I just read here:

For example, in the research collection of the Natural History Museum in London, there is a bird specimen numbered 1886.6.24.20. This is a specimen of a kind of bird commonly known as the spotted harrier, which currently bears the scientific name Circus assimilis.

I am wondering what exactly that number 1886.6.24.20 means and how to find out more information. It seems it is structured to give some significance, such as perhaps year.month.day.incremented number. Wondering if this is unique to the Natural History Museum in London, or if this is how everywhere does it. By everywhere, I mean every museum. That is, wondering if there is a standard of some sort on how to number specimens.

  • $\begingroup$ It is good scientific practice to utilize some sort of consistent structure for sample/specimen identification, but to the best of my knowledge there is no "standard", per se. $\endgroup$
    – Astrolamb
    Sep 20 '18 at 13:17

In this case, your suspicion of year.month.day.sequential number is correct. The NHM specimen page has an image of the collector's notes:

enter image description here

On line 20, that specimen of Circus assimilis is accessioned, with a note on the right that it is the type for that species.

Generally however, there are no standards for specimen numbers in museums. Many museums that I have studied in have several different numbering or ID systems in use at the same time. Importantly, each specimen is accessioned under the system used at the present time. Sometimes these are later renumbered, sometimes not.

Even in the NHM, there are different schemes in use. Megalosaurus bucklandi, the first described species of dinosaur, is specimen PV OR 2482.

The NHM has 80,000,000 specimens. I'm sure that those doing the cataloging at the start couldn't have imagined the collection would grow to that size, so planning ahead for a single numbering scheme wouldn't even have occurred to them.


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