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5 Jun 2018

You are not a loan

Written by Jennifer Jones (Loans Officer)
Culross set up
As part of Project Reveal, we’ve been reviewing the almost 8,000 objects on loan to the National Trust for Scotland for display in our properties.

The National Trust for Scotland was founded in 1931, and we estimate that there are now over 100,000 objects displayed or stored in the places in our care. Of these, around 8,000 have been loaned to us in the last 70 years by generous Trust supporters. I’ve been working alongside the regional inventory teams, investigating these historical loans, tracking down objects, contacting owners or their heirs, renewing paperwork when necessary and, where possible, returning material that no longer meets our collecting policy.

Most museums have sticky historical loan issues that are often extremely time-consuming and complicated to sort out. Some of the dreaded phrases include ‘permanent loan’, ‘gentleman’s agreement’ and ‘which “white china ornament” was his?’!


Most visitors don’t realise that a lot of the contents in our places remain on loan from the families who once lived there.

When the Trust acquired properties, we often did not acquire the contents in their entirety; some of the original contents remained on loan from the donor families. Alongside these sorts of loans, there are also a large number of smaller loans from individual lenders to supplement original collections across the country, some dating back to the acquisition of Culzean Castle, in 1945. Tracking down these early lenders involves a lot of research, checking archives and legal records, talking to property staff and long-term volunteers, writing a lot of tentative letters, asking favours and, often, a stroke of luck! If I’m lucky enough to track down the lender, we enter into a period of discussion to reach an agreement that’s suitable for both the owner and the borrower. This can be extremely rewarding – it’s lovely to reunite families with objects that had long been forgotten or that they didn’t even know about!

So why are we investing in this work? Currently, the lack of relevant, up-to-date loan agreements means that some of our activities are restricted. We can’t display some of the objects on loan due to lenders’ restrictions; we can’t allow photography or filming in all our properties; and we can’t move certain objects or open cases as we may need to. This results in a reduced experience for our members and visitors. Many of our loaned objects were borrowed when collecting policies or interpretation plans were not in place. This led to us taking on collections of objects with low potential for engagement. Put simply, resolving our historical loans will free up resources, allowing us to work more efficiently and opening up new opportunities for engaging with our visitors.

Over the last nine months I’ve been working in Trust places all over the country and it’s been hugely satisfying to return objects to families and give them a new life. For example, two children’s chairs, which had been on loan since the 1980s to Kellie Castle, have been returned to the grandchildren of the original lender. They now have young children of their own, who can enjoy the chairs again.

The dressing case at Culzean

This dressing case had been on loan for over 70 years until it was generously gifted to the Trust in late 2017.

Another occasional outcome is that a lender might want to donate the objects to us. One such object was a beautiful toilet set on display in Culzean Castle. The 63-piece silver, ivory, glass and coral toilet set was a gift to Lady Evelyn Blantyre by her husband-to-be, Archibald Kennedy, 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, before their marriage in 1871. Originally loaned to the Trust in 1945 by Lady Kilmaine, this object has been inherited in turn by several generations of the family. Once the current owner had been identified and contacted, they were delighted to learn that the toilet set had been on display for almost 75 years and they offered it to us as a gift, securing the public enjoyment of this treasure for the next 75 years and beyond.

What we do: Collections

Find out more about how we care for the very wide range of collections items in over 50 of our properties.