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    • #132086

      I need to know the proper steps that need to be taken in order to sell objects that are no longer pertinent to the museum’s collection. Do I need to contact donor’s, the public? If so, what approach should be taken in order to avoid a negative response.  Also, what kind of sale is recommended for example auctions. Are there restrictions as to who may participate in the sales such as persons affiliated with the museum.



    • #132103
      Elizabeth Jablonski

      Hi Faith,
      Deaccessioning items from a collection (via sale, donation or destruction) can have wide-reaching ramifications, including risking the interests of the donors, their families and other patrons.  Tread carefully.  I hope others can join in on this very important topic of discussion.

    • #132102


      At our museum I created a group called the “Collection Committee”. It is made of two staff members (sometimes 3 if a majority is needed) and two board members. Together as a group we make all the decisions of accessioning objects into the collection, as well as deaccessioning artifacts out of the collection. That being said, I agree with Elizabeth. Deaccessioning can be pretty tricky. If you do decide you want to sell the objects I recommend making up a policy that is available for public viewing. Even the policy can be tricky, though. Here is a short bit of our procedure (hope it helps!):

      Items approved for deaccessioning are to be disposed of by the following principles:
      1)      The manner of disposition shall be in the best interest of the Bowman Museum, the public its erves, the public trust it represents in owning the collections, and the educational or cultural communities it represents.
      2)      Preference shall be given to giving the items to other not-for-profit educational agencies which have a purpose that will be augmented by ownership of the item, and which provide reasonable assurance of providing proper care.
      3)      If objects are to be offered for sale, this must be done through a public auction house of in the public marketplace in a manner which best serves the long-term interest of the Bowman Museum.
      4)       No items may be given or sold privately to Bowman Museum employees, board members, or volunteers involved in the collection management area, or their representatives.
      5)      No item deaccessioned will be returned to the original donor or his/her heirs both because of the uncertainty of which family member would be entitled, and because the United States Internal Revenue Service forbids the return of donated property which may have been claimed as a tax deduction.
      6)      All proceeds from the sale of items must be allocated toward the purchase of additional appropriate items for the collection and/or for the management and preservation of the other items in the permanent collections.

    • #132101

      In a museum I will always let the commercial option as last resource. I will try before the exchange between institutions or even the donations. Well done, can provide new and better benefits that the immediate money income.


    • #132100
      Sharon McCullar

      I concur with my colleagues.  An exchange with or transfer to another institution builds a great deal of good will.  Perhaps leading to collaboration in collections care that can benefit both collections.  We have also transferred a number of duplicate objects and out-of-mission items to the Education collections.  We put a lot of thought into it before it is accomplished but does help to get duplicates out of the artifact collection storage areas and enhance programming.

      Also, remember other non-profit institutions that aren’t museums in your area.  Theater groups, nature centers and other learning institutions might be able to utilize deaccessioned objects in their programs.

      Good luck, deaccessioning time each year makes me sad but is a neccessary part of maintaining a healthy collection.


    • #132099
      Sarah Cantor

      When we did a huge deaccession at a former job, it took several years to ensure that everything would go smoothly. First, our collections policy was extremely clear, both as to mission and to deaccession process; everything was carefully documented as to the why; we had outside professionals examine the objects to verify that the items were good candidates for deaccession; we made good-faith efforts to make trades with other institutions (we did not gift things to others but did inform other institutions of the auction date if we thought there were items of interest to them); we got competing bids for the auction from both Sotheby’s and Christie’s and selected the one most advantageous to us. As to contacting donors, the nature of our collection and the way it had come to us allowed us (mostly through donated funds) to contact donors in an informational way; after the sale, we could then continue to honor those original donors because we knew who had paid for what. The auction prices realized essentially created a bunch of mini-funds that we then used to purchase new items, while indicating that the purchase was possible thanks to Mr. John Doe. We also made a proactive effort to contact the media and explain our position on deaccession, why it was needed and what we stood to gain from it. Our experience was overwhelmingly positive, but it was definitely because the process was so carefully orchestrated.

    • #132098

      Before you think about how to deaccession, I suggest you talk to a lawyer who has experience with the topic.  Selling collection items instead of donating to another museum have very different ramifications.

