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Museums policy
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Gail




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PostPosted: Jan 04, 2009 09:43    Post subject: Museums policy  

There are many misconceptions about donating to museums and many of our friends, who have collections of note, are nervous about leaving their pieces to museums.
It is of such concern that it becomes a topic at most get togethers we attend with other collectors, in a private setting.

It would an interesting study to find out each well known institutions policies on minerals donated. What differences there might be in donating to the Carnegie, the Smithsonian, Harvard, etc.
Is there such a database that anone knows of?

And there is also the whole process of appraisal and the costs of having that done as well.
This really would be of interest to me and so many others. Hmmmm. I wonder if I couldn't collaberate with others to do research on Museum policy.

Since it is such a hot topic for many with the economy being so unsettling and the process of donating a somewhat unclear excercise....this might be a good time for me to do some serious research into this grey zone. Or has this been done and I am missing some pamphlet or article somewhere that is up to date?

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PostPosted: Jan 04, 2009 14:13    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Gail:

I think you are on to something and, no, I am not aware of any such a database, so perhaps this Forum is a good place to get something started. If only some of the curators of some of the major museums were regular visitors to this site. I will see if I can get this thread sent to the curators group and disseminated to its members. That will be a good beginning.

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Linda St-Cyr




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PostPosted: Jan 04, 2009 14:28    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

It strikes me that to donate a collection is rather like being an organ donor. A change of mind and heart may be needed, so that people understand that dispersing their collection is not necessarily a bad thing.
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PostPosted: Jan 04, 2009 14:58    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Gail,
Such a study would surely be interesting. If it was to include countries outside the
USA, I think it would also be a good idea to clarify the differences in fiscal
incentives. Not many countries allow tax-writeoffs for donors of collections. It
would be interesting to know what effect such incentives may have on the policy of
museums and priorities of potential donors.
Knut
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Gail




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 08:08    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Knut said : Gail,
Such a study would surely be interesting. If it was to include countries outside the
USA, I think it would also be a good idea to clarify the differences in fiscal
incentives.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gail says : Yes Knut, thus my mentioning collaberation. With so many language barriers it would be nice to have others doing some research on the other side of the pond. I realize I only mentioned some big name American museums, as this is the area I live in but I certainly mean to include all sorts of institutions large, small and foreign....with help I hope?

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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 08:58    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Gail,
Many of the museum curators in this part of the world are personal friends and I could compile some information here. I will be staying at the Westward Look from Febr. 6th and we could discuss that and other issues.
Knut
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Gail




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 09:42    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Well Knut, I had hoped you might take up the "bait" and offer! Well done!
We are also staying at the Westward Look for the duration of our stay. I really look forward to meeting you. I have been impressed with your postings.

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Claus




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 10:27    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

In the next few days, I will write a bunch of non-US curators and ask about their (their museum's) policy and national tax law. I suspect this would be an appropriate topic for the annual curators get-together at Mineralientage München - it may actually have been discussed.

There is more to it than just tax write-off. Cash is important. I know of museums that only accept donations if accompanied by cash to pay for curation and storage. That easily runs to $20 or more for smaller items, far mor for large objects. No, it is not necessarily 'fair' but it is a fact of life.

All the best

Claus

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Alan.Hart




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 11:57    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Dear Gail, good to post this interesting topic and thanks to John for bringing it to the attention to ‘us’ curators through the SMMP.

It’s a very interesting topic which as you point out not only raises concerns for the private collector but I can vouch it does also to the ‘other side’ – the Museum community. I personally have done quite a bit of work in developing our Museum acquisition policy and addressing a whole series of related topics that hadn’t really been set down on paper and hence form part of any infrastructure. Historically, there really hadn’t been any clearly stated and laid-down policy to be followed in the acquisition or attempted acquisitions to mineral collections, and with this not any ‘modern thinking’ about really addressing ‘what ought the mineral collection contain, and for what purpose’? As Max Hey used to point out to me many years ago, one of the curators many varied roles is to ‘get it, keep it!’ - but in this day and age of audit, standards, best practises, mission statements and ‘strategy’ – we are more than ever accountable for the collections, a ‘paper trail’ that shows that we are indeed ensuring they are kept properly in the public domain, have purpose, and that the proper resources and care are in place to ensure they are kept ‘in perpetuity’.

