An accession register is the permanent record of all objects which are, or have been, part of the museum’s permanent collections. It is the most important document in the museum’s documentation system. Each item should have a unique object number, a short description, details of acquisition and date acquired.
Towneley did not start with an accession register in 1903, initially objects added to the collection were reported in the Burnley Council minutes and in time added to the exhibition catalogues. It was not until 1932 that a register was created to record the addition of objects to the permanent collections. It can be found in the library as md4 "Exhibits Received for Permanent Collection". It continued to be used until 1974. It had two problems, first it did not include any object received before July 1932 and, secondly, the objects were not given a unique object number.
In 1938, a catalogue was made of all the objects added to the collections starting from 1903 up until June 1938. This "index to exhibits", organised by type of object, can be found in the library as md7a , a bound set of pages. There is another copy that is unbound. It did not provide unique object numbers and nothing was added after 1938.
In 1955, the District Auditor's Report suggested "a complete inventory or catalogue of works of Art and other exhibits in Towneley Hall should be prepared in preference to the present system". The new system was a Kalamazoo ledger that allowed additional leaves to be securely added to a bound register. It can be found in the library as two heavy brown ledgers md16 (County Borough Of Burnley Inventory of Art Gallery and Museum A-O) and md17 (County Borough Of Burnley Inventory of Art Gallery and Museum P-Z + photographs, book illustrations, oil and watercolours). Although labelled inventory, it aimed to meet the requirements of an accession register with unique object numbers, details of acquisition etc. .
It was started in 1956 with what was thought the most valuable items - Holroyd glass, ivories, antique furniture, oil paintings, watercolours, pewter, Pilkington lustre (those items dating from before 1914) and Chinese pottery. Towneley's peculiar object numbering system, with numbers begining with FUAN, PAOIL, WACO etc. began at this time, for more about this and alternative numbering systems see the entry for object number. In 1971, all objects entering the museum began to be recorded in a day book, each entry being given a sequential number starting with the year date. Between 1971 and 1975, the day book number was sometimes included in the register entry.
The progress on completing the accession register was slow before 1971 but by 1975 the majority of collections were included although not all in an entirely satisfactory manner. (See individual collection overviews for a description of how well they were catalogued.) After 1994, only oil paintings, water colours and prints continued to be added to the register, the last of these being added in 2000. From 2000, any object offered to the collections has been recorded on an object entry form.
In 2007, md16 and md17 were scanned, photocopies were updated with additions to Sculpture collection (SCU), Milner and Nuttall ceramic collections (POTM and POTM), Watches collection (CWJ) and bound in three volumes.
Work had began on a digital Collections Management System (CMS) in 2002. After 2007, all new accessions to the permanent collections were recorded digitally. A public version of the data is displayed in Towneley Collections Viewer.