Many museums and galleries collect from a specific local area, or a specific type of object or specimen. Every museum and gallery has a collecting policy, and will only accept objects which fall within the policy.
If you have an object or collection you want to deposit go to your local museum or gallery and talk to them about the object or collection. They will be able to give you advice on what to do next. They may even want to take your object into their collection.
How long will it take the museum to decide if they want my object/collection?
The decision making process can vary for each museum and will take different lengths of time.
The transfer of ownership from you to the museum does not take place immediately you hand over the object. The person on the front desk usually does not have the responsibility to commit the museum’s time and money to caring for new objects.
Each potential new object is first considered by experts who consider how it fits with the collecting policy, what the costs of acquiring the object are, and what the objects needs are e.g. How much room will it take in the store? Will security have to be enhanced? They may have to research the object in order to see if it fits the collecting policy.
In some museums, the expert staff have the power to decide whether or not to accept an offer, in other museums, they can only recommend to a board of trustees who will make the decision.
Why has the museum said they do not want my object/collection?
Museums have many good reasons for saying ‘no’. The item may not fit within its collecting policy, the cost of caring for your object may mean that the museum would not be able to care for those already in its collection. The cost of conservation and storage, particularly the storage of large or fragile items, may mean that while your gift is free, it still costs too much.
Other reasons for saying ‘no’ include the law, e.g. the museum may not have a licence for firearms, or logistics. The museum staff may be preparing for a reopening, and have decided not to collect any new items for a while.
Some museums, while not wanting an object for their collections may want your object for its ‘education’ or ‘handling’ collection. These objects may be picked up and felt by children and visitors. Inevitably damage and wear means that the object will eventually be ‘loved to death’, and discarded.
Why does the museum want the best objects out of my collection and reject the rest?
Museums only have limited resources, and much as they might like your collection of 3,000, they only have resources to look after a few. Perhaps the rest are duplicates of items which the museum has already or they have conservation needs which the museum cannot meet.
So now what do I do when the museum says they don’t want it?
The museum may be able to advise you of another museum that might be interested in your object.
Selling your objects through an antiques fair or at auction might seem far from what you want – but it does mean that they will have a new owner, who really wants them!
What is a Registered/Accredited museum?
A museum or gallery that is either Registered or Accredited is one that that maintains professional standards of management and collection care. The scheme was introduced to ensure that all museums maintained the same standards. To become Registered or Accredited museums and galleries have to undergo a rigorous application process.
If you deposit an object with a Registered or Accredited museum or gallery you know that it will recieve a high standard of care.
Un-registered and un-accredited museums may be working towards registration or accreditation. Before agreeing to deposit your object or collection ask the museum if they are Registered or Accredited. You can also ask to see where your object or collection will be stored.
Can I just loan my object/collection to the museum?
Museums and galleries distinguish between short term and long term or 'permanent' loans.
A short term loan will be for a specific purpose such as for an exhibtion. Objects and collections on a short term loan will be lent to the museum or gallery for a specified period of time before it is returned to the owner.
It is less common for museums to accept long term or 'permanent' loans. A Registered or Accredited museum will only take objects on long term loan if there is a good reason why it cannot be a gift. Such reasons include that the owner does not have the right to give the object away. This is not common practice though and museums and galleries are often unwilling to consider long term loans.
Why don’t museums take permanent loans?
Looking after objects in museums takes a lot of time and money. The museum is happy to do this for objects where it knows that people will get a benefit: the object can be seen in an exhibition, the curator can get it out for interested visitors, and so on. Much of the cost is at the beginning of the object’s life in a museum, and the benefit may stretch over many generations. When an object is on loan, however, the owner may take it away before the public has had any benefit.