Accounting for Heritage Assets: Thomas Holloway’s Picture Collection, 1881-2019

Christopher Napier, Elena Giovannoni

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In recent years, there has been a debate about whether the owners of “heritage assets” should include them on their balance sheets. We present a longitudinal study of the collection of 77 pictures donated by Thomas Holloway to Royal Holloway College between 1881 and 1883. We draw on archival material to analyse accounting practices for Holloway’s picture collection, finding that the collection remained effectively invisible as an accounting object until 1999, when accounting requirements for heritage assets were first applied. We use Jean Baudrillard’s “orders of simulacra” to study the relationship between accounting signs and their referents, and we draw on Bruno Latour’s notion of “matters of concern” to investigate how changes in the accounting sign render the referent a complicating, agitating and provoking “matter” in different ways. The Royal Holloway financial statements currently present the picture collection by an accounting sign that we suggest is a “counterfeit” (signifying the money that could, counterfactually, be made from selling the paintings) but not a “simulation” (creating a hyperreality detached from the referent). This relationship between the sign and the referent makes up the ontological status of “assets” in accounting reports, rendering assets capable of triggering actual (rather than hyperreal) material effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100944
Number of pages34
JournalBritish Accounting Review
Early online date1 Sept 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Sept 2020


  • Heritage assets
  • Thomas Holloway
  • Victorian art patronage
  • Royal Holloway College
  • Counterfeits
  • Simulacra
  • Financial reporting
  • University Accounts

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