Donating objects or collections to the Cowper & Newton Museum

How to gift an object to The Cowper & Newton Museum

Firstly, thank you for thinking of us. Our collection is held in trust on behalf of the nation, for the benefit of present and future generations. Our collection covers items relating to the history of Olney, with a particular focus on the lives of William Cowper and John Newton and their contemporaries, and the craft of lacemaking within the town.  The Cowper and Newton Museum is the legal owner of the collection in name only; the collection belongs to the British public and our museum is merely its guardian.

Will the museum be interested in having my object?  Possibly. As a small museum with very little storage space, we cannot take everything we are offered. The condition of the object is important; because of our limited resources we cannot offer to repair or conserve items that are offered to us. And we may not be able to display your object immediately or exactly as you would like to see it in the museum.

What kinds of objects does the museum collect?  As is standard in museums we have a collections development policy against which we assess everything we are offered. You will find geological and archaeological material in the museum, for example finds from Roman settlements in the area, but for reasons of space we have ceased to actively collect examples. Similarly we have material relating to 19th and 20th century crafts and manufacturing in Olney, such as shoemaking, but this is no longer a priority in our collections policy. Other museums in the area, for example Milton Keynes Museum, may be a more suitable home for your object. We are always interested in pictures and documents, books and textiles, and artefacts relating to the lives of Cowper and Newton but space is a real problem for us. We have no more room for lace pillows or bobbin winders.

Do I want to part with this object permanently?  We need to know right at the beginning whether there any conditions attached to your offer. Will it be an outright gift or bequest? Are you offering it for sale, in which case please be aware that we have no budget for purchasing new items.  Are you intending to loan it to the museum and take it back at some time. We rarely accept loans, and the maximum period of any loan is five years. And we can only rarely agree to conditions that you might set on the display of the object.

How do I make an offer to the museum?  Keep hold of your object for the time being.  Do not bring it to the museum until you have established contact with our House Manager and someone is expecting you. Either telephone the House Manager during opening hours or send an email to,  ideally with photographs and some evidence of your ownership of the piece. The provenance of your object is important to us. If it is an item that has been in your family for a long time, tell us. We cannot make instant decisions on whether we will accept an object. Any objects that we are offered have to be considered by our Collections Committee which meets every two to three months. Photographs may be sufficient but in most cases they prefer to see the item itself.

What about the paperwork? Our House Manager will invite you to complete an Object Entry form. This document represents a contract between you and the museum, and when it is fully completed it established the museum’s new ownership of an item. We may fill in parts of this in advance and send it to you for completion. No objects can be considered for acquisition until we have a signed copy of the form. The form includes a section on whether you want to offer this as a gift or loan.

If the Collections Committee agree that the object should be added to the permanent collection, they will tell you and will then accession the object and record it in the museum catalogue.

What if I have offered you the object, left it in the museum, and I don’t want it back?    You can authorise the museum to sell the object for the benefit of museum funds. It sometimes happens that the Collections Committee ask to see an object and then decide that the object cannot be added to the collection. And sometimes the object may be of particular interest for school groups, and appropriate for a handling collection. Objects in the handling collection are very useful but they are not part of the permanent collection

Can you tell me what a particular object is worth?   No. We can try and tell you about the cultural or historic interest of an object but you will need to go to specialist valuers or auctioneers for a monetary value.

Who keeps the intellectual property rights   We ask that all intellectual property rights be transferred to the museum. This is particularly important when we want to digitise objects and put parts of the collection online.

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Our Museum building remains CLOSED.  We are opening our gardens on limited entry.  The Cowper & Newton Museum gardens will be open to welcome you on Wednesday 5th August 10.30 – 12.15 and Saturday 8th August 10.30 – 12.15

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