111 W. Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
To Our Members: Deaccession Initiative
[adapted from the Spring 2011 MCHS Newsletter]
Montgomery History has been collecting historic artifacts since its first meeting in 1944. Although our basic mission has never wavered, our collecting focus has changed several times over the decades, along with our facilities, our staff and our audience. In recent years, we have honed our focus to artifacts directly related to Montgomery County life and people. We believe that our collections in this area are strong.
However, our 60+ years of collecting means that some of the artifacts accepted and accessioned over the years are not relevant to our current focus. (“Accession” refers to the process of adding an artifact to the museum’s permanent collections.) Although they are of historical value and interest, these pieces – items not used in Montgomery County – would be of more value to other museums and organizations. Accordingly, Montgomery History is beginning a major deaccessioning project, to balance our existing collections with our written policies and goals.
What does this mean in practical terms? It means that we will slowly, judiciously and transparently remove artifacts from our permanent collections, following both accepted museum ethical standards and our own written, Board-approved Collections Policy. Our first priority is always to keep these items in the public trust by offering them to other, more appropriate homes. (For example, an artifact used in Pennsylvania would be offered to a city, county or state museum in Pennsylvania.) In some cases, an artifact’s history is completely unknown; if an appropriate museum cannot be identified, such an item will be offered for sale at public auction, with any and all proceeds being placed in the dedicated – and already established – MCHS Collections Endowment.
All proposed deaccessions go through several levels of approval, beginning with the Director of Collections and ending with the full Board of Directors. In many cases we will, as a courtesy, do our best to notify original donors or their heirs of our decision.
If you are concerned about an artifact or collection donated by your family, please contact us at 301-340-2825 or ELay@MontgomeryHistory.org. Our Deaccession Policy, Scope of Collections, Ethics Statement, and the American Association of Museums Code of Ethics may be found through the links given here.
No museum enjoys deaccessioning, and we never accept a donation that we do not, at the time, believe will be important to our permanent, accessioned collections. However, every museum needs to review and refine its collections as audiences change and as professional standards improve. This deaccession project will benefit the recipient museums, and will allow us to use our assets to care for, house and interpret artifacts from Montgomery County. We strongly believe that by finding more appropriate homes for our non-Montgomery County artifacts, both the deaccessioned items and our accessioned collections will be better served.