Museum Collections

Shetland Museum collections relate to all aspects of the islands’ history. We collect objects relevant to the islands only. These are usually things used here, often made here too. Other things belonged to Shetlanders, or to emigrants from the islands who lived elsewhere.

Some objects are unique to Shetland. Other things are mass-produced that could be found anywhere else, but are important to the islands because of the specifically Shetland tale they have to tell.

Like most museums, only a small proportion of the Shetland Museum collections are on display. Researchers wishing to access the collections for study should contact the Curator of Collections using our Contact Us form.

If you have an item you would like to donate to the collection, please read our Donation Guidance Page for more information.

Inside Museum Collections

Photo Archive

The Shetland Museum Photo Archive is a unique online archive, containing over 60,000 images depicting Shetland life, heritage and culture dating back to the 1800s

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Natural History

Shetland Museum has a small natural sciences collection, strong in the areas of geology and botany. There are type collections of minerals, plants and lichens. All these are comprehensive, and have been assembled by individual specialists.

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Shetland’s archaeology is relatively recent – discoveries span from Neolithic (4000 B.C.) through Iron Age and Viking into Medieval. (A.D. 1500) The collection consists of site excavations and stray finds. It takes in all elements, from domestic, farming, fishing and religion. Most are routine everyday objects, showing that Shetland was never a centre of power and wealth.

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The Folklife collection spans the period between Medieval and modern times (broadly 1500 to 1800) and encompasses all aspects of subsistence living including fishing, farming and domestic. Artefacts in this collection exemplify the era when Shetland was a place distinct from anywhere else and include ‘classic’ Shetland items such as the kishie (basket), tushkar (peat spade), fourareen (four-oared boat) and hap (shawl).

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Social History

The Social History collection includes artefacts from the post-traditional era, in which Shetland society became similar to lifestyles elsewhere in Britain. In this period, islanders abandoned locally-made tools, furnishings and clothing, and relied on imports. This happened roughly from 1800 onwards, getting more marked as time went on. Artefacts in this collection include cultural, religious, governmental, warfare and communications objects.

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This part of the collection demonstrates the change to Shetland society as islanders moved to commercial farming, and people started buying services and goods from professional trades rather than making things themselves.

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In the 19th century textiles became a commercial force in Shetland, enabling women to support family incomes. Islanders developed new products and adopted imported tools, while maintaining a focus on traditional hand production and finishing.

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Our fisheries collection tracks the ever-changing industry, from sail to motor, from lines to nets, and from quadrant to radar. Shetlanders abandoned indigenous technologies in the 19th century and adopted new fishing and navigation methods, and new types of boats.

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Britain’s merchant fleet was once the world’s largest, and for 150 years it was vital to Shetland’s economy because seamen supported their families with wages from the sea. The Museum collection encompasses islanders’ worldwide voyaging, with tools of their trade and souvenirs taken home.

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Floating Collection

Our boating tradition is more than a museum piece, and besides artefacts, we have a selection of classic Shetland craft in working order which you can often see in use during the summer months. These are kept at Hay’s Dock, outside the Museum and Archives.

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Donate an Artefact

The majority of new acquisitions to Shetland Museum and Archives collections are from donations made by the public. These are always gratefully received as it ensures a full and comprehensive record of Shetland’s past is kept.

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