Donating artifacts to the WHS Museum Collection

by Siera H. Erazo

WHS is actively collecting objects, costumes (clothing), personal papers, corporate archives, original photographs, original blueprints, and other items that directly relate to developing a better understanding of the story of Winnetka and its residents. To donate an item(s), please contact the curator by calling 847-446-0001 or by emailing

After we speak with you about your items, the first step is for us to learn about your collection and ensure that the items fit within our collecting scope. If they would best be preserved elsewhere, we provide suggestions and contacts for alternate institutions.

Once we confirm that the items directly relate to the history of Winnetka and its residents, the next step is to transfer the items both physically and legally to the museum. The items are brought to 411 Linden Street to be processed into our museum collection. At that point a Deed of Gift agreement, the contract that transfers the items from the donor to the museum, is filled out, signed, and filed at the museum for perpetuity.

Lastly, your object is now an artifact! Objects are cleaned, rehoused in museum-quality boxes and mounts, stored in climate-controlled storage spaces, and cataloged so that they may be made available to researchers, for exhibits, and study by students, local residents, and researchers from around the world.

Winner’s trophy from the July 4, 1929 Independence Day celebration on the Winnetka Village Green - WHS Object 1988.2015, donated by Mrs. William Legg (Pat) in May 1977

Winner’s trophy from the July 4, 1929 Independence Day celebration on the Winnetka Village Green – WHS Object 1988.2015, donated by Mrs. William Legg (Pat) in May 1977

Abandoned property
Please do not leave items for donation outside the museum. We discourage “doorstep donations” for many reasons. Exposure of artifacts to pests and weather is just one concern. With no chance to speak with a donor to record the interesting story behind the objects, abandoned artifacts have very limited chance of being exhibited or studied.

Another important reason lies in the legal responsibility of museums to document and legally own their holdings. When materials are abandoned at the doorstep, an Illinois museum has no reasonable way to legally take ownership of the items without undergoing a lengthy and expensive search for the donor.

Abandoned materials are then in legal limbo until a seven-year grace period for abandoned property has passed. After seven years, the museum still runs the risk of any person coming in and making a claim of ownership on the items, which would be hard to defend without a legal Deed of Gift.

As a non-profit funded primarliy with donations from local citizens and businesses, we strive to make the most of our budget by focusing on activities that best promote our missions of preservation and education related to Winnetka’s past. With many valuable staff hours involved in taking any new materials spent researching, cataloging, and making the items accessible for use and display, it is easy to see why many museums choose to ignore, and as a rule will not accept, any abandoned items. ■

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