Collection Management Policies - Policy on the Acquisition and Disposal of the Collections
Reviewed October 2005
Next Review October 2010
With the limited resources available to museums today, and with an eye to the obligations today’s decisions will place on the future, museums have a duty to regulate the process by which they acquire objects and, in rarer cases, dispose of them.
2. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES
2.1 This policy aims to establish policies and guidelines for the acquisition and disposal of items within our collections. It outlines the circumstances in which we will acquire and dispose of objects and specimens, as well as the methods we will use to do this.
The Museum's Charter (revised 2005) states that its objective is 'the advancement of the education of the public’. We are instructed to achieve this 'primarily by the comprehensive representation of science, art, industry and culture of, or relevant to Wales, and, generally, by the collection, recording, preservation, elucidation, and presentation of objects and things and associated knowledge, whether connected or not with Wales, which are calculated to further enhancement of understanding and the promotion of research’. Accordingly, we have powers ‘to have custody of, retain, collect, preserve, maintain, record and lend or provide access to any objects, things or information.’
2.2 All acquisitions and disposals must relate to our core purpose, namely inspiring people to make sense of the world, through memory, reason and imagination.
Our core objectives are to:
- enable the public to reaffirm their ownership of the collections held on their behalf by ourselves
- be sustainable and promote sustainable practices
- address contemporary relevance
- engage with both existing and new audiences
- deliver enjoyable experiences that will linger in the memory.
2.3 Authority for the acquisition of objects or specimens rests with the Director General of Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (in certain circumstances, subject to the approval of the Museum's Trustees). This authority is delegated, within certain parameters, to the Director of Collections &and Research.
The terms relating to acquisition and disposal of collections are defined below as:
The acquisition of all objects, specimens, books, serials, archives or data will be in accordance with our objectives, national and international law, and recognised codes of conduct and guidelines.
We acquire material by gift, purchase or bequest and by official collection and exchange processes. Occasionally, we may also acquire important objects under the UK’s ‘acceptance in lieu’ (AIL) scheme, whereby objects in private ownership may pass to public guardianship in appropriate museums, galleries or libraries. On acquisition, all material will be accessioned by the relevant department. We will keep full records of transactions and a transfer of ownership form signed by the donor or vendor will formally establish legal title to objects and specimens acquired by donation or purchase. Where appropriate, we will seek transfer of copyright as part of the acquisition process.
The process of acquisition may in some cases (such as historic buildings) include analysis, recreation, conservation or reassembly in readiness for display and access. These processes will all be fully documented.
We will only dispose of objects or specimens in accordance with our objectives, national and international law and recognised professional codes of conduct and guidelines. Where approved, disposal will be undertaken by exchange, gift, sale or destruction. We will keep full records appropriate to the method of disposal, including the de-accessioning process. All recommendations for permanent transfer or disposal of objects must be made by the relevant Keeper to the Director of Collections and Research following appropriate consultation with external experts, and authorised by the Trustees, with information passed to the National Assembly for Wales in writing. Full records of all decisions will be kept.
4. SCOPE OF COLLECTIONS
The multi-disciplinary nature of our institution militates against establishing a single set of criteria applicable to all departments. We possess varied and wide-ranging collections, both in form and in geographical origin, and covering all periods. Objects and specimens are currently held at all of our sites. Further information about our collections are available on our website (www.museumwales.ac.uk).
5.1 Our policy
This policy document determines the scale, scope and range of new acquisitions by the Museum. With the limited resources available to museums today, selectivity is essential in considering further acquisitions.
5.1.1 Our relevance as a Welsh institution is paramount. Enhancing our image as a lively and relevant element in the life of the people and the broadening of their knowledge is a primary consideration of our Trustees and staff. In addition, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales is one of the principal centres of excellence for scholarship and research in Wales.
Our collections predominantly have a territorial basis similar to those of the National Museums of Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museums & Galleries of Northern Ireland. Our reputation and liaison with other institutions is based on the importance of our Welsh and associated collections; consequently we differ from most other national museums funded by government in the United Kingdom, which are centred mainly on London.
5.1.2 But we also hold major collections from across the world which are not only important in their own right, but also serve as an essential comparative base for our established collection areas. Accordingly, we will continue to acquire relevant objects and specimens from other parts of the world in order that the natural, material and cultural environment of Wales may be better understood and interpreted, and that the people of Wales are given an opportunity to learn about other lands and cultures, particularly as they impact upon our Vision themes.
