Our Museums

Collections FAQs

Everything you might want to know about our collections! Please check our helpful answers before getting in touch with us.

There are over 1 million objects in our collections. These sit broadly under the three main subject areas of Art, History and Natural Science and represent the stories we tell across our four sites: the Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk Museum, Ulster Transport Museum and Ulster American Folk Park.

Our collecting activity is guided by a Collections Development Policy which is reviewed at least every five years. Our current Collections Development Policy can be found below. Given that we have limited storage and limited resources we have to make a strong case for any object we collect, and we have to be able to manage and care for it effectively and ensure that it is of value to the public.

As with most museums, only around 8% of our collection will be on display at any given time, though this is constantly changing due to a rolling programme of interpretation. All museums are effectively archives of objects, and have larger collections than they have space for display. We do not collect objects for the sole purpose of putting them on display, and many of our collections are purely record and research collections, for both current and future generations. Some objects cannot be displayed at all, or only displayed for a short time, for conservation reasons. Displays are only one method of making our collections accessible, and so we support research into our collections and proactively widen access to them through a range of different means, including loans, temporary exhibitions, touring exhibitions, outreach and digital initiatives.

Most objects, when not on public display, are maintained in one of our museum stores. In the stores, the collections are preserved for longer by reducing risks that could cause decay. We control the environment and keep them safe and secure. Our Collections Care team is responsible for storage, conservation, and moving the collections.

Locations and other key information about the objects, such as descriptions and details of when and how they came into the collections, are recorded by curators and documenters.

Not all our collections are available on our online collections database, but we are adding to it all the time. Try a range of searches, such as object type or artist name, to see if you can find what you are looking for, or browse by suggested themes. 

Check our Collections Development Policy first, to see if your object is referenced. A copy of our Collections Development Policy is available below. After consulting the Policy, please contact the relevant curator.

Please do not bring objects to the museums without first making an appointment with a curator.

Not all our curators are based at their relevant museum site, so please do not bring enquiries to them without first making an appointment. Please use the contact details given above.

You may be able to see collections in storage for research purposes, but you will need to discuss this with the Research Coordinator and make an appointment.

Yes. We are keen to accommodate as many research requests as possible. Research requests are managed by our research coordinator and you will find details of how to contact them on our research pages along with information about our policies around ethics and research.

We make our collections accessible to the public through loans to other museums and cultural organisations. Please see the loans section of our website for information on borrowing from the collections.

We’re afraid that as an accredited museum we cannot offer valuations for your objects. Try contacting a local auction house.

At present our conservation team can only carry out work on our own collections. To find a conservator please check with the Institute of Conservation  or Institute of Conservator Restorers in Ireland  

We encourage personal photography of objects on display but would prefer if you did not use a flash. Clear instructions will be given if you are unable to take a photograph of an object for a particular reason e.g. it is not our object and has copyright restrictions associated with it, or if you cannot use a flash. Please ask one of our Visitor Services staff if you have any questions.

Please contact our Picture Library Executive.

For more information on our collections please refer to our Collections Development Policy

What have I found?

Many important objects are found by people who are not archaeologists.

If you think you have found something of interest, please let us know by following these guidelines. We can discover more about the past by keeping a record of these finds. While we will try our best to identify your object, it is not our job to decide how much it is worth.

If you are interested in knowing more about the monuments people built in the past consult the DFC Historic Environment Division (HED) website. HED records, protects, conserves and promotes Northern Ireland’s historic environment. You can access information on thousands of historic monuments/ archaeological sites and on maps via their website.

The law requires people to report any objects of archaeological significance that they find to the museum. For more details, see the Historic Monuments & Archaeological Objects Order (Northern Ireland) 1995.

If you can, please contact Greer Ramsey and Niamh Baker with a photograph of your find and provide as much detail as possible:

  • your contact phone number
  • your name and address
  • when and where you found the object
  • the size of the object (or a scale in the photograph)
  • a description of the object, including what it is made from (if you can tell)

We will contact you when we have read your email and performed some preliminary research. Please do not bring the find into the museum, there may be no one on hand to help you.

The museum will return your find to you after it has been photographed and recorded. You may be asked if you wish to donate the object to us.

Certain finds reported to the museum may be treasure. These are mostly gold or silver objects that are over 300 years old. Please note that individual gold and silver coins are not treasure.

The coroner will be informed of your discovery. The object will be kept until your case is heard in the coroner’s court. If your find is indeed treasure, you will be entitled to a finder’s reward, shared with the owner of the land where the item was found.

More details regarding Treasure can be found from the Department for Communities website.