When acquiring a specimen as a gift, it is essential to find out whether the donor has the right to give it to you, and to be certain that it really is being given to you.
EncumbrancesWhen a specimen is to be acquired, it is essential to detail any encumbrances, or conditions attached to ownership, care or use of the specimen, such as:
- Restrictions as to title (e.g., the specimen is not given outright to the institution but on “permanent” long-term loan).
- Right of possession (e.g., the specimen is gifted to the institution, but will remain in possession of the donor until his/her death).
- Care (e.g., that the specimen should be prepared or stored in a particular manner or that it may never be disposed of).
- Exhibition (e.g., that the specimen be temporarily or permanently displayed).
Generally speaking, you should avoid accepting specimens which have conditions attached. While you may think the conditions are reasonable at the time of donation, such requirements can become a serious future burden to you and your institution.
From time to time, donors may ask the museum to provide an estimate of the monetary value of the specimen or collection, usually for tax purposes. For ethical reasons, museum staff are generally prohibited from giving appraisals of specimens that are offered for donation. Valuations are best undertaken by an assessor who is external and independent to the institution in question. For more information on documentation, see the section on specimen data.
In general, you should avoid accepting gifts that have conditions attached. When a museum acquires a specimen, or collection of specimens, as a gift, written confirmation of ownership should always be obtained in advance from the donor. No specimens should be accepted without adequate evidence of legal title on the part of the donor. This evidence can include permits, provenance, and history. Also, by definition, gifts are given free of charge and without requiring exchange of some other specimen.
As with purchased specimens, it’s advisable that the donor sign a specimen transfer form—a document that includes a description of the objects involved and the precise conditions of transfer. Any documentation which strengthens the evidence for the donor’s ownership of the specimen, including collecting permits, bills of sale, or receipts, should also be provided.
By signing a specimen transfer form, the donor is acknowledging that they own the specimen and that they are transferring ownership to the museum or collector. You should not accept specimens into your collection unless you have a signed specimen transfer form or equivalent letter.