5.1.3 We aim to be an institution generating research, publications (including the use of electronic media), exhibitions and displays of the highest quality. The collections form the critical base for the advancement of the education of the public, acting not only as a resource for primary and secondary schools and for further and higher education and study, but also to foster a culture of life-long learning among the public in general.
Our Vision, Creating the Future Together, has set strategic directions for the next decade in 2005. This Policy therefore works within the parameters established by the Vision. The Vision has identified the themes of Life, Origins, Belonging, the Future and Creativity as those we shall aim to elucidate over the lifetime of this Policy, and collecting will accordingly concentrate on enhancing our ability to inform these themes.
5.1.4 More detailed acquisition guidelines are contained in specific collections strategies and procedures reflecting varying abilities to progress the Vision themes. In collecting actively we will give priority to acquisitions which strengthen our ability to inform Wales and the world about our chosen themes. We will collect, conserve, document, research and interpret objects and specimens relating to the natural, cultural, linguistic, artistic, social and economic heritage of Wales and its people.
5.1.5 To this end we will strengthen relevant collection areas, especially when objects or specimens or collection areas are threatened irreversibly by humans, by neglect, by destruction or by export. We also aim to expand our collections to include material from areas, disciplines and cultural traditions within Wales which are currently under-represented, in order to fulfil the obligations placed upon us by our Charter and the desires expressed in our Vision.
5.1.6 We will also continue to acquire objects or specimens specifically for educational and outreach purposes, for example by developing loan and handling collections. Because the objects and specimens in such collections may not have the same scientific, historic or artistic value as items in the recognised curatorial collections, access to and use of them will be subject to different rules (see also our Policy on Access to and Use of the Collections).
5.2 Constraints on acquisition
Acquisition of objects and specimens is always constrained by the availability of resources. Acceptance of material will accordingly depend on our ability to ensure adequate control of storage, curation, conservation, finance, professional expertise and other factors essential to good collections management, as well as our desires and our ability to create definitive collections and our ability to display and make available the information we hold on these collections.
In any purchase, we will seek to strike an appropriate balance between the need to get good value for public money and the right of the vendor to obtain a fair price. This will be established either on the open market or by valuations from independent experts. We will maintain a clear audit trail.
5.2.2 Co-operation with Other Institutions
We will give consideration to the collecting policies and interests of other museums and cognate institutions. Close liaison with such institutions should ensure that unnecessary duplication is avoided and that where there is overlap only those items or collections deemed of national significance enter our collections. Areas of potential overlap are detailed in departmental collecting policy documents. Where appropriate, we will consider joint acquisitions with other institutions.
We will encourage owners of objects or specimens declined by us to offer these to other museums, the Museum being available to assist in recommendations. In line with our pastoral role, we emphasise co-operation with other institutions, particularly those in Wales, and will not act in competition in the acquisition of objects or specimens.
5.2.3 Conditional Acquisitions
We will not normally acquire objects or specimens where restrictions by the depositor or legal owner would prevent effective curation, documentation, research, normal exhibition use, loan or disposal in accordance with the policies outlined in this document. We will not normally accept specimens on condition that they be placed on permanent or long-term exhibition, or that they form a discrete collection. In these cases a full cost analysis of such conditions will be carried out, including a consideration of the long-term policy implications for staff and storage. Acceptance of such gifts, either permanently or loaned for a negotiated period of time, will not take precedence over other collections-related priorities in the event of resource limitations.
5.2.4 Ethical Considerations
We will apply ethical considerations when we acquire material.
We will not acquire whether by purchase, gift, bequest or exchange any object or specimen unless the Trustees or our responsible officer is satisfied that the Museum can acquire a valid title to the object or specimen in question. All acquisitions will possess appropriate documentation not only to establish legal title, but also to enable the objects or specimens to be housed in the permanent collections in a way that facilitates access and scholarship.
We recognise that in many cases a curator has to make his or her own judgement on the validity of title and the reliability of provenance. Under such circumstances the Museums Association's Codes of Ethics will be adhered to.
We will give special consideration to the issue of spoliation of works of art during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period. Where appropriate, and as far as is reasonably possible, care will be taken to establish the provenance of works of art for the years 1933-1945. Acquisitions will not be made if there is demonstrable or probable evidence of wrongful taking (see also Disposals Policy below.)
