh perspective and overview about the structure of your collection, and provide a detailed listing you can update anytime.
2. An online database
At the other end of the spectrum is cloud-based software like The Collecting Bug.
For small collections a simple Excel spreadsheet may be sufficient, but you will quickly start to see limitations. As it grows, it begins to get unwieldy and difficult to search. It can’t handle images, you can’t share, nor can you access it anytime and anywhere you want. For this, you need an online database.
The Collecting Bug is specifically designed for managing, hosting and publishing collections online. This enables you to create your own custom designed website, using a simple and intuitive interface. You can add photos, scanned documents, PDFs and hyperlinks, and show relationships between items.
This screenshot shows an individual record for one item. Note how it includes a map, hyperlinks and even a sound file. Compare the difference to the same record (TC.001) on the previous spreadsheet!
The cataloguing principles and procedures are similar to a spreadsheet, and it takes about the same amount of time to catalogue each item on The Collecting Bug as a spreadsheet, although it does take longer to set up the template at the beginning.
Cloud-based software is far more than just an online spreadsheet. It actually changes the way you interact with your collection – your entire collection is always at your fingertips. If you wish, you can even share it with like-minded collectors around the world, and they can connect with you.
You can structure your collection into categories, and search by field data
Some collectors choose to record data only, but the real magic starts if you add photographs or scans, as your database turns into a virtual museum. One person said, “It brought my collection to life.” Another said “Seeing items side by side, I noticed links I had never realised before.”
This is a collection view, where you can scroll through the whole collection, or search for specific items.
The Collecting Bug is free for collections up to 200 items, and for larger collections there is an annual hosting fee (depending on collection size). If you would like more information, then click here to download a brochure about The Collecting Bug.
Several ESA member collections that have recently featured in The Ephemera Journal of Australia are available to view on The Collecting Bug here:
Want some help?
During this difficult pandemic period, Philip is happy to help any ESA members with a query about cataloguing their collection, regardless of whether it is on Excel, Google Docs, or anything else. And if you would like to try the free option on The Collecting Bug, Philip will also help you get started. Contact him at email@example.com
Philip Moorhouse is proprietor of The Collecting Bug, a website where collectors can catalogue, share and manage their collections. As a member of the ESA, Philip has helped many collectors, including other ESA members, publish their collections online. You can see these collections at The Collecting Bug.