I remember many years ago sitting down with Peter Embrey (I consider myself very lucky in this respect) and discussing many topics including how to develop collections (I now realise this was all part of the training and initiation period!). He wrote this wonderful note about thoughts on mineral collections which I have pasted below – it’s a long but very good read but sets the scene somewhat from a Museum perspective:

START
‘SOME THOUGHTS ON MINERAL COLLECTIONS
There can be very few museums, of any kind, that did not start growing from a nucleus of one or more private collections, and even fewer that have never at any time incorporated private collections. Certainly, I cannot think of a single example. Private collectors, as distinct from museum curators, have no restrictions on their activities other than the obvious ones of storage space and money; they can have narrowly specialised collections, or completely heterogeneous collections as their whims or fancies dictate, and there is nothing to say they shall not wake up one fine morning and dispose of a fine mineral collection to indulge a craving for floral chamber pots or (as in Cold Comfort Farm) unusual brassieres. In years gone by, and particularly in the last century when literary and philosophical societies were flourishing all over the country, small museums were very much in fashion, rents were cheap, and there was plenty of enthusiastic amateur help to keep them alive. Today the picture is very different, the majority of museums are run by hard-pressed and often uninterested local authorities, and even if a good collection is offered as a no-strings gift it may have to be refused for lack of space or curatorial staff. These same reasons and shortages apply equally to collections already in the museum, and in the search for practical answers to the problems we have first to ask what purpose the collections should serve. The private collector's answer, 'Because l like it and want it', is no answer at all in the public sector when committees are asking the question.
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Alan.Hart




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 12:02    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

I like to think I know why a large national collection should be supported out of the public purse, after twenty years of being married to one, and would be quite happy to argue he case indefinitely if called upon to do so. The small collection, by which I mean something less than about two or three thousand specimens, needs to be judged by different criteria: for example, does the curator know anything at all about the subject, or will the display stand up to comparison with the Roman coins and pottery or the mediaeval ploughshares in the next room? The specimens themselves, in a mineral collection, are very different in kind from the specimen material in most other branches of natural history and even of the earth sciences, a subject that I have treated at greater length in the introductory chapter I contributed to Chalmers-Hunt's "Natural History Auctions" (1976).

It is difficult to think of anything more dreary than an extended display of minerals as they commonly occur, with nothing but the naked eye to assess them. Polished slabs may be visually attractive, but a quick walk along the High Street is enough to show that these are not the rocks one usually sees in the countryside; one can learn a little about mica by looking a t a chunk of granite, and a bit more by using a hand lens, but not nearly as much as one can from the large cleavage flake from a foreign pegmatite to be found inside an electric iron, or the front of a stove. Looking at a thin section of the granite through a polarising microscope adds a whole new world of interest and excitement, and the scanning electron microscope reveals shapes and textures in the most ordinary speck of earth. Mineral crystals with faces and edges clearly visible to the naked eye are very much the exception for even the commonest species, as anyone knows who has searched a limestone quarry for good calcite crystals: tons of rock for grams of crystals. In the biological world an individual of a species has to be nearly perfect to survive at all, and so this near-perfection is the norm and is in stark contrast to the [imperfect specimens] that populate the mineral world. No museum would dream of displaying butterflies with both wings missing, but how very many proudly display mineral specimens that are grossly damaged or defective! Of course we need to show minerals as they most commonly occur, if only to drive home the message that the whole of even-thing that we know rests firmly on a mineral foundation, but without fine specimens or pictures or explanatory and educational support the display is an exercise in futility.

Display and reference (or research in its broadest sense) are the two headings under which a museum collection should be assessed, and other considerations such as education, cash value, or historical interest enter the picture under either or both. Pure sentiment - Granny gave it to me on a holiday in Brighton when I was six - has no place that I can see in a curator's thinking, a point that I shall return to later.