    • #132097

      The same topic was the subject of a conversation about ethics that is relayed on the Canadian Museum association website here:

      Sergio Munoz Sarmiento has a whole blog dedicated to deaccessioning:

      I would make sure to draft a detailed deaccession policy in accordance with your collection mandate/management policy. I found the chapter on deaccessioning of the “Museum Registration Methods” very helpful to write our deaccession policy. Try to work out every possible scenario and how the deaccession could impact positively and negatively your collection and museum.

    • #132096
      Paul Shea

      Deaccessioning and selling of museum items can have legal ramifications with the donor and the IRS. If you cannot afford a lawyer at least get a copy of ” A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections” Marie C. Malaro and Ildiko Pogany DeAngelis, third edition. This book should be one that all museum directors and collection managers have and read. It is a great resource on managing collections and will give you case law on what the courts are ruling in regards to such matters. They suggest you get a lawyer as well, but it is the best place to start.

    • #132095
      Carrie C

      All of these suggestions are spot on and I hope you find them helpful. I would like to follow up Sarah’s comment about informing the media/public. It is increasingly important that collecting institutions be transparent in their operations. You don’t want to go and deaccession a bunch of objects and not be open about it only to have someone find out about it and try to make your institution look like it is hiding something. Even something as simple as making a spreadsheet of the deaccessioned works and listing them on your website, or in a blog post, will allow the public and/or future donors to see what it no longer pertinent to your collection. This will also show future donors what sort of objects you are no longer interested in and may save you from undesirable offers. The Cleveland Museum of Art currently has a section on their website devoted to deaccessioned art that is viewable to anyone. (

    • #132094

      What does one do for the items they would like to Deaccession that have no paperwork ? Such as items foudn in collection that were not processed properly over the course of 60 years.

    • #132093
      Elle Credlin

      It is also really improtant that any funds raised from the sale of works or objects goes back directly into collection management or to purchase future acquisitions. Our collection has a separate bank account set up for this.

      The link above is to an Australian based law firm but they specialise in museum and gallery law. They have a great resource on deaccessioning. Obviously an Australian perspective but may be worth a read wherever you are in the world.

    • #132092
      Elle Credlin
    • #132091
      Paul Shea

      Karen, you need to check out your states laws regarding abandoned property as it pertains to museums. Most states have rules you have to follow for such items with out proper paperwork or clear deeds of gifts.

    • #132090

      I recommend a book: Collection Conundrums: solving collections management mysteries, Rebecca Buck… AAM sells it.

    • #132089
      Janice Klein

      Deaccessioning can be complicated, but your life will be much less difficult when you obtain two of the main collections care reference books. First, Museum Registration Methods 5th Edition (sometimes called the Registrar’s Bible) has an excellent chapter on Deaccessioning. The other book you need is A Legal Primer on Managing Museum Collections by Marie Malaro and Ildiko DeAngelis. Again, there is a substantial chapter on Deaccessioning.
      Although transferring deaccessioned objects to another institution sounds like the preferable method of disposal, we need to remember that museums in the US are public trusts and like the board of any other trust, the museum board is legally obligated not to reduce the value of the trust (i.e., the collections) for no return. Thus sale, particularly of more valuable materials, is seen by most boards as the preferably action in terms of their fiduciary responsibility.

    • #132088
      Janice Klein

      As far as objects Found In Collections are concerned, you do need to refer to your individual state’s abandoned property and/or Old Loans laws. Visit the AAM Registrars Committee’s website for a complete list of these laws.
      See FAQ: Which states have abandoned property legislation?

    • #132087

      While it often makes sense in many ways to donate deaccessioned objects to another museum or other educational institution, the museum’s governing body should consider the details of the deaccession. It is the governing body’s responsibility to maintain the assets of the museum, and giving away objects may be contrary to that requirement. In most museums where I have worked, any deaccessioned items (and there weren’t many) were really the dregs of the collection, and not of much interest to other museums; funds realized at auction were often less than four figures, total. However, in one instance, the Board approved the deaccessioning an item appraised at nearly seven figures, and the sale amount was even higher. Our board would have been neglecting its fiduciary responsibility if it had resolved to give away an asset like that. Granted, this is an unlikely scenario, but for a small museum, giving away an asset valued at even a few thousand dollars might appear to be irresponsible.

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