A Little Insight Into How We Decide What to Accept Into Our Museums’ Collections

Old pill bottles from the 1960s? Yes, we want them! Your family’s antique sewing machine? No, unfortunately, we don’t. When people think they have an item that might be a good addition to our museums’ collections and contact us to see if we want it, they are often surprised at the items we are interested in and the items we turn away. At Superior Public Museums, these decisions are guided by a document called a collections policy. This document was developed and approved by our board of directors and defines what items we are looking to acquire, and to a certain extent, what we do not want. When a potential donor brings an item in, we ask a series of questions to determine if it is something we should accept.

The White Machine currently in the Pattison sewing room.

The Singer machine in the children’s home exhibit


Does it have a direct relationship to one of our sites? If it relates to the career of a local firefighter or police officer, someone who lived in the children’s home at Fairlawn, or belonged to a member of the McDougall or Pattison families, it clearly relates to our collections and will definitely be considered.

Does it help us tell our story? Our three sites have unique histories. Does this item help us to tell one of these stories? In the case of the old pill bottles, we exhibit the SS Meteor as if it was sailing in the 1960s. The sailors probably had pill bottles, razors and other toiletries, and setting them on the shelf in their quarters will help to tell the story of a crew person’s life on the ship. Although not what most people think of as a museum quality piece, we would consider them.

Is it redundant? Do we already have one like it? This question is often the easiest question to answer. For example, although you might have a beautiful antique sewing machine, we already have three. We can only use two in our exhibits, so we would probably not want to accept another unless it helped tell our story in a way that our current sewing machines could not.

What are we looking for? The answer is, quite a bit and often not what you think we need. If after reading this you have something that might help us to tell the story of our sites, give us a call. If it isn’t something that makes sense for us, we will try to help you connect with another institution that might benefit from your donation. We enjoy helping people find new homes for items and we always appreciate your thoughtfulness.