Frequently asked questions
Below are the answers to the Museum's most frequently asked questions.
How many items does the Museum have in its collections?
We do not have a precise figure as much of the archaeological collection is counted by box rather than individual item. Our estimate is around 2 million individual items.
|Type of collection
|Dress and textiles
|Paintings, prints and drawings
|Oral History and life stories
||1,800 (7,000 hours)|
|Port and river
|Tudor and Stuart
|Social and working history
|Port of London Authority archive
How can I get to see the collections that aren’t on show?
You will need to make an appointment (see contact details). Contact the Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive to see objects before 1700 and the Department of History Collections for objects after 1700. For archaeological material or site records, contact the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). For the Sainsbury Archive and the Port and River Archives, contact the Sainsbury Study Centre.
Appointments have to be booked in advance and the Museum reserves the right to temporarily close access to collections if staff are not available or there are practical reasons for restricting access.
When contacting us please be specific about your interests. It is not always possible to browse through a large number of items. For example, for dress enquiries we can get out a maximum of six outfits for any one enquiry.
What will it cost to see stored collections?
Access to stored collections is free but we do charge for photocopying, tape copying or any other costs.
Can I take photographs of stored collections?
You can take your own photographs (subject to copyright restrictions) if they are only low quality images for research purposes. We reserve the right to insist on high quality photography being done by our in-house photographers, for which we will charge. See the Picture Library section for more information.
Are all your collections available to outside researchers?
Generally yes, but there are some items of oral history which have been donated to the Museum on the understanding that they will remain ‘closed’ until after the donor’s death. Human remains will only be made available to those with a valid and documented research reason.
Please note: some collections can be temporarily unavailable because of practical issues of storage or staffing.
I want to have an object identified. What do I do?
Please ring or email to make an appointment if you would like to bring in an object for identification (see contact details). Contact the Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive if you think your object dates from before 1700 and the Department of History Collections if you guess it was made after 1700.
Please note: it is not always possible to get an appointment immediately.
All archaeological finds should be reported to your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (external link). Details for the Greater London FLO can be found in our contact details section.
Can you identify objects by telephone, letter or email?
Museum staff generally cannot provide object identifications over the phone, or via email or letter, except where good-quality photographs are attached. If you cannot bring your object to the Museum try your local museum, a local antique dealer or auctioneer, many of whom have good object expertise.
What is the Portable Antiquities Scheme?
If you think your object is over 300 years old, please report it to your local Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Finds Liaison Officer who will record it on the PAS database and provide identification. They may have to keep the objects for a week or more in order to record them.
For more information about the PAS please see the website at www.finds.org.uk.
Many of the objects brought into the Museum as part of the PAS are found on the Thames foreshore.
Please note: you must have a permit from the Port of London Authority (PLA) to search on the foreshore. One of the conditions of the license is that all finds of archaeological or historical interest should be reported to the PAS Finds Liaison Officer. To obtain a permit please contact the PLA direct: www.portoflondon.co.uk.
Does the Museum value items?
No. Try a local antiques dealer or auctioneer.
Do you answer enquiries about all aspects of London’s history?
No. For some subjects, we will refer you to other institutions. For example, an enquiry about London tree species or fossils is best dealt with by the Natural History Museum.
Can Museum staff do some research for me?
The Museum cannot answer enquiries that demand a lot of research time, such as a precise family history query. We will suggest ways in which you can do your own research but cannot do the work for you.
The Museum does not generally offer editorial services, such as fact checking or reading manuscripts. Such work is only undertaken for a fee.
Can I borrow something from the collection?
We lend original items to registered museums and other institutions with appropriate security and storage conditions. We do not normally lend original material to the general public.
I want to donate something to the museum. What do I do?
Contact the Museum to discuss it. We are always grateful to be offered material, but are strict about what we accept. Generally, we only accept objects that say something unique and specific about London or Londoners’ lives; that do not duplicate items already in our collections and which come with rich supporting information.