Fine mineral specimens are superb works of art in their own right, and I see no reason whatever why such specimens should not be displayed basking in their glory quite unashamedly, quite able to hold their own with any other masterpieces. Such specimens are rare, but a few well-displayed specimens are preferable from this point of view to many cases filled with dusty mediocrity. Even these are not beyond redemption, since cleaning, a little fresh paint or even paper, and new labels need not take too long; Letraset has removed any excuse for scruffy scribbles. Once we get away from the purely artistic, gee-whiz displays, there must be a theme for the exhibit; small collections cannot do justice to a systematic display, and should not try to. It is better by far to have a small exhibit of, say, local or regional minerals, economic minerals, rock-forming minerals, colour in minerals, or whatever, and do it well than to have a random ill-assorted jumble. If the physical properties of minerals are being shown, be selective; bad or ill chosen examples are worse than none, and a photograph or diagram is worth pages of print that no-one will read. Fine specimens are expensive, but illustrative specimens are still relatively cheap if one or two gaps in a theme need to be filled (except for specific locality material).

On the reference side, a catalogue and finding index are essential. The arrangement doesn't matter too much - systematic, topographical, alphabetical ,what you will - as long as it is convenient. If you don't know what you've got, or can't find it, it might just as well not be there at all. Type or described fossils are quite common in smaller museums, minerals very much less so, and should be kept separately. A list of type specimens of mineral species is being prepared by the Museums Commission of the International
Mineralogical Association, and I shall be very glad to hear of any so that a record can be kept. Accurate identifications can be time consuming and require facilities and expertise that are not generally available, and from the present point of view are not all that important since they can be made when the occasion demands. The vital information that must be kept with the specimens, with another copy on file, includes the locality, date, and source of acquisition: the essentials, in short, that cannot be determined scientifically. If specimens have to be kept crated, make sure that they are carefully packed with labels and that a list of contents is in the box, which should itself be clearly marked, on a visible surface.

Very careful thought should be given to the question of whether a particular museum should have a mineral collection at all. If it is a recognised feature of the museum, and can be properly cared for, well and good. If only part of the collection is appropriate - for example, there may be an excellent local suite of specimens - that part should be retained and thought given to arranging a transfer of the remainder to another museum
that could better use or look after it. Even in the case of the locality material it might well be better to arrange to pool specimens from a number of small museums in order to build a really worthwhile area or regional collection and display. There will be difficulties of course, but imagination and cooperative goodwill could overcome most of these. A
measure of rationalisation and specialisation, backed by the local authority, could work wonders in staffing, curatorial morale, and drawing the attentionof both specialists and the general public. The best deployment of increasingly scarce resources should demand the attention of us all.

I return to the question of whether a collection should be split, provided of course that there are no covenants or other legal restrictions on doing so, and this touches on sentiment. I think that the sole criterion is coherence, which may be of different kinds. Most mineral collections are pretty haphazard assemblages of specimens, acquired in a variety of ways from a larger variety of sources and localities, and the collection that consists solely of specimens from a particular mine or area, or of specimens collected
entirely in the field by a single individual, or of different forms or localities of a restricted number of species, is rare indeed. A collection of uniformly high quality, or of carefully selected micromounts, or of single examples of as many different species and varieties as the owner could obtain,each has its own measure of coherence but few collections are like that in practice. Even a thoroughly heterogenous collection has its individuality
as long as it remains in its original owner's hands, but when it joins other collections it loses this and I feel I can instance no better authority than the late Sir Arthur Russell. In addition to the very many specimens that he collected himself during more than seventy years in the field, he tirelessly hunted down and acquired other private collections. He selected the specimens that he thought would improve his British collection, and the
remainder he used for exchange or sale to continue the process. He helped Ruskin's heiress to dispose to best advantage of the specimens that she had inherited, and did not feel himself bound by sentiment to keep them together for no better reason than that they had belonged to the great Ruskin.

