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All about the museum collections

In this section, discover what we have, what we collect and why, and how we look after the items in our care.

How did the collections begin?

Inverness Museum is the oldest museum in the Highland region.  Our earliest collections were founded in 1825 with the formation of the Northern Institute.  In the early days there was a big focus on studying nature and civilisations from around the world.  In the early 1900s, the focus changed to displays of Highland and Jacobite history, with the aim of attracting tourists to the area.  So the collections have grown and changed over time, and sometimes we discover items in store that we wouldn’t collect now.

During the 1960s and the 1980s, the museum ‘rationalised’ its collections, meaning many of the more exotic exhibits from the early days were transferred to the Royal Museum of Scotland (now National Museums Scotland).  Since then, Inverness Museum has been solely focused on representing Highland history.

You can read more about the history of the museum on our Museum History page.

What does Inverness Museum collect?

We collect anything that can tell the story of the Highlands, including its environment and its people.  We represent the whole of the Highland region as well as the city of Inverness.  All periods of time are included, from prehistoric eras right up to modern day.  Items can come from anywhere in the world but must have a strong connection to the Highlands.  This means the collections are very eclectic – a real mixture of items!

Discover some of our Collections Highlights here.

Every Accredited museum in the UK has a collecting policy.  This keeps collections focused and prevents too many museums collecting the same thing.  Our Collections Development Policy not only sets out what we do and don’t collect, it also provides rules on how we acquire items and how we dispose of items (always under exceptional circumstances).  Read our Collections Development Policy 2019-2024.

How many items are in the collection?

There are approximately 100,000 items in the Inverness Museum collection!  In order to document and store all these items, we divide the collection into broad subject categories:  archaeology, archives, decorative arts, fine art, natural sciences, social history, textiles and weapons.  Our biggest categories (by number) are natural sciences and archaeology.

Visit this page to find out more about the collection categories.

How do I donate something to the museum?

We rely very much on the generosity of the public to donate items and bring items to our attention.  Visit our Acquisitions page to find out how to offer an item to the museum.  There is also a list of items and subjects we would like to collect and are specifically looking out for!

Can I see items that are in store?

If you would like to see an item that is not on display, please contact the Collections team to book an appointment.

Researchers and students come from all over the world to view our items.  But you don’t have to be writing a book or enrolled on a formal learning course to view the collections – anyone can book an appointment.  Visit our research page for more information.

Can I borrow something from the collection?

We regularly loan items to other public museums and galleries for temporary exhibitions and for longer-term loans.  We cannot lend museum items to individuals or private institutions.  However, we do have a handling collection which is used for our loan boxes.  Schools, care homes and community groups can borrow these free of charge.  See our Loan Boxes page for further details.

For our museum objects, potential borrowers must meet stringent conditions regarding security, environmental monitoring, insurance and transport.  This is to ensure our items are kept safe and do not deteriorate whilst on loan. Visit our Loans Out page to find out where you can see our items out and about, in exhibitions and other venues.

We are always interested to hear from universities and museums conducting scientific analysis as part of wider research programmes.  We will consider lending items to support research that benefits our collection by improving knowledge and data on the items we hold.  Find out more on our research page.

Do you do conservation work on the collections?

We do undertake conservation work, but mostly this is preventative or remedial conservation.  Preventative conservation slows down deterioration, meaning the object will last longer, while remedial conservation deals with damage.  However, we do not undertake restoration – items are never made to look like new.  We want museum items to reflect their history.  On our conservation service page you can find out more about how we look after the collections.