We will give special consideration to human remains. Acquisition will not be made if there is any demonstrable or probable evidence for their removal from their place of burial without consent. We will comply with the guidance provided in the document Department for Culture, Media and Sport: Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums, 2005.
We will not acquire an item that is deemed to have been disposed of unethically by another museum, unless this is seen as the only way to keep the item in the public domain.
We will comply with the DCMS Guidelines for Museums on Purchasing Cultural Property.
5.2.5 Extraordinary Acquisitions
Proposed acquisitions which fall outside the aims stated above will only be made in exceptional circumstances, following proper consideration and approval by the Museum's Trustees.
5.3.1 We will only acquire objects or specimens when they have been collected, exported or imported in full compliance with the laws and regulations of the country or countries of origin (or any intermediate country in which they may have been legally owned). We do not support the illicit trade in portable antiquities, ethnographic material or natural science material. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Due Diligence Guidelines for Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material will be abided by in all instances.
We will make every reasonable effort to ensure that these conditions are met and that title to any object or specimen will be properly transferred to ourselves. We will keep abreast of the changing national and international laws and regulations concerning collecting, ownership and movement of objects between countries. Relevant legislation and regulations are listed in the Introduction to these policies, and we will ensure that our staff behave in accordance with these principles.
5.3.2 In addition to the safeguards outlined above, we will not acquire, by purchase or otherwise, archaeological material that has been illegally excavated. This applies in any case where our Trustees or our responsible officer has reasonable cause to believe that the recovery of objects or specimens involved the recent unscientific or intentional destruction or damage of ancient monuments or other known archaeological sites. The Trade in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 will be abided by in all circumstances.
In cases of possible Treasure ( England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Bona Vacantia ( Scotland) or Wreck, we will encourage the finder to act according to the relevant laws and to report the finds to the proper authorities.
5.3.3 We do, however, recognise that on exceptional occasions it may be acceptable to acquire an object or specimen that has been improperly recovered, if the object or specimen is of sufficient importance for it to be in the best interests of the public and of the object or specimen for it to enter the Museum's collections rather than remain in private hands. The merits of such acquisitions will always be carefully evaluated in accordance with recognised codes of ethics, and the process will be open and fully documented.
5.4 Formalisation of acquisitions
5.4.1 Objects or specimens will be accepted after satisfying all conditions and guidelines. Transfer of ownership will be signed by all donors and vendors, giving us the right to use gifted, bequeathed and purchased specimens as is deemed appropriate. On acceptance, all acquisitions will be accessioned and donors will receive a letter of thanks from ourselves.
5.4.2 In the case of objects or specimens purchased from external agencies or officially collected by Museum staff, prior approval for use of the Specimens Acquisition Grant will be given in accordance with our policy and guidelines.
6.1 Our policy
6.2.1 We accept that it is a key function of a museum to acquire objects and specimens and keep them for posterity. Consequently there is a strong presumption against the disposal of any items in the collections without due safeguards. However, it is equally incumbent upon the Museum periodically to assess the continuing relevance of items in its collections.
6.2 Disposal methods
6.2.1 The current Charter of the Museum empowers it to 'accept and make gifts', to 'sell, exchange, give away or otherwise dispose of any object vested in it and comprised in its collections (provided that where an object has become vested in the Museum by virtue of a gift or bequest the powers conferred by this paragraph shall not be exercisable as respects that object in a manner inconsistent with any condition attached to the gift or bequest)' and to 'destroy or otherwise dispose of any object vested in it and comprised in its collections if satisfied that it has become useless for purposes of the Museum by reason of damage, physical deterioration, or infestation by destructive organisms.'
6.2.2 The decision to dispose of an item will not be with the principal aim of generating funds. Any arrangements for the exchange, gift or sale of material shall, in the first instance, be with an accredited museum. When this is not the case the museum community at large will be advised of the intention to dispose of the material. This will be through an announcement in the Museums Association's Museums Journal and will indicate the nature and number of objects and specimens involved, and the basis on which the material will be transferred to another institution.
We will allow a period of at least two months for an interest in acquiring the material to be expressed. If there is no such expression of interest in material that was given to us, we will attempt to offer the item(s) back to the original donor(s) or their descendants.
6.2.3 Loan and handling collections can benefit from the inclusion of objects or specimens de-accessioned from the Museum's collections. We will consider such use of de-accessioned items, but will not de-accession objects or specimens simply in order to enable them to be transferred to a loan or handling collection.