A more difficult problem arises when we try to decide what a duplicate specimen is and whether it can safely be exchanged or otherwise disposed of. I freely confess that I cannot define it, since everything depends on what one considers to be one's ultimate aims and therefore becomes a matter of judgement. Even at the most fundamental level, electrons are interchangeable but not identical. Philosophical quibbles aside, no two mineral specimens are the same even to the eye: there is no such thing as a 'standard' size ofcrystal, which may range from a few tens of angstroms to tens of metres in
exceptional cases, and variations of composition and freedom from inclusions, shape and perfection, number and association, all these contribute differences. Differences may be easy to spot, but relative quality can be much more difficult and I shall not try to lay down any rules for its assessment.
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Alan.Hart




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 12:20    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

I shall conclude by considering a question that is often asked: 'What should I say in my will about my collection, and where should I leave it?' The where or to whom is quite easy, if you are not greatly worried about the money it might fetch (if you are, that is yet another question): 'Wherever or to whomsoever will look after it and make the best use of it' . If it is a large collection, there is no point in leaving it where there are neither
facilities for curation nor reasonable assurances of continuity. As for conditions, I can suggest none better than those stipulated by A. F. Holden in his bequest to Harvard University: "In regard to the mineralogical collection. There shall be no obligation on the Museum authorities to keep any of the specimens when they have lost their
scientific interest. There will be many duplications as the result of taking over my collection. All duplicates, if from my collection, may be sold, exchanged, used for scientific purposes, or given away. I only ask that specimens shall not be removed from the collection until others as good or better have been provided. It is my desire not to handicap the development of the Mineralogical Department. I wish to aid in bringing
the Harvard Mineralogical collection to the highest possible standard." [Mineral. Mag. 1914, -17, 119]. To which I can only add, if you don't trust the judgment of the person or institution you shouldn't be thinking of leaving your collection there anyway!’
END
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Alan.Hart




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PostPosted: Jan 05, 2009 12:21    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Embrey’s writings still hold true today; major mineral collections representation is usually excellent, and in general the acquisition of specimens have been made with a view to improve the collection on one or more of the following respects: scientific, including the representation of as many species, varieties, localities, modes of occurrence and association as opportunity and resources permit; and display, covering the visually aesthetic in addition to the preceding considerations. Along with this, these broad categories include both the educational and historical aspects of mineralogy. It used to be the case (and is still popularly supposed) that gifts and donations constituted a major part of our acquisitions. Peter always told me that good relations apart, there is little that we can do to encourage gifts and bequests which are beyond our everyday control – but by personal contacts we can help to ensure that we are ‘not forgotten’ when the occasion arises.

In terms of Museum we are certainly at a cross-roads in collections development. As I used to discuss with Peter 25 years ago (!), Museums (or as he would always like to say ‘institutional collectors’) were the principal customers for fine specimens, which then was no longer the case. Dealers didn’t really need any Museum patronage which, although they sometimes liked to point out fine specimens that they had supplied in the past to major public collections, were increasingly irked by the long time for decisions to be made and even longer time to sometimes get ‘paid’. Today museums can no longer rest on their laurels and expect fine specimens to come their way of right, and with the lack of purchasing power (and increased number of good private collectors), the flow of good specimens has diminished markedly. But of course we have to be able to deal with this and find ways of continuing to develop our collections as best we can.

If we look at most Museum collections today, they have been built into what they are by the addition of many whole private collections, where much time and effort has been made by the private collector (often encompassing a lifetimes passion). One of the best ways to ‘fill gaps’ (again another topic in itself!), is to add whole collections, which usually then entailed the process (after donation) of selecting or ‘cherry-picking’ the best for the main collection and adding the lesser specimens to the dungeon of duplicates where they could be utilised to further enhance the collection through exchange. As you can imagine, this would certainly raise the concern of the original collector, possibly seeing what they consider good specimens being used in this fashion rather than their own consideration that the specimens deserve to take pride of place in the ‘Main’ collection. With this in mind, initial policies were developed whereby the collector would sign a ‘transfer of title’, which although acts as official documentation to sign over ownership of the specimens, also specifically states that the Museum has the right to ‘do as it wishes’ to them once in the Museum. I’m sure the wording on these initial documents alone would have come across as somewhat aloof and as what may be a first ‘official’ contact with the Museum, what better way of putting a potential donor off(!).

