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Digitizing Our Collection of Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments: A Collection Management Perspective

November 9, 2020 Think THF

Collection management staff play a crucial role in The Henry Ford's digitization process. We not only find and pull objects from their storage locations and move them to the photo studio, we also unpack or assemble objects if needed, assist the photographer with setup, repack the objects, and return them to storage after being photographed. We also track the locations of objects in the collections database as they are moved from place to place.

Graphic with text
This graphic of our digitization process shows where collection management fits in.

Most movements are pretty straightforward and involve only minimal handling, but some objects give us a greater challenge. Sometimes it is the sheer quantity of objects that creates a challenge in coordinating and streamlining the digitization process.

One example of this type of work is our recently acquired Hallmark ornament collection. Over 6,600 ornaments were acquired, and we initially set out to digitize them all, with photography completed by the end of 2020. (Note that this goal has since been disrupted, like so many things, by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.) With this many ornaments, it became clear that a plan was needed to maximize efficiency and that it was way too much work for the present staff to accomplish due to other job duties, so contract employees were hired to work solely on the project.

We streamlined the process as much as possible, but there were still quite a few steps.

GIF showing two views of cardboard boxes shrinkwrapped onto pallets
Pallets of incoming unprocessed ornaments in our storage building.

After the ornaments are catalogued by our registrars, collection management staff move the ornaments from the processing area to the Photo Studio, making sure all items are securely packed so no damage occurs during the journey. Because our campus is so large, this involves moving the objects from one building to another.

Cardboard boxes on shelves
Catalogued ornaments awaiting delivery to the Photo Studio.

Upon arrival in the studio, the ornament product packages are removed from the storage cartons and then the ornaments are unpacked from their product packages. Care is taken in opening the packages, and the items are carefully removed as to not tear the boxes, damage the ornament, or lose any small pieces. The ornaments are then sorted to keep similarly sized ones together, so the photo setup doesn’t need to be changed between each photograph. Glass or shiny ornaments usually require different lighting, so these are kept in their own batch as well.

The ornaments are readied ahead of the photo shoot to easily move through the process, allowing a large number per day to be shot. We don’t want to get slowed down by taking time in between each shot to unpack the next item.

Red boxes and loose ornaments on two-level cart
Ornaments getting prepared to be photographed.

Christmas ornaments and boxes in large, flat, open gray box
Ornaments with their packages and accession number tags ready for photography.

Red boxes lined up, with an ornament (mostly mini football helmets) in front of each
Ornaments lined up on a cart, ready to be photographed.

GIF cycling through two images of a man and woman with boxes of ornaments and camera
Photographing the ornaments.

Assisting with the photography setup is also part of the job: placing the ornaments on the table, removing them after they’re photographed, making sure all parts are included in the shot, and assisting the photographer as needed.

After the photographer is done, we wrap the ornament in clean new tissue paper and carefully place it back into its product package. The product packages are then placed in new, clean archival storage boxes, sorted by year. For permanent storage, the bubble wrap that was included in the original packaging is removed, as it does not contain a stable plastic and may break down and harm the objects.

GIF cycling through three images of small red and green boxes in larger gray boxes
Photographed ornaments being sorted before being boxed up for storage.

Since this a very large collection, it would take up a large amount of shelf space in storage. To save space, we stack the completed cartons on a pallet. When the pallet is full, it is then shrink wrapped to keep all the cartons in place during movement to their storage location.

Gray boxes stacked on pallet and secured with clear plastic wrap
Palletized Boxes shrink wrapped to keep everything in place.

Paper with three diagrams containing squares and text, overlaid with clear plastic
Diagram of location of boxes to easily locate boxes (and the individual ornaments they contain) within the pallet in the future.

Four gray boxes in a stack
Barcoded boxes ready to be palletized.

At each step of the process, from cataloging to the final storage location, the location of each ornament is tracked in our collection management database [Axiell’s EMu]. We update the location field each time we move an artifact. With 6,600 ornaments in the collection, that’s a lot to keep track of—so we streamline this step as well.

A holder location is created in EMu and a barcode is generated for each storage box and pallet used. Each time we move a box to a pallet, we scan its barcode and the one on the pallet, and all ornaments in that box get their location updated automatically in our database. Then when we move the pallet, we scan its barcode and the barcode of its storage location, and all ornaments in all the boxes on the pallet get their locations updated. This saves a lot of time and is much more efficient then updating each object individually each time.

Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, our digitization priorities have shifted—but we were still able to digitize more than 2,000 of the Hallmark ornaments before we had to stop. You can check out some curator highlights from the collection in our Expert Set, or browse them all in our Digital Collections.

The Henry Ford is facing unprecedented financial challenges due to the impact of our 16-week closure and reduced operations. We need your help in securing our future. Love the Henry Ford? Please support all that we treasure—including our digitization program. Longtime supporters of The Henry Ford will match your donation dollar for dollar, so your contribution will have double the impact.


Victoria Morris is Collections Operations Logistics Coordinator at The Henry Ford.

COVID 19 impact, by Victoria Morris, #Behind The Scenes @ The Henry Ford, #digitization100K, photography, digitization, collections care

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