Museum Policy: Deaccessioning by British museums

“In 10 July, an ancient Egyptian statue was sold in London by Christie’s for £15,762,500. The Sekhemka limestone figure, dating from 2400-2300BC, was consigned by Northampton Borough Council (NBC). It had previously been stored at Northampton Museum since its donation before 1880 by the Marquess of Northampton. Unfortunately for Sekhemka, the museum is primarily a museum of local history, focusing on the shoe trade, with a subsidiary collection of fine-art paintings. There is no antiquities department, which meant the sculpture was in storage most of the time. So when NBC were in search of funds for building work at the museum, the statue looked a prime candidate for sale (called ‘deaccessioning’ in the museum world). The piece was rarely on display, lacked a specialist curator to protect it, and Northampton museum was riven by internal personnel conflict. Most important of all, Sekhemka was valuable. Despite warnings from theMuseums Association, the Egyptian government and local Northampton figures, NBC consigned and sold the figure last week.

Bury Council sold paintings by Lowry to fund deficits in 2006 and Southampton Council wanted to do something similar to pay for a Titanic museum. The fact that the Sekhemka auction made three times its estimated price of £4-6million has serious ramifications. This will only encourage cash-strapped councils all over the UK to eye their collections with a view to disposing of ‘non-core’ items in order to pay for maintenance, restoration and expansion of buildings – or simply to reduce budget deficits…”

Read the full article on SPIKED, 15 July 2014 here: