Donating to the collections of the Delaware Historical Society

Q. What does the Delaware Historical Society collect?
A. The Delaware Historical Society collects materials that document the lives of Delawareans up to, and including, the present.  The Society collects many types of materials for its museum and library.  The most important criterion for donation is that the materials say something about the state and its people.

Museum objects can take many forms, such as work clothing, musical instruments, tools, local souvenirs, paintings of places and people in Delaware, hand-made quilts, and Delaware-manufactured products.

The library collects books, pamphlets, serials, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, manuscripts, and ephemera.  In addition to Delaware-related materials, the library also collects some materials from neighboring Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New Jersey.


Q. How do I offer historic materials?
A. Please contact us and describe the materials you wish to donate. Tell us anything you know about the history of the materials.  For example, you might explain who owned them and when or how they were used, or why they were produced. Snapshots or photocopies of the materials are very helpful. Please do not bring materials to Delaware Historical Society without an appointment.

For museum objects, call, write, or e-mail Jennifer Potts, at the Delaware Historical Society, 505 N. Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801, (302) 295-2389, (

For library materials, call, write, or e-mail Leigh Rifenburg, Chief Curator at the Delaware Historical Society, 505 N. Market Street, Wilmington, DE  19801, (302) 295-2386, or

Q. Are all donations accepted?
A. We cannot accept everything. Organizing, cataloging, and preserving historical materials for the future takes so much space, time, and money that donations must be selected very carefully. The staff carefully reviews each offer. Normally, library and museum materials need to be seen before a decision can be made.  One exception is printed materials that can be easily checked against the catalog to see if they are already in the collection.


Q. Will my materials be put on display at Delaware Historical Society?
A. Unless we designate your materials for a specific exhibit, they will not be put on display immediately. What you see at in our exhibitions is only a very small part of the collections. The rest are carefully stored so that they will be available for future exhibits at the Delaware History Museum, the George Read House, for loan to other museums, or for research and reference for generations to come.

All library materials are available to researchers.  Most library materials are kept in closed stacks to protect them. Some library materials are used in exhibitions.


Q. What should I do to get my donation ready?
A. Please do nothing to the items. We prefer to see them in their original condition. Do not clean, repaint, refinish, or "spruce up" historical materials before giving them to us. Please provide as much related historical information as possible. For example, if you plan to offer your grandfather's report card, you might also offer photographs of him as a student, samples of his school papers and the cap he wore at school.

Q. Is my donation tax deductible?
A. Yes. The donor is responsible for determining and documenting the value of a donation. Staff at Delaware Historical Society cannot appraise materials, nor can they provide professional advice on the tax code. They can give you a list of certified appraisers.


Q. Can I lend, rather than donate, my historic materials? Or, can my heirs get things back if they are not displayed?
A. Materials are not accepted on long term loan, nor can agreements be made to return materials to heirs. Occasionally, short term loans are accepted for specific exhibits.

The Deed of Gift, signed by every donor, gives the Delaware Historical Society clear ownership of the materials. Delaware Historical Society accepts responsibility for preserving each donation for generations to come.


Q. Can I bequeath materials in my will?
A. Yes. Please contact us and let us know of the planned bequest. We appreciate having the opportunity to learn the story behind the materials. We can also explain in further detail the appropriate phrasing for your documents. Bequests must meet the same requirements as other donations to the collections.

Annual Giving

Delaware History Museum   |  Mitchell Center for African American Heritage   |   Old Town Hall   |   Research Library   |   Willingtown Square    |   Read House & Gardens  

(302) 655-7161
505 N. Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801
copyright 2019

The Delaware Historical Society is the statewide, non-profit organization that explores, preserves, shares, and promotes Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community.