Roslyn Russell, Kylie Winkworth
© Commonwealth of Australia, 2010
ISBN 97 80977544363 (pbk)
Assessing the significance of an item offered as a donation to a collecting organisation or being considered for purchase is fundamental to sound collecting practice. Most collecting institutions now have collection policies that determine the scope of their collecting and the principal areas of interest that their collection is intended to cover. Significance assessment offers a process that sits alongside a collection policy and helps to make an argument for accepting or rejecting a donation or for deciding whether or not to buy an item.
A collection policy stipulates the classes of item to be collected, and the subjects or thematic framework under which collecting is to be carried out. Within those categories, significance assessment prompts a thorough analysis of individual items through the use of the significance criteria. The criteria provide a useful framework for decision-making and a reasoned approach to accepting or rejecting an item, or deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
A statement of significance forms an important part of the acquisition records of many collecting organisations. It can be referred to when a collecting institution is asked to justify its decision to acquire an item; and is part of the historical record of the pattern of collection building in an institution.
A statement of significance forms a useful basis for publicising new acquisitions. Stories surrounding items and collections engage communities and can help to raise an organisation's profile in the wider community.
Acquisition of the Charlotte medal
Attributed to Thomas Barrett
The Charlotte medal 1788
Photo: Andrew Frolows. Reproduced courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum
Purchased with the assistance of the National Cultural Heritage Account
The significance of a silver medal engraved by a First Fleet convict, a treasure of Australia's maritime heritage, prompted the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) to acquire it at auction. Very little material culture from the eleven ships of the First Fleet survives today, making the medal a rare item.
The medal is directly linked to the arrival from Britain of the First Fleet in January 1788, leading to the European occupation of the Australian continent.
The medal, was engraved by a convict, Thomas Barrett, on the transport ship Charlotte in January 1788 at the end of the First Fleet's voyage from Britain to New South Wales. Barrett's engraving has been acknowledged as the first known work of art from the Australian colonies, adding to its significance.
Barrett, an engraver, had been found guilty of theft and sentenced to death, but was granted a King's Pardon on condition of transportation. He probably created the medal while the fleet was anchored in Botany Bay awaiting Governor Phillip's decision to move north to Port Jackson.
One side of the medal shows a fully rigged ship secured to a buoy with the sun near the horizon line on the lower left and a crescent moon and stars on the upper right. Above the sun are inscribed the words The Charlotte at anchor / in Botany Bay / Jany. the 20, / 1788. The reverse side has a short description of Charlotte's voyage from Spithead, England (13 May 1787) to Botany Bay in the 'island of New Holland' (20 January 1788).
The significance of the Charlotte medal as the first work of art created in the Australian colonies, its association with the earliest days of European settlement in Australia, and its depiction of one of the ships of the First Fleet underpinned its acquisition by the Australian National Maritime Museum.
The assessment of the significance of the Charlotte medal underpinned a successful application to the National Cultural Heritage Account for funding assistance for purchase of the medal. The primary consideration for funding assistance to this program is the item's national significance.
Significance in action
Significance assessment applications and case studies
- Conservation treatment
- Collection risk assessment
- Collection care
- Copying and digitisation
- Collection analysis and policy development
- In situ collections
- Shared collections
- Exhibitions and interpretation
- Online exhibitions
- Online access and education
- Assessing cultural heritage website quality
- Nominating to a register
- Applying for a grant
- Advocacy and resourcing
- Fundraising and promotion
- Thematic studies and regional surveys
- Collections mapping
- Significance training