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I have been collecting photographica (1839-1880) for over forty years, and the time has come for me to decide what to do with all the material that I have accumulated, which amounts to over 700 daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, and a host of fine cdvs, albumen prints, family albums, and so on.

I have no heirs and I am not a keen salesman, so I reached an important decision, which I have begun to put them into effect. No-one is going to buy my entire collection, I reasoned, but some institution might like to own the better parts of it.

In a word, I decided to donate!

It would be wonderful to donate an entire collection to a dedicated institution, but that will never happen. Firstly, the material would duplicate what any photographic museum would consider the core of its collection. Secondly, the quality of the material in a collection is variable. While I have found some wonderful and/or historically important pieces, there is a lot which is of great interest to me, but which would find no place in a national or a regional collection.

I decided to offer only material which might enrich or expand collections which already exist.

I would like to be remembered as a donor, obviously. More importantly, I would like the material that I have gathered to play some part in the formation of future generations of photo historians and photo collectors. I approached institutions in England where I was born, and in Italy, where I live, describing the contents of my collection, and I received encouraging replies from two museums which were interested in considering at least a part of my holdings.

I visited the museum in England which had expressed an interest, and immediately withdrew my offer to donate. The museum had been revamped since my last visit, which meant they had gone digital, so most of the original material was locked in the vault. I favour hands-on, and real exhibits. In my opinion they had ruined what was once the perfect museum, i.e, a miscellaneous collection of the weird and the wonderful.

After disappointment in England, I turned to the institution in Italy.

The Biblioteca Panizzi, an Italian national library, based in Reggio Emilia sent the head of their photographic collection, a noted photohistorian, and a conservator to visit me at my home and see what I was offering. In the course of two days we examined much of the material, and we reached an agreement. In the first instance, I proposed to donate my so-called “Teaching Collection,” which consists of material that I have used over the years while teaching the history of early photographic processes. This amounted to over 100 daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and ferrotypes. One year later, after this material had been catalogued, scanned and conserved, I made them a second offer, which was also accepted: my “Post Mortem Collection,” which consists of daguerreotype, ambrotype and cdvs images of corpses, mourners, chapels, churchyards and graves.

At the moment, I am contemplating a third donation which has still to be formalised.

The pleasure of donating, as I boldly entitled this note, comes from knowing that the sections of my collection which I love dearly, and which have some importance in the history of photography, will be available to anyone like me, who is fascinated by the visual technology of the nineteenth century.

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Comment by David Kastoryano on April 7, 2023 at 13:37

I shall be in Italy later this the year and hope to visit. 

You Will Be Remembered. 

Comment by Fred Pajerski on March 27, 2023 at 19:05

Good going! No doubt there is also a good feeling to have less stuff!  Best regards, Fred

Comment by Martin John Last on March 27, 2023 at 8:54

That's a great post Michael.

I think exactly the same way as you and I have also been identifying appropriate future homes for some of my many and various collections. I am not donating now but rather specifying what will go where in my Will. In some ways it would be good to donate immediately, primarily in order to be able to see what is being done with the collections, but I prefer to retain ownership for the time being in case I desperately need to raise funds at some point. 

Comment by Stephen Bottomore on March 22, 2023 at 12:06

Interesting. Thanks for posting. I will face similar questions when I come to donate my large collection of early cinema materials in some years time. I am already in discussions with some institutions and am receiving more enthusiastic responses from the continent than from here in the UK, where there now seems to be greater interest in personal pronoun-isation etc etc than in actual history. 

Comment by Tony Richards on March 20, 2023 at 15:04

Wonderful. What an amazing resource.

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