• Neil Allen

My Nativity Story: Phillip Garding (cataloging your collection)

Creche Collection Catalog

I like lists. As a teenager I started a list of every book I read for seven years. It was inevitable that when my wife and I started collecting nativity sets, It was inevitable that I would want to catalog them. When our collection grew from tens to hundreds of nativity sets, having a catalog became crucial.

There are many reasons to track your collection. With a catalog, you can answer questions like:

· How many nativity sets do I have?

· How many countries are represented in my collection?

· What materials are my nativity sets made from?

· How much is our collection worth (in case of loss due to a fire or flood)?

A catalog can be anything from a simple list to an electronic database with photos and links. The amount of energy you spend depends on what you want and whether you enjoy the effort. It’s worth spending a few minutes to make a plan to get started. Here are some questions to guide you:

What information do you want to track?

First, decide what information to track about your collection. It’s not critical to get this list exactly right now; you can add and remove information later. However, how much detail you want will influence how you record it. The base information I record is the following:

· Category (Single Piece, Multiple Piece Set, Wall Hanging, Ornament, Plate, etc.)

· Origin (country and/or region)

· Material

· Artist or manufacturer

· Year purchased

· Purchase place

· Purchase price

· Number of pieces

· Height of the tallest piece

· Name

· Description of the item

· Identification number

You will likely want other information, also. Some other ideas: the name of the person who gave you a creche if you receive many as gifts, when and where you displayed the creche publicly, instructions or ingredients for homemade sets, or what pieces you want to add to a set and where to buy them. Don’t worry if the information you record evolves over time. It is hard to anticipate all the ways you will use your catalog once you have it, and you may want different information later. In my catalog, I added the “Name” field later as a shorter description that could be printed on a storage label. I originally logged which characters were in the set (kings, shepherds, sheep, etc.) but later dropped it as it wasn’t useful to me.

What does your ID number mean?

An ID can be an number that is an index into the catalog, or the ID itself can encode information about your set. Your ID scheme can be simple or elaborate. You can use numbers, letters, dates, or any combination, as long as each ID is unique. Consider which of these options suit your needs:

· In my catalog, the ID is just a reference number (integer) and has no inherent meaning. When I add a new item, I pick the next available number. If I get rid of an item from our collection, I can reuse the old ID without causing confusion. I use the catalog, not the ID number, to record details.

· Linear IDs give the chronological order that you acquired your creches. This scheme assumes that you always remember to enter sets in that order.

· Ranges of ID numbers can be used to group your nativities. In this scheme, define a range of numbers and the purpose of the range. For example: 100 – 199 for sets from the USA, 200 – 299, for sets from Europe, etc. Or the first range is for wood carvings, and the second range is for ceramics. Groupings can be whatever you imagine.

· Multi-part IDs can be like a Dewey decimal system that encodes multiple attributes. For example, a complex scheme could have ID “US.WC.2010.05” which could be the ID for the fifth set (05) purchased in 2010 that was made in the US and is a wood carving (WC). Go as crazy as you want with this, but more complexity generally requires more effort.

Once you assign an ID to a creche, you won’t want to change it or your tracking could get confused. I write the ID number on the bottom of the creche itself so I can track an item back to its record in the catalog. That means I never change the ID once assigned because it is physically recorded on the artwork.

Where will you record the information?

A simple list can be written in a paper notebook but recording it on a computer or tablet makes the information sortable, searchable, and easier to update. If you use a computer, your next question is what program to use?

Your favorite word processor is an easy choice for simpler lists. Most allow you to create a table, so you can even have columns to separate out a few types of information, but the number of columns will be limited.

A spreadsheet program offers more power and flexibility but may require some learning. Spreadsheets make it easy to sort and rearrange lists and to filter the list to find certain items. You can add an unlimited number of columns to track the information you want to record. Commercial apps such as Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers are common, but there are many good free spreadsheet apps as well, such as Google Sheets and OpenOffice Calc. You can learn about free apps from this article on Lifewire.

Catalog Spreadsheet in Google Sheets

If you are more technical, a database program can give you more flexibility and power to create forms for inputting information, custom queries for advanced searching, and reports or web pages of your catalog. A database may also make it easier to embed photos of your creches. I use Microsoft Access for these reasons, but there are free database apps also available.

Microsoft Access input form

Should I include photographs of my collection?

A written description of a nativity set is great, but it can be challenging to clearly distinguish between similar items. How do you describe the difference between three ebony Kenyan wood carvings? Having a photo makes identification foolproof.

If photos are important to you, be sure that the app you use to record your catalog lets you link the photo to a record. For example, Microsoft Word and Google Sheets let you insert an image into a table cell, making a permanent connection. Microsoft Excel, however, only supports pictures that float over the cells, so there is no way to attach the picture to a certain row. If your app doesn’t support linking, an alternative is to store the photos separately. Use your catalog ID to name the photo file, and you can look up the picture on your computer manually. This makes it harder to use the photo in labels and reports, of course.

If the photo is only used for your personal reference, a quick snapshot of a set, or even of one or two figures in a set, will do fine. If you want to publish your collection, though, you may want better photos. Since photography is also my hobby, this was a project I happily undertook. Setting up and shooting each nativity set is time consuming, so it took me a few years to fully photograph our collection. When adding a new creche to our collection, I set up a little photo studio in my house and take several photos including close-ups.

What to do with your catalog?

Now that you have a catalog, what can you do with it? Here are some ideas:

· Print a report for easy reference of the whole collection. You can filter the list for different reports, such as chronologically, by country of origin, by type of material, etc.

· Browse the list to select sets. We were blessed with the opportunity to participate in a public show for ten years and having a list to go through made selecting items for display much easier.

· Tracking blog posts – I post photos of our collection on a blog (http://nativitycollection.wordpress.com), and my database allows me to remember which sets I have shared.

· Setting a collection value for insurance

· Print labels for boxes. This has been a life saver for us. As our collection grew into the hundreds, storage became an issue. Even though we had space for the boxes, being able to find a set was critical. A label with a name, photo, number of pieces makes it possible to find what we need relatively easily.

Storage Labels Printed from the Catalog

The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

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