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On the museum scales

An innovative method for collection valuation in six steps.

Who determines the value of a collection, if the 'expert' in the year 2013 is no longer regarded as the only authority? How do you valuate an object or collection if there is no fixed and objective measurable value? And how do you provide sufficient societal support for heritage at a time when the cultural sector is under pressure?

The collection cabinet at the Museum Willet Holthuijsen Photo: Amsterdam Museum

The collection cabinet at the Museum Willet Holthuijsen Photo: Amsterdam Museum

Innovative methodology

In close collaboration with the museum world, the RCE has produced an innovative methodology for collection valuation. On the museum scales shows a new way to attribute value to museum objects and collections/sub-collections by following six steps. A practical tool tested in the field and a result of thorough research. The methodology makes the markedly difficult concept of 'value' manageable for collection managers and decision makers.

The six steps in the valuation process:

1: Formulate the question and its cause, and record them on the valuation form;

2: Determine the stakeholders, what is to be valuated and its frame of reference;

3: Determine the relevant criteria for valuation and define the valuation framework;

4: Attribute value scores and support them up with arguments;

5: Process the valuation;

6: Decision or action.

For whom?

Knowledge is essential to achieve a meaningful valuation. The new method assumes that the involved persons have knowledge of museum objects and collections. This not only concerns professionals such as curators, collection managers, educational and PR staff or conservators, but also non-professionals: the public, patrons, loaners (JB: This is correct!), art lovers, tourists and the general public.

Case Studies

The methodology of the On the museum scales guidelines has been tested with museum partners. The aim was to gather their feedback on the clarity, usability and applicability of this new way of valuating objects and collections.


The case studies document the experiences of the Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem, Museum Willet-Holthuysen in Amsterdam, the artwork group of the Grote Kerk Cultureel Foundation in Emmen, the Historical Museum Arnhem and the RCE. Tested aspects included the reason for valuation, frame of reference, method, results, conclusions and decisions taken after the valuation. The methodology is regularly adapted and improved according to new insights, findings and comments of the participating institutions. See the separate case studies under Results.