Sorry, I seemed to have digressed a little but it’s a very interesting topic that has resurfaced over the years. I can comment on what we have done here at the NHM and the process which in all likelihood should be very similar to what is done elsewhere, although I think its relevant to note that the fiscal structure of the UK, unlike the USA, does nothing to encourage benefactors by way of offering tax deductions in the lifetime of the donor; this means that national collections in the UK have to rely on government funding to a much greater extent than do collections in the USA.

Here at the NHM, we have written a new strategy for the collections in terms of development. This encompasses not only what we want the collections to be, but how we shall develop them to meet the Museums needs, and the resources needed to fulfil this. Of course part of the strategy relies on having a good acquisition and disposal policy that also adheres to good codes of ethics which in turn is underpinned by the fact that Museums hold collections in trust on behalf of society - which are used to enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. These are all really ground rules to ensure that we look after the collections and that they will not be compromised – very important to any potential donors. Also, the Museum has to take into account any legal assessments of potential acquisitions, including such things as export licences, etc to ensure there has not been any illicit trading, contravention of country laws (collecting, thefts etc) etc.

Apart from the paperwork, it is very important for the donor to be able to sit down with the curator and discuss the processes and ultimately what exactly what will happen to the collection. Here we point out that specimens may possibly be used for exchange, and although we have in our ‘Acts’ the power to sell specimens ‘for the direct benefit of enhancing the collection’ we have not put this in practise. However, it is policy that once a specimen(s) has undergone the registration process and received a catalogue number, it is deemed to be not exchangeable unless under exceptional circumstances. We would normally initially look at a collection on its merit (and importantly its level of documentation). As you can imagine, although still applying and following the general principles of our policy, there will be a wide range of initial work say from processing a ‘considered collection of 5,000 excellent specimens’ versus ‘pebbles from my beach holidays over the years’ even though both will possibly have been built with the same passion and have the same importance to the donor(s). I should also point out that although specimens going to duplicates may seem rather they have been consigned to the lower ranks, many fantastic specimens have come to the collection by exchanging such specimens so they are a good resource for development (as long as it is managed properly which again is another topic altogether).
After initial discussions and general agreements to proceed, we would need to appraise the collection, which often means bringing in an appropriate external ‘other’ Museum representative and perhaps a ‘reliable’ dealer known to the Museum to comment on importance and valuation. We would undertake this with no charge. Here we also evaluate the impact to the existing collection. We usually assess both selected individual items and also the collection as a whole before acquisition to ensure adequate standards of care and documentation can be applied and that the item(s) are fit for the purpose for which we want to acquire them.

Importantly we would also try to take into account any requirements from the donor, and this can be a sticking point, e.g. we cannot guarantee that an item will be put on permanent display (which is often requested), but we can discuss arrangements such as requests to be able to have private visitors view the collection in storage. It is often thought that once specimens come into a museum they are processed and then locked away in dusty drawers forever (the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark springs to mind), but we do have a surprising number of visitors viewing, and specimens are used for a huge variety of uses from scientific research to public outreach. We view our collections as a great reference library, available to all with the addition of also conserving our mineralogical heritage. As a working research collection, we also state that in some cases we may use fragments of specimens for mineralogical research (especially those specimens with excellent documentation). All of these have to be weighed up and considered.

If reading this it all seems like an immense amount of work – it is one of the most satisfying parts of what we do as in principle, we ‘institutional collectors’ consider building the Museum collections and care for them ‘as our own’ much like the private collectors build their own.

This has been rather a longer post than anticipated (!), but I hope it either answers some of the questions or generates some lively discussions.

Best,

Alan (Hart)
NHM, London.
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Gail




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PostPosted: Jan 09, 2009 13:13    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Alan, I was pleased when you gave Jim, our daughter and I a back room tour a couple of years ago and we were very honoured that you did so. This is a great way to let a collector see how minerals are revered and appreciated. I became "comfortable" with your museum.

Jim and I have made great efforts to travel and go to museums over the last three years in particular. We have seen displays that really excite us, and others that are tedious and unimaginative. Inevitably we get into a discussion of "would be leave our minerals to THAT museum?"

