Acquisition is the process of taking an object into a museum’s ownership.
The legal term for the change in ownership that takes place when a museum acquires an object is ‘transfer of title’. This may occur through methods such as gift, purchase, or bequest.
A museum will begin the process of acquisition by referring to policy to determine whether or not it is appropriate to acquire the object in question.
Following transfer of title, the newly acquired object will be formally added to the museum’s collection through Accessioning. The term acquisition is often used to refer to both the transfer of ownership to the museum, and the act of accessioning.
In some cultures/languages the term acquisition is reserved for the act of purchasing. The more general term for items entering a museum’s collection is close to what in English would be called Ingestion.
2. Assessing a potential acquisition
2.1. Collections Policy
A museum should create and maintain a collections policy that outlines the nature of the collections already held, and the scope and priorities for future collecting activity. All potential acquisitions should be considered in the light of this policy to assess their suitability for acquisition.
2.2. Physical considerations
The physical character of an object should be taken into account when it is being considered for acquisition as it will impact on the museum’s resources in both the short and long term. If the object is large or awkwardly shaped, the transport of the object to the museum (and the associated costs) should be considered, as should the long term storage of the object. The condition of the object should be considered especially whether it requires conservation to make it suitable for display. There may be future conservation requirements if an object is especially liable to degredation in some way. The presence of hazards in objects (such as blades, radioactive substances, asbestos etc) should be considered along with appropriate strategies for managing their safe use and storage for the long term.
2.3. Due Diligence
Due Diligence should be undertaken for objects being considered for acquisition.
3. Transfer of title
Documentary evidence of transfer of title should be retained permanently by museums for all acquisitions as evidence of ownership.
A gift is legally defined as the voluntary transfer of property without consideration (that is, compensation - such as money, or other property.)
A museum making an acquisition via gift should obtain documentary evidence of the gift showing the donor’s offer of the gift, and the museum’s acceptance of it. This may take the form of a deed of gift signed by both parties, and may include terms and conditions, or other similar documentation.
Mueums may purchase items for their collections where funding is available. Funding may be sought from external sources to support acquisitions, such as public donations, friends organisations, or charitable organisations.
In the UK, where an individual has bequethed an item to a museum, the executors of the estate will contact the museum on the death of the legator. The museum is not obliged to accept the bequethed item if it is not suitable for the museum’s collections.