Donating Historical Objects

Maine Maritime Museum is always collecting historical objects and archival material – it is part of what a museum does.

What Maine Maritime Museum Collects

The MMM Collections Policy states the institution’s goal is to collect objects and archives of maritime or nautical nature, including things related to inland waterways, which have an association with Maine – connected with a Maine person, Maine-built or Maine-owned ship or boat, Maine marine business, or Maine waterfront community.

Scales from a 1820 Sailing Vessel

The policy places no age limit on collectible objects; the staff is interested in stuff from before there was a Maine, as well as in some current material, too; after all, it will be historical one day, and will never be easier to collect than it is now.

Additionally, the Museum collects books and magazines about maritime history worldwide: Maine ships and Maine mariners went everywhere, and you never know when we might need to know about navigational aids in, say, Singapore.

As MMM’s collection has grown, and storage areas and library space have filled, the curatorial staff has had to become more selective about what is accepted. However, occasionally, if there is good reason, the curatorial staff will collect objects or materials that are slightly out of the Museum’s stated collections focus; for example, furniture and household goods of the 1890s for the period rooms in Donnell House.

If something does not have a known Maine history, it might still be accepted, just so there is one in the collection for exhibit purposes. For example, if someone offered a New York-made capstan, and there were no capstans in the collection, it might be accepted on the theory that some Maine vessels might have used New York-manufactured machinery. In summary, some offered donations fall into gray areas, and the responsible curator must make a logical decision.

The Collecting Plan

In most years, a plan has been developed for specific desired collecting to accomplish that year. Upcoming exhibit needs, specific objects the curators have long believed are missing from the collection, as well as anticipated opportunities, are key components in developing the plan. Maine Maritime Museum has a small fund to purchase collection-worthy items, so staff members are motivated to develop a collection plan.

Artifact Box

The Collecting Plan is not so rigid that the donation of a ship painting or model or other maritime treasure that is not part of the Plan would be declined. It could mean that funds to buy the object would not be used, if it was not in the plan. Offered gifts of objects that are duplicates of things in the Museum’s collection, (especially duplicate books), or are not Maine-related, or are too large or in too poor condition to be properly cared for are regularly declined by the curatorial staff.

How to Make a Collection Donation

First, contact the senior curator (by email, telephone or mail), who is the person responsible for making initial collecting decisions. The senior curator will tell you how significant the object might be for the Museum’s collections and will take charge of the process from there.

If the senior curator decides that the object would be of value to the collection that decision must be approved by the Museum’s executive director, and, in some cases, the Board of Trustees, because there is always an ongoing financial burden to maintain objects. For example, if a donor offered the Museum a 30,000-ton tanker built at Bath Iron Works, there would be many concerns raised.

The official part of the donation process simply involves signing a form and returning it to the Museum. A letter of donation will be provided, but as an interested party the Museum cannot make an appraised value of the donation.

The Museum can provide you a list of local appraisers.

 Important Notes

  • DO NOT drop off possible collection items at the front desk. The front desk staff has been directed to refuse such anonymous gifts. Even objects that might otherwise be a valuable addition to the collection can become worthless when their origin or history is not known. There are numerous objects now in the Museum’s collection that would be more useful in exhibits if they had not been separated from their life stories.
  • When donating an object please consider that the Museum does not benefit financially from a gift to the historical collection. In fact, by donating an object you are obligating the Museum to care for that object forever, and the related costs could be considerable. Having a great collection costs money; it does not earn money.
  • In 2010, income from admissions – the amount visitors paid to see the on view exhibits – covered less than 30% of the Museum’s operating budget. Be as generous as you can, when making a donation. Some donors are financially able to set up endowment funds to care for their objects; others may contribute funds needed for immediate repair or conservation.
  • Unrestricted gifts of any amount help the museum steward collections and educate our visitors.

Contact the chief curator at 207-443-1316, extension 328, or at, or at Maine Maritime Museum, 243 Washington Street, Bath ME 04530.