One of the things collectors do like is to get to know an institution and those that are employed there. We know that curators might come and go, but when comfortable with someone that you know CARES about minerals it does help to think well of the institution they work for.

We have also, sadly but honestly, heard some worries about collections and policies of museums/institutions from curators or assistants that are most likely factual. I say this because it isn't basic griping but genuine concern.

I talk to collectors who make constant donations to museums and are very satisfied with the policy set forth. They also enjoy some tax breaks, which is something we know very little about, as do most others we talk to.

I see nothing wrong with giving minerals to museums for scientific, historic or tax saving reasons...as long as the mineral is given in good faith.

Does the general public really appreciate mineral displays? I am going to say yes. I am never alone when viewing, and often I have to wipe the nose and fingerprints off of display cases...a sure sign that others have been there before me !
I also stand back and watch others, listen to comments and make note of what is popular and what gets overlooked. When I leave it is seldom without the thought that I would be happy to have a Spann mineral for public viewing in there one day.

It is simply the lack of knowledge on donating that has made people unsure, the pieces that end up missing from one year to the next in displays, the deaquisition of collections that have been donated and the fear of being "forgotten" over time. Even the poor labeling leaves a bad taste in some mouths.
Most collectors like to have a little legacy to go along with their gifting.

It is really nice to hear your theories and thoughts Alan, your responses are most welcome and I am grateful to know you.
I have been researching and enjoying chatting with others who work in similar employment and am learning that no institution is exactly like another.

I am serious about doing more research and getting others to offer their thoughts and concepts on this forum. At least it will be archived and available for others to view.
My sincerest regards.

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PostPosted: Jan 09, 2009 13:41    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

>I am serious about doing more research and getting others to offer their thoughts and concepts on this forum. At least it will be archived and available for others to view.

For sure Gail, we are serious to work hard to save safe for the future all topics discussed in this forum.

Jordi
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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2009 16:20    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Gail, As with most institutional mineral collections, donations from individual collectors have been critical to building the Smithsonian Gem and Mineral Collection. It is sobering to imagine what our collection might be today without, for example, the Roebling and Canfield collections, and their accompanying endowments, or many other important gifted collections. Still today the collection grows through gifts of specimens or by purchases using our endowment income. Despite being a trust instrumentality of the Federal Government, the Smithsonian does not receive Federal funds for collection acquisitons.

Our collection activities are guided by an institution-wide collection management policy, which outlines the overall goals and missions of the collections and provides guidelines for accessioning, deaccessioning, loans, etc. The policy serves to protect our National collections and insure appropriate growth and use. For example it prevents a collection from being sold or otherwise disposed of at the whim of a curator or Director, or used by an outside entity for commercial purposes. Also. according to our policy, purchases or gifts must be approved by an acquisition committee (e.g. myself, collection manager, and another mineralogist for mineral acquisiitons), and if over a certain value by our Director. The committee helps to insure that a single vision (or passion) is not unduly influencing collection growth or deaccessioning.

Under our policy, it is quite straightforward to make gifts to the collection. The first step is discussion between Curator and donor to determine if the specimens fit a need in the collection, or are otherwise appropriate, e.g. do they fill holes or are upgrades to existing specimens, are they important reference specimens, or useful for educational programs or temporary exhibitions at other museums. I believe it is important from the beginning to be sure that the donor's expectations are consistent with those of the museum. The next step is for the donor to obtain an appraisal for the specimens, if the donor plans to make a tax deductible gift. We are not permitted to be involved in the appraisal process; we are not considered to be a disinterested party by our friends at the IRS. I am required, however, by our Collection Management Policy to judge if the appraisal is reasonable, and therefore, acceptable. Following the appraisal process, we send a "deed of gift" form to the donor, and they list the specimens to be given and sign the form. The donor might also attache a letter to the deed of gift that provides background information relevant to the gift, information on how the specimens should be attributed if exhibited, etc. The letter and deed become part of the permanent accession record. The Smithsonian, and most other museums, cannot accept gifts with conditions that the specimens be kept permanently or that they be put on permanent exhibition. That said, however, it is our intention to only accept specimens that we plan to keep in the collection; we cannot accession specimens for the sole purpose of selling or exchanging. We are always pleased to consider conditions and uses of specimens suggested by donors. Once the deed of gift is completed, an acquisition memo is written by the collection manager or Curator and final approval is gven by the acquisition committee and department chair or Director. Typically this process is completed quickly and simply, assuming the Curator has had the appropriate discussions at the front end of the processwith the donors and his collegues. We are strongly motivated to want all parties to be satisfied for each donation, partially of course, because future gifts depend on happy previous donors.

