Donate to MNHS Collections

If you are interested in donating items, please review these frequently asked questions and fill out the potential donation form.

Updated August 2022

Due to curatorial vacancies across MNHS collecting areas, we are temporarily unable to accept donations of 3D objects, Native American collections, fine art, maps, rare books, and other published materials. Please consider waiting to donate your materials and note that we are not able to respond directly to all inquiries in the areas noted: 3D, fine art, maps, rare books, and other published materials. Thank you for your understanding. MNHS is actively collecting in the areas of manuscripts; photography and moving images; archeology; and government records.


 

Frequently asked questions

What does MNHS collect?

The Minnesota Historical Society maintains many collections. New items are acquired in a number of ways, including selected donations from the public.

Before an item is acquired for our collections, it undergoes a rigorous review process. Not all items are accepted, because not everything is appropriate for our collections, and because it is expensive to care for and provide access to collection items. We collect a wide variety of materials, including:

  • Art
  • Artifacts and objects
  • Books
  • Film, Video, and Sound Recordings
  • Government records
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Music
  • Oral histories
  • Photographs

There are curators and specialists responsible for each of these collecting areas.

How is the decision made to take or decline an item?

Each item is different, but factors we consider include the item’s historical or cultural significance for Minnesota, uniqueness, physical condition, and the item’s ownership and use history. Potential additions to the collections go through a rigorous review process and are also subject to a vote by MNHS’s Acquisitions Committee. Watch the Donation Decisions: An Inside Look video at the bottom of the page to learn more about the decision-making process.

What doesn’t MNHS collect?

In most cases, we do not collect materials without a clear or strong connection to Minnesota.

Generally, we also do not collect:

  • Unidentified photographs
  • Family Bibles
  • Family trees
  • Wedding dresses
  • Foreign military memorabilia
  • Awards and plaques

How do I donate an item?

First, let us know what it is you’d like to donate. The best way to do this is by filling out the potential donation form online. The more information you provide about your item(s), the more quickly and easily we’ll be able to make a decision about whether or not to add it to our collections.

Can I send or bring my item to MNHS immediately?

Please do not send or bring items to MNHS sites or museums. Unfortunately, we do not have staff available to handle unsolicited donations.

If you’d like to donate something, the first step is to fill out the potential donation form. A staff member or curator who specializes in the appropriate collecting area will follow up with you within the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Please note: According to Minnesota Museum Property Act (MN State Statute 345.70-74), MNHS has the right to dispose of any unsolicited materials delivered to any of its sites.

How can I tell if MNHS already owns an item?

As we have limited collections space and resources, our main interest is in building MNHS collections where gaps exist or in areas of particular interest. In general, we are not interested in adding items that duplicate those already in the MNHS collections. You may wish to search the the collections before submitting a potential donation form. To find books, print materials, and manuscripts, check the library catalog. For photographs and artifacts, search using the Collections Online system. If you need help searching, please contact the library staff via email or phone (651-259-3300).

Does MNHS ever buy things for the collections?

Yes, but only in exceptional cases. On these occasions, in keeping with ethical practices we cannot suggest or set the purchase price, but can only react to prices set by the seller. 

Can MNHS appraise my item?

Because of its standing with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as an interested party, MNHS cannot appraise or assign a monetary value to items. Those looking for appraisal services may wish to consult their local yellow pages or contact one of the following organizations for a referral:

Do donated items go on exhibit?

Collections items are exhibited at various MNHS sites. Following standard museum practice, only a small percentage of MNHS’s permanent collections are on exhibit at any one time. We have limited gallery space and long-term display can have negative effects on an object's condition. Items in MNHS’s collections that are not on exhibit are kept in secure, climate-controlled holding areas for optimal preservation.

Are items that are not on exhibit accessible to the public?

Yes. Books, manuscripts, government records, maps, sound recordings, oral histories, films, and photographs can be viewed at the library. To view artifacts and objects, please complete the Access to Collections form to make arrangements be made with a curator. In addition, many photographs and artifacts can be viewed through the Collections Online system.

Can I get a tax deduction for my donation?

Donations to MNHS are generally tax-deductible. Consult with a tax specialist to determine your eligibility. In most cases an appraisal of the donated item will be necessary to receive a tax deduction (see Can MNHS appraise my item? above).

Can an item donated by me or my ancestors be returned to me?

Items that have been formally accessioned into the collections cannot be returned to the donor or their descendants. At the end of the donation process, donors are asked to sign a deed of gift, which legally transfers ownership of the materials, as well as all associated rights and interests, to MNHS.

Does MNHS accept loans?

MNHS only accepts loans for specific, short-term exhibit purposes. We do not accept long-term loans.

How should I care for my historic items?

See MNHS’s care of collections web page.