How do we value objects in museum collections? I interviewed Jim McCabe, chief curator at the Henry Ford Museum about this topic in relation to museums and collections.
The Henry Ford Museum uses a ranking system of 1-4 within its collections, denoting how much of a priority (and how much value) an object should have; 1 being the highest and 4 being the lowest. The ranks are assessed using these questions: How rare is the object? How much material is original to the object? Does the material particularly compliment this object’s history? Does this object tell a story that helps to advance the museum’s mission? Does it have provenance?
Do you think these questions can help to determine object value for museums?
McCabe also told me about the importance of provenance in different contexts. An object with a verified history has more value to the museum as an exhibit object, though an object with no provenance can be worth more to an educational program than an object with a documented story. Visitors can get hands-on experience with these objects without the museum worrying about harm coming to a unique item.
Objects having different values to different audiences helps to drive the Henry Ford Museum’s initiative to grow their online collections database. McCabe said that while some objects might not make for good exhibit pieces due to their specificity in topic or cumbersome physical size, people who would still find value in these objects should have access to them online.