I apologize for this long reply that I am sure still did not answer all questions. I am gratified that there is in interest and discussion on this topic. I will be pleased to talk or meet with any interested person or group about our proedures and collection philosophy. We are grateful for the tangible and moral support provided by so many. I look forward to seeing you in Tucson.

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National Gem and Mineral Collection
Smithsonian Institution
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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2009 17:12    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

This topic is great, you can't imagine how grateful I am to everybody writing their thoughts here.
Gail, John, Linda, Knut, Claus, Alan, Jeff....thanks to you all on behalf of the number of people reading your accurate posts.

Jordi
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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2009 17:31    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

I also have had wonderful responses from other museums and everyone is anxious that the facts and truths,restrictions and concerns as well as joy of giving to museums is known. There are very stringent terms in many institutions and that is what we need to make clear to anyone interested in donating.
Alan Hart and I have agreed to help with a discussion while in Tucson. Alan will present a program and I will be moderating a question and answer period after, more details to follow as soon as they are made known to us.
I have learned a tremendous amount in a short couple of weeks and feel as though compiling this information might, indeed, be a good thing!
Thanks to all for offering information and guidance so far! Jeff, you are a gentleman and I appreciate your response. And no..that is far from long winded and we would love to hear even more!
Best regards,

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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2009 19:34    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Since the norm here...and in the several related recent threads, is to wax extensively on the subject, here goes. (I just hope I am as eloquent as some of the others!). I am going to take a more collector-centric approach, while reserving the right to consider myself a curator until I choose to dispose of my things. My contributions here are hardly novel, but I am struck by how strong and polarized many of the non-curator participants’ opinions are...museums are either anathema or the preferred potential repository of any and all collections. Much of the polemic seems to me to be very personal, perhaps stemming from direct (mostly bad?) donation experiences, but a lot seems anecdotal…fed by the likes of the furor on the disbursement of the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences Collection (PAS) or the Romero Collection… stories that are much more complicated than many folks realize. I think that perhaps museums would serve themselves well to heed the subtexts and work to improve their communication with their potential donor-pool, especially given that current budgetary realities leave them little leverage to compete for purchases with private collectors during the collector's life time. Fortunately, that seems to be exactly what folks are proposing!

I ponder how these perspectives may fundamentally reflect the individual’s approach to collecting. Not all collections are created equal…they are assembled for different reasons (with different resources)….and some reasons have more staying power than others, in the sense of having some inherent reason why they should be kept together. This means some collections have more curatorial/museum interest/value than others…and other’s value/interest is more dominantly commercial. A truly great collection will cover both bases, making its preservation more difficult, more expensive and more important.

The two sides of the museum donation versus commercial sale coin feed-back on each other through the individual's underlying purpose behind building/maintaining a collection, and I think collectors are well (self) served to examine their own approach to collecting in the broader perspective of what they would like the ultimate fate of their collection to be. Collectors should examine why they build collections in the first place…not suggesting that any reason is better than another…but to focus self-recognition of who else might be interested in what their collection embodies. (My personal bias as a geologically-oriented collector is obvious, but I would argue that a comprehensive collection of specimens from Southern California pegmatites should be preserved in a museum collection over a collection of aesthetic worldwide specimens. In my estimation the sum of the former is greater than its parts because it has an underlying context which is lacking if size is the dominant collecting criterion). Alan or Jeff might disagree since they can probably plug the aesthetic specimens into gaps in their existing suites and thereby improve their coverage...but they just add the rocks, not the systematic attention to detail that comes from the more purpose-driven collection.