6.2.4 We will not permit members of staff, members of our governing bodies and members of their families or close associates, to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, objects that have been de-accessioned from the Museum's collections.
6.2.5 We will keep full records of all decisions to dispose of objects or specimens, and of the nature and number of the objects or specimens involved. We will make proper arrangements for the preservation and/or transfer, as appropriate, of the documentation relating to the objects or specimens concerned, including photographic records where practicable.
6.2.6 Heads of departments or sections will seek in writing the approval of the Director of Collections and Research to de-accession any objects or specimens from collections. The Director of Collections and Research will in turn seek the support of the appropriate Advisory Panel, where one exists, and the authorisation of the Trustees of the Museum. We will then inform the Welsh Assembly Government in writing that a permanent transfer or disposal has been agreed according to the proper procedures. Full records of all decisions will be kept.
6.2.7 Any monies received by ourselves from the disposal of objects or specimens will be applied for the furtherance of the objectives of the Museum. Normally, this means the purchase of further objects or specimens for the collections but in exceptional cases improvements relating to the care of collections or other purposes may be justifiable. Advice on these cases will be sought from the Museums Association’s Ethics Advisory Panel.
6.2.8 The role of exchange between institutions and related transfer of title varies. In certain departments formal reciprocal transfer of objects or specimens reduces duplication and widens the diversity of material for education, display and scholarship. Not all relevant objects or specimens from Wales or those required for study are collected or housed by the Museum and it is of benefit to exchange, without damaging the integrity of collections, particular objects or specimens or parts of a collection. This transfer often takes place before accessioning but, where accessioned items are involved, formal procedures requiring approval from the Trustees will be followed. In this respect newly collected objects or specimens can be used to advantage. If objects or specimens are received by donation in large quantities, they will be accepted only on the condition that selective accessioning, exchange or disposal will be possible at the discretion of departments, with approval sought from the Director of Collections and Research and to be approved finally by the Trustees.
6.3 Spoliation of works of art
We will be actively aware of the possibility of items in the collections falling into this category, and will insist on an audit trail of ownership in the case of new acquisitions. We will give prompt and serious consideration to claims to title to specific works of art in our collections. Should it be established that an accessioned object was wrongfully taken during the Nazi, Holocaust and World War II period (see Acquisition Policy, above), this fact will be advertised widely. If a claimant comes forward, measures will be taken to provide restitution to the legal owner or otherwise settle the claim, under appropriate legal and governmental advice. In particular, we shall seek advice from the DCMS Spoliation Advisory Panel, the National Museum Directors' Conference Advisory Committee, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, the Holocaust Educational Trust and other relevant specialist bodies.
We will treat in a similar manner works of art, archaeological material and natural history or geological specimens wrongfully taken by others and under different circumstances.
6.4 Restitution and repatriation
We will treat with respect and sensitivity all requests for the return of objects of cultural patrimony. Decisions will be based on all available evidence, ethical considerations, best current professional practice, legislative constraints and consideration of opportunities and options.
6.5 Human remains
We will always seek to return human remains where the material is not of scientific importance or where ethical considerations are seen to be of over-riding importance. In general, ethical considerations are likely to arise where the material is very recent or where a clear link with actual or cultural descendants can be established. We will abide by the terms of the Human Tissue Act 2004, and guidance given in Department for Culture, Media and Sport: Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums, 2005.
6.6 Loss or destruction
6.6.1 Loss of material is rare, but it is possible; for example, objects or specimens might disintegrate due to biological failure or adverse environmental conditions. All material that has disintegrated will be subject to a conservation report. We will maintain full records, and make attempts to rescue material for scientific or educational use.
In some cases part of an object or specimen may be retained on the advice of the Keeper of the department, where future techniques may prove to be of value. The destruction of items will be seen as a last option and will only be used in extreme circumstances.
6.6.2 Destruction is acceptable if material has decayed, been infested or is beyond conservation, and presents a threat to other collections. In some cases, where infestation may threaten the safety of other objects or specimens, it may be imperative to remove the infested object or specimen immediately, wherever possible placing the material in quarantine until formal approval for disposal is received.
6.6.3 Destruction of an object or specimen may occur in the course of scientific analysis. There is a presumption against destruction of this kind and it is only acceptable in certain specific circumstances. Destruction of collection items must be authorised by the relevant Keeper or Head of Conservation, and reported to the Trustees.
6.6.4 When it has been established that an object or specimen has been lost, permission to write it off will be sought from the Welsh Assembly Government.