Skip to main content Smithsonian Institution

Catalog Data

Smithsonian Institution Office of the Registrar  Search this
Bryant, Herbert S  Search this
Leech, Daniel  Search this
Brown, Stephen C  Search this
Weiss, Helena M. 1909-2004  Search this
Haynes, William P  Search this
Lytle, Richard H  Search this
Leslie, Philip  Search this
Case, Mary E  Search this
Ripley, S. Dillon (Sidney Dillon) 1913-2001  Search this
Malaro, Marie C  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Office of Fellowships  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Correspondence Clerk  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Registrarial Council  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Office Memorandum 808, Collections Management (1980)  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Smithsonian Directive 600, Collections Management  Search this
United States National Museum Office of the Registrar  Search this
United States National Museum Division of Correspondence and Documents  Search this
United States National Museum Department of Correspondence and Documents  Search this
United States National Museum Office of Correspondence and Records  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Collections Policy and Management Study Committee  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Museum Support Center  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Office of General Counsel  Search this
Smithsonian Institution Office of the Smithsonian Institution Archives National Collections Program  Search this
Mixed archival materials
Agency History
This is an agency history. It does not describe actual records. The Smithsonian Institution Archives uses these histories as brief accounts of the origin, development, and functions of an office or administrative unit to set that unit in its historical context. To find information on record holdings, please double-click the highlighted field "Creator/Author", which will open on a brief view of relevant records.
Guide to the Smithsonian Archives, 1996
Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1878-1919
National Collections Program, History,, accessed February 8, 2022
Elements of the Office of the Registrar seem to have existed prior to 1880 in a position titled as Correspondence Clerk. A Registrar's Office was created in 1880 and existed until 1919, when its functions were reassigned to the United States National Museum, Division of Correspondence and Documents. That division had been created in 1886 as the Department of Correspondence and Records, later taking the newer name in 1896. In 1947 the name changed again to the Department of Correspondence and Records. In 1956 the Office of the Registrar was recreated and remained in operation until its abolition in 1993.
The Office of the Registrar was responsible for accessions, recordkeeping, storage, distribution, and shipping of specimens in the United States National Museum and continued to have some recordkeeping and policy role in collections management even after 1975, when individual museums set up their own registrarial functions. In 1973 a Registrarial Council was set up to study museum registration problems and to recommend changes to improve registration and control of secimens within the Institution. The Office reported to the Office of Fellowships at its dissolution.
Daniel Leech seems to have served as Correspondence Clerk as early as 1869. As the first official Registrar of the United States National Museum, appointed just before the opening of the National Museum Building in 1880, Stephen C. Brown served as the Institution's transportation, storage, and records clerk. Responsible for accession documentation, legal title and provenance research, and the shipping and distribution of collections, Brown reported names of donors, accessioned collections information and descriptions for inclusion in the Smithsonian's Annual Report. Following Brown's death and the consequent abolition of his position in 1919, the duties of the Registrar remained, reassigned to the Property Clerk in the Division of Correspondence and Documents.
Between 1919 and 1956, the Division of Correspondence and Documents carried out registrarial functions relating to the accession, examination, reporting, and distribution of collections. Herbert S. Bryant served as head, Division of Correspondence and Documents, 1919-1947 and was followed by Helena M. Weiss, as head, Department of Correspondence and Records from 1948-1956. In 1956, the Division transitioned to the Office of the Registrar, with Weiss being appointed as Registrar, a position she held until her retirement in 1971. One of the first female managers of the Institution, Weiss directed the central filing system of the United States National Museum, responsible for accession reports and documentation, loans and exchanges, collections shipping, insurance, and customs regulations.
During the decentralization of the United States National Museum, the Office of the Registrar underwent substantial administrative and functional changes. From 1971 to 1976, following the professionalization of collections management, the Office played a critical role in the development and implementation of Smithsonian policies and procedures for the acquisition, accession, deaccession, disposal, preservation, documentation, and use of collections. During this period, each Smithsonian museum established an individual registrar, ensuring the proper documentation and management of the unit's collections. Following Weiss' retirement, William P. Haynes served as Acting Registrar, 1972-1973 and was followed by Richard H. Lytle, Acting Registrar and Registrar Pro Tem, 1974-1976, both leading the office in acting capacities until internal transitions reconstituted the office with the responsibility and oversight of Smithsonian-wide collections management issues.
Appointed in 1976, Philip Leslie led the work to establish the office as the primary advocate for pan-Institutional collections stewardship issues at the Smithsonian. The urgent need for collections storage facilities became paramount among the Smithsonian's priorities (and eventually led to the construction of the Museum Support Center) within the early years of Leslie's tenure. To adequately address these needs and justify the allocation of new resources, Smithsonian senior management recognized the need for a critical self-assessment of the Institution's collecting goals, policies, and practices. In 1976, Secretary S. Dillon Ripley appointed a Collections Policy and Management Committee to study Smithsonian philosophy, policy, practice, and procedure regarding collections acquisition, storage, documentation, and retention.
Under Leslie's leadership, the Committee's recommendations led to the issuance of the Smithsonian's first collections management policy, Office Memorandum (OM) 808, Collections Management in 1980. The precursor of Smithsonian Directive (SD) 600, Collections Management, Marie C. Malaro of the Smithsonian Office of General Counsel led the development of OM 808, requiring each Smithsonian unit delegated with collecting authority to develop, implement, and adhere to an authorized, written collections management policy.
During his time as Registrar, Philip Leslie coordinated the "Great Count" inventory of Smithsonian collections from 1978 to 1983, as mandated by Congress. Promoting the development of Institution-wide information systems to improve access to Smithsonian collections, Leslie also chaired the Registrarial Council to improve registration and physical control of collections. An advocate of stewardship and collections management until his retirement in 1985.
Appointed as the Director in 1986, Mary E. Case assumed leadership of the Office of the Registrar and its newly expanded responsibilities for Institution-wide collections management. Under Case's direction, the activities and advocacy of the office encouraged units to implement individual collections initiatives, supporting Smithsonian-wide programs that promoted increased access to and continued accountability for collections. Focused on strengthening the philosophy and quality of collections management at the Smithsonian and the broader museum community, the goals of the office evolved to ensure efficient access to accurate and complete collections information, appropriate physical care of collections, and increased training for Smithsonian collections personnel.
During Case's tenure, the Smithsonian Collections Management Policy was actively revised and updated with the assistance of unit collections staff. With a particular emphasis on internal controls, developing collecting plans, managing collections information, representing cultural and biological diversity within collections, collecting biological specimens, and recovering loan costs, the office ensured documentation practices met - and established - evolving professional standards. During this period, the Office founded an annual reporting mechanism to capture annual statistics regarding collections growth and transaction activity, as well as unit compliance with established Smithsonian and unit-specific policy mandates.
Following Case's retirement in 1993, the responsibilities and functions of the Office of the Registrar transferred to the newly established National Collections Program.
For a history of the larger creating unit, refer to "Forms part of" above.
Repository Loc.:
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Capital Gallery, Suite 3000, MRC 507; 600 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20024-2520
Museum registration methods  Search this
Museum registrars  Search this
Museums--Collection management  Search this
Museum storage facilities  Search this
Local number:
SIA AH00379
Data Source:
Smithsonian Institution Archives