Hundreds of items lost from Glasgow museums

Glasgow Paintings Collection2 Feb 2011

Hundreds of artefacts are missing or have been stolen from Glasgow’s museums and galleries, The Herald can reveal.

Paintings, sculptures, military items, Roman artefacts, Egyptian weapons and letters from the First World War are among the 634 items currently “unlocated to date”.

The city’s museums and galleries – run by Glasgow Life – admitted some items have been stolen and that poor storage systems led to items vanishing sometime over the past 80 years.

As previously revealed in The Herald, 84 works of art, with 10 confirmed as stolen, are “unlocated” including works by Scottish artists and 300-year-old paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters.

Museum bosses are hopeful a fresh inventory will turn up some of the missing items.

A source claimed all major collections experienced similar problems. A spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “Some of these losses date back to the 1920s and the number is 0.05% of our entire collection of 1.4 million items.

“We remain hopeful that further inventory work will identify some of the missing items.We will work with other agencies and the police to track any objects taken from our stores.

“An internal audit in 1996 revealed that storage and inventory were far from satisfactory. The city then prioritised the security and inventory of the collection, moving from 147 stores in 14 buildings to three secure stores, including the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.”

Earlier this week it was revealed that a 1975 donation of a complete driving gear unit from the front end of a Glasgow standard tramcar, by tram enthusiast Dr Ian Macdougall, left, has been lost.

Other pieces missing include glass beads and arrowheads from Egypt, weapons from the arms and armour stores, paintings, geology exhibits, historical items such as a snuff box and a quarter gill measure, and letters from the First World War.

Also gone are natural history items such as a great-spotted woodpecker, a fossilised bird, a sculpture of David by F Derwent Wood from 1925, and numerous small items such as napkin rings, a New Guinea fish spear, flints, Roman nails and ceramic items.

National Museums Scotland (NMS) has the largest collections in the country, with more than four million items in its collections. Sixteen items are listed as missing at NMS, with six stolen, it has been confirmed.

“National Museums Scotland cares for over four million objects in the national collections,” a spokeswoman said yesterday. “We achieve an excellent standard of care across our huge and varied collections. Over the last decade only a tiny number of objects have been listed as missing or stolen.”

A spokeswoman for the City of Edinburgh Council collections, which hold more than 200,000 items, said none are classified as “missing, stolen or unaccounted for”.

Glasgow University, which has one of the biggest collections in Scotland, holding more than one million objects, said: “There have been no significant instances of theft from the university collections for at least 30 years.”

A statement from Museums Galleries Scotland said Scotland’s museums hold more than 12 million objects in total in trust for the nation.

“The people who run our museums are responsible for safeguarding these objects so that they can be enjoyed by future generations.

“Museums adhere to a code of ethics that ensures they meet appropriate standards of care and security for the objects entrusted to them,” the statement said.

“In the past the scale of the logistical challenge posed by inadequate storage facilities and manual recording systems has unfortunately resulted in cases where objects have become mislaid.

“In recent decades, the sector and Museums Galleries Scotland have invested in better digital collections management and storage solutions.

“Objects in storage have never before been as accessible to the public.”

Pauline McNeill, the Glasgow Kelvin MSP, who is Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Europe, External Affairs and Culture, said: “Glasgow houses some great national treasures and this shows that it was wise to invest in the new storage facilities.

“Art thieves can be cunning and many items are stolen to order. Proper storage of historical artefacts is not cheap but essential if we want to pass them down to the next generation.”

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