Sale of Collections

The MA leads sector thinking on sale of collections

In 2007 the Museums Association amended its code of ethics to accept financially motivated disposal in exceptional circumstances, when it can be demonstrated that:

· it will significantly improve the long-term public benefit derived from the remaining collection

· it is not to generate short-term revenue (for example to meet a budget deficit)

· it is as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored

· extensive prior consultation with sector bodies has been undertaken

· the item under consideration lies outside the museum’s established core collection as defined in the collections policy.

In addition, the code requires museums to ringfence any money raised as a result of disposal through sale solely and directly for the benefit of the museum’s collection.

Money raised must be restricted to the long-term sustainability, use and development of the collection.

We assess proposed financially motivated disposals on a case-by-case basis against the criteria in the Code of Ethics.

Considering financially motivated disposal

If your museum is considering financially motivated disposal, you should first look at our disposal toolkit and additional guidelines on financially motivated disposal to help you through the decision making and processes necessary to sell collections ethically.

We encourage museums considering financially motivated disposal to seek our confidential advice at an early stage in order that we can help you shape the proposal so that it will comply with the code of ethics.

To formally respond to any proposal we will need some written background information - complete and return our first contact form.

We may then ask you to complete a compliance report.

The Museums Association evaluates proposed financially motivated disposals carefully and it is likely to take several months to provide a definitive opinion, particularly as it is usually necessary to hold a meeting of the Museums Association Ethics Committee to discuss the proposal.

Links and downloads

Disposal toolkit (pdf)

Additional guidance on financially motivated disposal (pdf)

First contact form (word)

Compliance report (word)

Case studies

Examples of the formal advice that the Museums Association has given to museums about proposals for financially motivated disposal can be found here:

Bolton Council (word)

Royal Cornwall Museum (pdf)

Southampton City Council (pdf)
Northampton Borough Council (word)

Note that if sale is an incidental final outcome of a curatorially-motivated disposal process then this is generally uncontroversial, especially if the item has been previously offered free of charge to other museums and the disposal toolkit has been closely followed.


In the first instance please contact:

Sally Colvin
(t) 020 7566 7860