Items stolen from museums is nothing new and I know of two collections locally that have had items go awol. The important thing is that measures are put in place to prevent this from happening.
In the past the reliance has been on paper records and a vigilant curator that knows his collection. So with today's modern technology items can be photographed and the data stored with ease with more than one person having a copy to help monitor collections.
During the nineties art and artifacts in TDC care were transferred from paper records to a electronic data base. Unfortunately for TDC the paper records inherited from the Borough of Margate were unreliable. A fine example I have got is an example of the correspondence regarding the ownership of the carved furniture in the Tudor House.
In fact the transfer onto a data base was a nightmare because the very roots of the collection date back to the Rowe bequest in 1926 and the Parker collection in 1929.
During the Second World War Museum items were stored in private homes for "safe" keeping and I can assure the reader that the record keeping of who had what was not a priority in 1940. From the end of the war up until local government reorganization in 1974 the numbering system would change on more than one occasion and this is evident with items at present having at least four identification numbers. However as I have stated on many occasions after local government reorganization in 1974 the whole lot went into storage based on unreliable records.In the years from 1974 to the setting up of the Margate museum items were written off as damaged due to poor storage, stolen or missing due to poor record keeping. So anything that went on in the past was forgotten and the new data base would be based on physical stock present. This turned out to be a dangerous game because items would turn up and there were no record of the item. One such example was when loans were returned from the closed Judge's quarters at Maidstone and records on some of the items items could not be found anywhere and they were re listed. I was even informed of two items in private premises with TDC identification and the person who had them had no idea of their origin but as he didn't want them so they were returned to the Museum.
I haven't mentioned this to anybody before except to my inner circle of historians but during that period I had a secret meeting with a Council officer in the coffee shop in the centre to discuss the matter. It was arranged by email and I duly turned up. To be honest I was not sure if he was instructed to meet me or just fishing. So I gave him the full SP of most of what I have written above. I even used a bit of bluff by over elaborating on some areas of what I knew. He took it all on board and he asked me what I knew about TDC numbering systems for items in storage. This was followed by a viewing of TDC items stored under the basement in the Post Office over the road in Cecil Square. All I can say I have never seen so much chaos in all my life. There were rows of old planning files in drop down folder storage and they had no way of knowing what was in each file without reading each one individually That was where I can across the files on the Ramsgate air raid tunnels that included ARP and Ciivl Defence documentation. As for everything else in storage it was just stored in piles.
So what was the outcome of my "secret meeting". Even though I kept emailing the Council Officer he never returned my emails. However, the museum started to receive items from other council locations with most of it stuffed in boxes. All pictures were added to the racks in the back room of the museum and items were literally put into cupboards or in stacked in any available space. Once again many items had no provenance or listing number.
Getting back to my original thread about items being stolen from Museums all I can say with a system run like I would think even the most neutral observer would be feeling a bit cynical by now.
Finally here is a little story.
In the late summer of 1998 the Margate Charter Trustees held a centenary exhibition at the old town hall to commorate the opening of the building. In the upstairs committee room many old items relating to old Margate were on display on the tables. This included a wartime scrapbook that belonged George Philip Hoare who was Mayor in 1940. George Hoare was also a commercial photographer and there were many photographs in the book. Halfway through the book were four photographs taken of four different views of Cecil Square taken during a war weapons week during the Second World War. The public were free to view the book under my watchful eye. Some people had just viewed the book and the room was empty and I left the book opened on that page. In walked a prominent public figure and I left him looking at the book while I did something else in the room by putting items straight. He left the room no one else entered the room but I noticed he had closed the book so I opened it to lay it out. I opened on the war weapons week page and to my dismay two photographs had gone. He had taken them. I immediately reported this to the Mayor who dismissed my concerns. I felt quite angry as I knew this was a case of working class Tony Ovenden up against a so called local public figure come Freemason and all that. So I had to back off as it was my word against his, even though I knew he could be caught with them in his possession.
This did not stop me from keeping tabs on this guy and I was really concerned as he had full access in the Margate Museum.
Eventually the George Hoare scrapbook was donated to the Margate Museum and guess what. The two remaining photographs were to disappear with many of the other photographs in the album.