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The Buffalo History Museum – How Deaccessioning led to The Colonel Gardner Legacy Fund

Intro: Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library & Archives at The Buffalo History Museum

Deaccessioning is frequently a painful process in museums, as those who recall the Albright-Knox experience from several years ago can attest.  Objects are transferred to other institutions or sent to auction when they no longer serve a museum’s mission.  Since our mission, in my own words, is to document the people, places, things and events of the broad Buffalo area, it is appropriate to transfer or discard, say, a book about St. Louis. 

It is critical to mention that when museums do send objects to auction, they are prohibited from using the proceeds on anything other than collections.  New acquisitions, conservation/restoration, and suitable housing are acceptable uses.  Paying the electric bill, building out a café, or hiring a part-timer are not.  The logic is that if you are selling stuff to cover operating expenses, you are no longer a museum, you are an antique dealer.

Article: Kim Luangpakdy, Director of Development @ The Buffalo History Museum – How a deaccession worked out for the Buffalo History Museum

Gardner Coins

Colonel Gardner was a life-long resident and an enthusiastic booster of Buffalo. A collector, he avidly pursued interests in coins, stamps and local history.

The old Historical Society “day books” document his frequent visits to donate items from his collections. With the support of Colonel Gardner’s descendants, TBHM deaccessioned the numismatic and philatelic collections.

Proceeds from the sale established the Colonel H. Gardner Fund in 2005, providing resources to preserve, share and build our collection.

Since the Fund was established, it has provided The Buffalo History Museum the ability to:
· Conserve 132 artifacts, contributing over $180,000 in expert artifact treatment.
· Purchase nine acquisitions, from Charles Penny’s Larkin collection to a collection of artwork by Hubert Crawford.
·  Invest over $884,509 in state-of-the-art collections care and storage.

Prior to the Gardner Fund, the Museum had to seek funds for artifact conservation 3-5 years before an exhibit could be produced. It took years to raise funds to conserve the artifacts displayed in our 2001 exhibit, Spirit of the City: Reimagining the Pan American Exposition.

The Gardner Fund has liberated us in many ways! An example is our series of War of 1812 exhibitions. We started artifact conservation using our own resources provided by the Gardner Fund as soon as we began planning the exhibits.

This essay can also be found online at

Lead image: Conservation treatment of Commodore Perry’s mess table from the U.S.S. Lawrence during the War of 1812.

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