The story of deaccession

Quesnel museum sometimes has to make tough decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of

One of the strengths of the Quesnel Museum is its extensive and diverse collection.

The Cariboo District Historical Society began collecting artifacts in the 1950s many years before there was a permanent museum.

Community members have been generous in donating both unusual items and more common things that saw daily use in the past.  The addition in 1986 of almost the entire contents of the Bohanon Fuller House swelled the collection and added many prized artifacts.

For some time now the size of the collection has reached the capacity of the existing museum, making it challenging to find space to create new exhibits, to properly store and care for the artifacts and to accept new donations.  Plans were developed a few years ago for a new facility, but we all recognize that is a vision which will take time and money to accomplish.  In the interim museum staff and a subcommittee of the Museum and Heritage Commission began a review of the collection.

Often we have several examples of the same type of object.  If there are technological changes in an object over time or different styles in its decoration, we may want to keep several.  Often though, we have multiples which are quite similar. We then look at the condition and the history associated with the artifacts.  If we know who owned an object, where it was found or that it was used in the Quesnel area, the artifact is of greater historical value to our museum.  Objects purchased outside our community or even something that a local resident inherits, but it was never used here are of more questionable significance for the museum.  Through this process we make decisions about items that should be kept and others that should be “deaccessioned.”

What happens to an item if it is deaccessioned?  Some we keep, but transfer to the education collection so it can be handled by the public and used in school programs. We offer items to other museums.  In the last year or so we have transferred artifacts to Barkerville, Cottonwood House, Wells, Valemont and 100 Mile.  If we have contact information and the original donor is alive, we consult them to see if they want the item returned. After these steps have been exhausted we are offering some items for sale at an “Antique and Unique” Sale during the Friends of the Museum Used Book sale on Saturday May 5 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.  Any funds raised will be used to care for the collections or to purchase artifacts, archival or reference material for the museum.

The purpose of this process is not to raise funds but to manage the collection; to ensure that we have the best examples we can find, with interesting local stories associated with them. The collections review also helps us identify gaps in the collection so that we can actively look for particular artifacts or examples from a particular time period – and have space to store and display them.

Two considerations arise from this outline of the collections review process:

• If you have made a donation to the museum and wish to be consulted, should the collections committee ever consider deaccessioning something you donated, it is important to update your contact information at the museum, if it changes.

• When making a donation, it is important to provide as much information about the history of an object as possible.  It makes it more valuable and helps ensure its place in the collection.

There will also be antiques and collectables in the sale that were offered to the collection in recent years, but they were not accessioned because the museum already had good examples.  The donors were prepared to offer them to the museum for sale to raise funds for the collection.   They wanted their antiques to find a new home where they would be appreciated.  The museum does not have space to accept everything that is offered, so come out and help us find that home for these treasures.


– submitted by Museum manager Elizabeth Hunter