Museum criticised for selling donated medals - Museums Association

Museum criticised for selling donated medals

Combined Military Services Museum says it will change its donation and disposal policies
A museum that came under fire for selling donated second world war medals has told Museums Journal that it is changing its rules on accepting donations as a result.

The medals, which belonged to the donor’s father, were given to the Combined Military Services Museum in Maldon, Essex, in April. However a month later, the donor, Christine Hinde, was contacted by a collector who said he had purchased the medals on eBay for £32.

Hinde told ITV news that she had not given the museum permission to sell the medals, and had donated them in the hope they would “be in safe keeping for generations to come”.

In July, the museum’s director and founder, Richard Wooldridge, wrote to Hinde to apologise for any distress caused by the sale. He said that the museum was unable to store and display every item donated to it and, in this case, it already had a number of similar medals in its collection.

Speaking to Museums Journal, Wooldridge said: “In light of this event, we are tightening our rules on accepting donations and disposals to ensure such events do not occur again.

“However, the sad reality is that we, and I am sure many other museums, will be extremely cautious about accepting donations [as a result negative media reports].”

Wooldridge added that the museum’s trustees had decided to pass the medals onto a dealer to sell in order to purchase other artefacts for display.

The medals were not accessioned into the Combined Military Services Museum's collection. The museum is Accredited.

Janet Ulph, from the University of Leicester’s School of Law, said that many museum trustees incorrectly assume that objects cannot be returned to donors once a gift has been made. She is working on new guidelines for curatorially-motivated disposals, which will be published in September.

“In my new guidance on disposals, I suggest either offering medals or other objects with a sentimental value to another museum or returning them to the donor,” she said. “I make it clear that museums can sell items if other museums do not want them as part of the process of a curatorially motivated disposal.”

The Museums Association (MA) is updating its code of ethics, which includes guidance on disposal and accepting donations.

Alistair Brown, the MA’s policy officer, said the key issue with this case was the lack of consultation with the donor: “It looks like the museum has failed to act in the public interest, starting with the acceptance of the medals and continuing right through to their sale.

"In doing so, the museum has greatly hurt the feelings of a donor and has brought a great deal of unwanted attention on itself. This episode is a very timely illustration of the need for an ethical approach in all areas of museum practice.” 

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