Specimen Reports

A153709_3 ©Justine Cooper, Courtesy Daneyal Mahmood Gallery


Detailed documentation of individual specimens is generally undertaken for two reasons:

  • Treatment – professional conservation ethics obligates conservators to create treatment documentation, and consider it an essential requirement “to produce and maintain accurate, complete, and permanent records of examination, sampling, scientific investigation, and treatment.” (AIC Guidelines for Practice
  • Travel - documenting the existing condition of individual specimens is required for exhibition or loan, before and after travel, to describe in detail any surface marks, damage or other notable qualities of an object prior to display, loan or return for the purposes of protecting the institution from insurance liability. A successful travel report will enable the examiner to make ties between written and photo documentation to determine new condition changes as opposed to older damage or deterioration. Annotated photographs are a particularly successful method for conveying this information. 
Beth Nunan examines dioramas

Specimen Reports at AMNH

The AMNH Natural Sciences Lab follows the American Institute for Conservation Guidelines for Practice for treatment reports even when the format for reports differs to meet the needs of various departments.  

All specimen records (treatment and travel) and the reports derived from them include the following essential elements:

  • Identification of the property
  • Purpose of the examination
  • Date of Examination
  • Name of Examiner
  • Description of structure, materials, condition, and pertinent history
    • Photographs, diagrams, drawings
    • Includes size scale 


The written record must include information that uniquely identifies the cultural property including:

  • Unique Identifying number
  • Owner/custodian
  • Maker/Origin
  • Subject/title/scientific classification
  • Measurements
  • Marks/labels/prominent site features
  • Date of creation, if applicable
  • Information/data obtained through direct observation and/or testing (distinguishing clearly between observation and interpretation); methods of examination and testing
  • Notation of accessory materials or associated elements

Description of structure/materials, conditions, and pertinent history

Condition documentation meets the recommended standards of practice and includes detailed descriptions of the components/structure of the object, its state of preservation, and the nature, location, and extent of any defects or instabilities. 

The record incorporates or cites associated records (previous conservation documents, curatorial records, and in the case of outside lender objects, the lender’s original condition report), which will be retained in the specimen’s files.

Stephen Quinn examines a specimen being photographed.

Graphic Documentation:

All condition documentation records includes graphic documentation (e.g. photographs, diagrams, drawings) necessary to illustrate the condition and relevant details accurately. Annotated images supplements written descriptions, when appropriate. Photo-documentation includes size scales, color and gray scales, and, optimally, light direction indicators (for 2-dimensional objects).  For many decades, best practices for conservation documentation called for Black & White print and color slides.  Technological changes however have led to rapid changes in documentation, with digital photography now the standard for use.  This shift has many advantages in how images can be modified and used.  However, it also raises a host of other concerns about the permanence and preservation of this documentation.  Commentary 28 of the AIC Guidelines for Practice includes information on the minimum accepted practice and recommended practices in preserving documentation. 

In addition to the basic information outlined above, conservation treatment documentation also includes:

  • Treatment Proposal: Following examination and before treatment, the conservator prepares a plan describing the course of treatment. This plan should also include the justification for and the objectives of treatment, alternative approaches if feasible, and the potential risks. When appropriate, this plan is submitted as a proposal to the custodian of the specimen so it can be discussed and agreed upon.
  • Documentation of Treatment: During treatment, the conservator maintains dated documentation that includes a record or description of techniques or procedures involved, materials used and their composition, the nature and extent of all alterations, and any additional information revealed or otherwise ascertained. A report prepared from these records summarizes this information and provides, as necessary, recommendations for subsequent care.
  • Recommendations:  Recommendations for the future care of the specimen, e.g. best places for handling or mounting, exhibit guidelines, and environmental needs are often useful.  

In the Natural Sciences Conservation Lab, additional material specific condition checklists have been developed for use as guides and/or incorporation into the standard AMNH condition template. The written reports can utilize both free form text and check boxes and are normally used in conjunction with annotated digital images to record important condition information. 

For more information on treatments click here.

Additional Resources on Reports