New details on missing items from publicly funded museums

Freedom of Information requests shed new light on where and how items in national collections become lost or missing

New details have been revealed about the missing, lost or stolen items from the collections of publicly funded museums.

The details come to light following Freedom of Information requests sent to the organisations by PA media. The report follows news last year of the theft of thousands of items from the British Museum.

The new information suggests that thefts from national collections remains rare, while a very small percentage of collections becoming lost or missing – for a variety of reasons – remains commonplace.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, The Science Museum Group disclosed the 2014 theft of two model steam trains, which were reported to police but have not yet been recovered.

Also among organisations to reposend was the National Portrait Gallery, which said 45 items from its collection were deemed “not located”, qualifying that the items were not necessarily missing or stolen.

It said it is still to complete searches for the items following its three-year refurbishment, adding that the lost items represent only 0.02% of its collection.

The Victoria and Albert Museum disclosed around 180 missing items, it too said the items were not necessarily stolen or lost, and lost catalogue entries could be to blame.

Royal Museums Greenwich, which manages the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich and Cutty Sark in east London, reported around 245 items which could not be found, and suggested data transfer between databases or human error could be to blame for the number. It told PA media that it has re-discovered 560 items since 2008 through audits.

The Natural History Museum said it had “just 23 instances of lost or missing items from a collection of 80 million.”

Some of its collection has been moved from London’s Blythe House to the National Collections Centre at the Science and Innovation Park in Wiltshire, which will be open next year.

The Tate museums and galleries and the National Gallery reported no missing items after Freedom of Information Requests.

Horniman Museum and Gardens, The Wallace Collection, Museum of the Home, Sir John Soane’s Museum and National Museums Liverpool disclosed only a few missing items, reports PA.

More than 550 objects were disclosed by the Imperial War Museum. A spokesperson said the typically “low-value, mass-produced” items often pre-date its current collections management systems.