1. If a collection is assembled primarily as an investment, clearly for most of the world selling it back into the market will bring the greatest reward...and perhaps widest recognition with the current emphasis on tracking every hand a specimen travels through (this will eventually become hopelessly dilutive). However, if your goal was to bring pleasure/knowledge, then the question of focus comes back into play...does your focus play to any specific institution(s) and are they interested in taking it on?

2. Museum personnel (depending on the institution of course) must consider what, to them, makes a collection important and WORTH preserving, more or less intact. Curators must consider the REAL costs in terms of time, space and effort behind accepting any donation, and they must focus their resources on what best fits their mission. A lot depends on the curators in charge…each leaves a legacy of their personal interests and the interests of their institution at a given time…as well as what was available for acquisition. Even the greatest museums show periods of mediocrity when uninspired curators ruled (or funding sucked) interspersed with periods of significant growth reflecting more aggressive acquisition philosophies. For a young, growing museum a collection of assorted high-end exhibit pieces may be a huge boost and worth keeping whole. Whereas for a more established institution there may be major redundancies and although these may seem to create major trade potential, current realities make it VERY difficult for most museums to exchange or otherwise dispose of specimens except to other institutions, who may also have redundancies…an inwardly collapsing spiral. In contrast, a focused collection with a consistent underlying mineralogical, geographic or geologic context might be of major interest to an established institution and much less to a new one, unless it is a regional museum and the collecting focus happens to overlap with that region.

As many previous contributors to this thread have noted, people, markets and institutions change…not to mention collecting fashions…and you ultimately have to decide how much energy you want to put into attempting to manage the future. At a certain point you have to trust the fates and that others will genuinely recognize the value of your efforts. If you want guarantees…sell out and don’t look back. If you can afford (financially or philosophically) to trust the future to be at least semi-rational, then giving your baby to future generations is commendable. Fortunately for us all, some of our predecessors chose to entrust their collections to institutions that have stood the test of time (so far) and despite financial and fashion pressures, these collections remain substantially intact and we can see and learn from them…both in their museum homes and at major shows like Tucson (gratuitous plug!) alongside selections from collections entrusted to other trustworthy institutions. Some of our forebears were not so foreseeing (or lucky) and their good pieces have been dispersed to private collections where at least the rock survives if not the efforts of its original acquirer. (The realities of the market dictate that few good specimens disappear completely forever, they ultimately find their way out of storage openly…or by cover of darkness.).

However you feel about the ultimate disposition of your collection, the take-home message from all contributors here, is that if you care about your collection (and your heirs) you NEED to put significant effort into its final disposition while you’re still alive. YOU have a better idea of the value of your specimens than anyone else in your family, so if you’re going to sell…do it yourself (directly or with a trusted dealer) to get maximum value. Don’t leave your heirs to the mercies of the market...the mineral business is replete with stories of heirs getting hosed by opportunistic dealers! There are no guarantees if you choose the donation route, but you can mitigate risk significantly by choosing an institution with a good track record and establishing a long-term relationship with their curatorial staff at all levels (people tend to move up as folks retire). This will give you a solid feel for whether the museum will be a secure long-term home for your baby…not to mention knowledgeable folks with whom to share your enthusiasms. (In some cases you get real lucky and develop lasting friendships) If you don’t feel welcome or appreciated move on to where you are. You may also find that there are tax benefits to donating over time or building added-value through study and research on your materials.

This may also open the possibility of the middle road that works well for many...donating the heart of a focused collection and selling the high dollar adjuncts to recover some/all of the funds you put out over the years.

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PostPosted: Jan 12, 2009 20:42    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

Another great perspective. Thanks Peter.
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PostPosted: Jan 13, 2009 09:41    Post subject: Re: Museums policy  

I wanted Tony Kampf (curator of the mineral collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History) to do something because his museum is a little different from most large museums in this country, it has a regional focus, California minerals.

Here is the reply of Tony:
I am much too busy to contribute personally right now, but feel free to pass along this story that will appear in our March Museum Members newsletter. It is distributed as an insert in Natural History magazine.

Tony



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