Nova Scotia Archives

Harry Piers: Museum Maker

The Piers' Accession Ledgers — Documenting the Nova Scotia Museum's Early Collections

  • Harry Piers' Accession Ledgers are among the earliest surviving institutional records of the Nova Scotia Museum. The ledgers were compiled from 1900 to 1939 by Piers, then the Museum's sole curator; they contain meticulous, detailed records of donations to the Museum's collection.

  • The six volumes list 9,421 specimen and artifact records, including accession number, object name, collection data, and often additional background or descriptive information. The details are rich, offering a record of time and place, and providing both context and significance to the objects — just as modern documentation does today.

  • Ledger headings: Scientific Name, Common Name, Department and Phylum, Locality and When Collected, Collector, Donor, Received, No. of Specimens, and Remarks.

  • The ledgers are large, heavy, and unwieldy. Over the years, they have become increasingly fragile. In the 1960's they were microfilmed, but the films are difficult to read and cannot be widely shared.

  • As digital technology advanced, Museum staff contemplated digitizing the ledgers, but traditional flat-bed scanners were out of the question — flipping the books back and forth would do more harm than good; digital photography was also deemed inadequate for the task.

  • The problem was solved when the Nova Scotia Archives agreed to digitize the Accession Ledgers, producing high resolution scans with an overhead scanner — finally making nearly 40 years' of early collection information easily accessible to Museum staff once again.

  • Harry Piers clearly understood the importance of the information he took such care to record in these ledgers. The last words are his….
"Recognizing the absolute necessity for full data with every specimen, most careful and full accounts are now kept of each object as received. On the receipt of a specimen a number is painted upon it, and this number refers to a book in which is kept every particular obtainable; and in the case of minerals, analyses are filed whenever possible, and may be consulted by all so desiring. A label giving as much information as possible is attached to the specimen. Should this label ever come detached, reference to the accession book will again furnish full particulars for re-labelling. This will prevent the loss of data which has been one of the greatest disadvantages of dealing with old collections."
Harry Piers, Report on Provincial Museum of Nova Scotia and Science Library for 1900 (12 February 1901, p. 5, p. 7).