Adorn: Object Loans [Click for Shiny]

11 Oct 2019

Rory McDaid, Collections Information Officer (Colchester)

Generally speaking, the vast majority of collections held by museums are in storage – far more densely packed away than what you see in the museums themselves. Various figures get thrown around, but it’s said that 90-98% of a museum’s collections are in storage.

Exhibitions are a great opportunity to use these stored collections, to put them in a new context and be able to tell further stories about them. However, there are not always the right opportunities to do this ourselves and so lending our collections out and borrowing in from other museums’ opens up these possibilities.

Museums lend objects to other museums for a number of reasons…

  • Provide greater access to stored collections by getting them on display elsewhere
  • To supplement a display or exhibition by providing new contexts, allow borrowers to better tell the story they are attempting to than with just their own collections
  • Bring items back together that were once paired or part of a group, now owned separately
  • or definitely only ever in the past [hushed, secret spilling voice] to get the object out of their stores and make it someone else’s problem

For the exhibition Adorn: Jewellery, the Human Story currently at Colchester Castle, Colchester Museums have borrowed objects from a number of organisations. These include several other museums, local jewellery makers and our very own Colchester residents as part of the Your Stories section. These loans enrich the variety of stories we are able to tell in the exhibition and it exists as it does thanks to the generosity and support of all of these people and organisations involved.

As Collections Information Officer for Colchester, one of my responsibilities is the coordination of loans in and out of our collections. For Adorn, this meant meeting and communicating with counterparts and curators from a number of museums across the region to ensure we were able to loan these items in.

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to requesting loans

  • request period (typically 6 months to 1 year minimum)
  • the environmental conditions of display locations for loans (i.e. temperature and humidity),
  • paperwork like loan agreements, Government Indemnity and insurance…..

While that’s all very important, sometimes you just wanna look at some shiny objects on loan, right?

In no particular order, here are some of my favourite objects on loan in Adorn: Jewellery, The Human Story.


NWHCM:2017.T463; Bronze Age Gold Torc

On loan from Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museum Service


The Great Dunham Torc, c.3000 years old, was discovered during gasworks in Great Dunham Norfolk in 2017 and is the first of its kind to be found in Norfolk in around 25 years. This flange-twisted gold torc, worn around the neck, is important in that it is a complete example of the type, which is quite rare. You can see from the image that it has been bent a little, with some damage to some of the crests of the twisted metal. A little damage forgivable, really, as it is around 3,000 years old and otherwise in a pretty amazing condition.


SAFWM:2015.6; Viking Gold Ring

On loan from Saffron Walden Museum. Purchased with the assistance of Arts Council England, V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Headley Trust.

One of my absolute favourite items in the exhibition is this twisted gold ring (I didn’t set out to highlight exclusively twisted-gold items) found in Thaxted, Essex.

This Viking period gold ring dates to around 900-1200 AD and was made through a technique of twisting gold rods and wires together. It’s pretty hefty, weighing in at 32 grams and 35mm wide leading some to assume that it belonged to a man. (?) X-Ray analysis has shown that the ring is 95% gold. This is unsurprising for its date, as Vikings valued the purity of precious metals quite highly.

While our collections are bursting with fantastic Roman period objects, we are significantly lacking on the Viking front, with just 1 item of Viking jewellery in our own collections.

So this loan along with others enables us to explore another period of human adornment that we would otherwise be unable to. #PowerOfLoaning


BRNTM:2006.5; Medieval silver and garnet ring

On loan from Braintree District Museum Trust

In the medieval period, it was widely believed that gemstones had powers that could affect the wearer. At the time it was believed that garnet could cure depression and relieve diseases of the liver. I don’t know if just proximity to garnet imbues these benefits but it can’t hurt, right? Come see it!


IPSMG:R.1996.41; The Boss Hall Brooch

On loan from Ipswich Borough Council


This Anglo-Saxon brooch was found at Boss Hall, Ipswich. It is covered in gold and over a hundred pieces of cut garnet (Garnet theme for my 3rd & 4th picks, apparently). It’s an incredible example of Anglo-Saxon jewellery and one of the most richly decorated from Britain.

There are dozens of other loans items displayed in Adorn and so this is just a tiny selection of some of my personal favourites. I can’t talk about any more right now unfortunately as I’m already way beyond my word count…


SO! Conclusion time! Loaning of objects presents a great opportunity to bring objects to new audiences, be that locally or internationally.

At present, you can see objects from Colchester Museums’ stored collections on loan at all sorts of venues from Romano-British ceramics at Firstsite, Medieval manuscripts at Peckover House in Wisbeech, to an amazing Roman Scabbard at the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome.

And so to sign off, have a look-see at some of our own lovely loans-out to other organisations.


COLEM:1932.215; Illuminated manuscript on vellum in 17th/18th century calf binding

Currently on loan to the exhibition Lord Peckover’s Lost Library; Peckover House, Wisbeech; Feb-Nov 2019 (details here)


COLEM:1988.44.1259; Dagger Scabbard

Currently on loan to the exhibition The Emperor Claudius: Messalina, Agrippina and the shadow of a dynasty; Ara Pacis Museum, Rome; Apr-Oct 2019 (details here)


Where will your adventure start?