Donate to MNHS Collections

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.

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

Frequently asked questions

What does MNHS collect?

We collect a wide variety of materials, including:

  • Art
  • Books
  • Historical objects
  • Manuscripts
  • Government records
  • Maps
  • Music
  • Oral history
  • Film
  • Photographs
  • Video

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

What doesn’t MNHS collect?

In most cases, we do not collect:

  • Unidentified photographs
  • Family Bibles
  • Family trees
  • Wedding dresses
  • Foreign military memorabilia
  • Nonfiction by Minnesota writers if it does not deal with Minnesota and is not personal or biographical

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 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?

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. If MNHS is interested in learning more about the item, then an appointment to bring it to the Minnesota History Center can be arranged.

Please note: MNHS reserves 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 interest is in building MNHS collections only 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 and other print materials, check the library catalog. For other types of items, check the “search the collection” catalog.

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. 

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, physical condition, whether or not MNHS already owns a similar item or copy, 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 below to learn more about the decision-making process.

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?

Some do, although only a small percentage of MNHS’s collections are on exhibit at any one time. That’s because we have limited gallery space and because long-term display can have negative effects on preservation. 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. Depending on the type of item, different arrangements may be necessary for viewing. Books, manuscripts, government records, maps, sound recordings, oral histories, films, and photographs go into the library collections, which generally can be viewed during regular library hours. Other types of items may require that viewing arrangements be made with a curator. In addition, many items can be seen online. One place to look is in the search the collections catalog.

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.