Skip to content

Ask Ian: Donating Gun Collections to Museums…or Not

Cool Forgotten Weapons merch!

Lots of people put together significant gun collections over a lifetime, and want to see those collections preserved after they pass. This often manifests as looking for a museum that will keep a collection intact and display it – which is unfortunately a nearly impossible goal.

First, it is very rare to find a museum whose mission matches the collection focus of a specific private collection. Firearms cover a vast amount of history even firearms-specific museums are usually fairly narrow in scope.

Second, museums already have all their display space filled. Promising to display a new collection means taking down something they already deemed worthy of display – and promising not to take it down in turn if something more suitable comes along.

Third, even if a museum has space and shares the theme of a collection, they will almost certainly already have examples of many of the items in the collection. If a museum is not allowed to break up and sell off parts of a collection, it simply ensures that many of the items will remain perpetually locked away in a reserve archive.

I would propose that we really need to rethink the idea that museums have a duty to keep everything they acquire. We know that virtually all museums have much more in storage than on display, and forcing duplicate items or pieces unrelated to the museum’s focus to remain in museum property simply ensures that those pieces are kept away from the collecting community. It is the collecting community that does most of the research and publication on firearms history, and this practice undoubtedly hinders research and scholarship. That is not to say we should close museums; certainly not! Museums are extremely valuable for preserving artifacts and making them available to some degree to the public, but they are only one part of the historical community.

If you are a collector who really wants your collection to be displayed in full in a museum, you really only have one option: bequeath the museum enough money to build and maintain a new wing specifically for your collection.

Forgotten Weapons
6281 N. Oracle 36270
Tucson, AZ 85740

Leave a Reply