DE-ACCESSIONING ETHICS AND PRACTICE
Recently several inquiries have been received at collecting institutions from concerned members of the public regarding identification or accession numbers, clearly of museum origin, on items being offered for sale on websites or at auction.
Section 6 of the Museums Australia Code of Ethics provides the broad guidelines governing the disposal of items from a collection.
The Museums Australia Code of Ethics is currently under review but further guidance can be found in Section 2 of the ICOM Code of Ethics.
In libraries, books identified for disposal are able to be stamped DISCARD or equivalent, a practice not practicable for most collection items being disposed. In most cases, in addition to scrupulous adherence to the ethical principles, with objects leaving the public collection domain, accession numbers should be removed and appropriate documentation provided to the new custodian or owner. This protects both the de-accessioning collection and the recipient and maintains public confidence in our collection policies and processes.
Given our reliance on established provenance and respect for cultural heritage, it is prudent to follow up instances where items offered for sale with accession numbers are investigated when brought to attention. A case in point is a pair of Doulton vases being offered for sale. They bear clear accession numbers. If you think that they have been inappropriately removed from your collection please advise Museums Galleries Australia WA and we can discuss further action.