Museum CollectionThe collection is the foundation on which the rest of the museum stands. These tangible pieces allow us to answer so many questions about our past, and perhaps more importantly, beg us to ask more.
The museum collects objects that relate to the human experience in South Dakota. Since its founding in 1901, the museum’s collection has grown to over 33,000 artifacts ranging from Lakota headdresses to political buttons, and just about everything in between.
The museum uses objects in its nationally recognized exhibits, for research purposes, and as loans to museums around the world.
The museum relies on donations from the public to add to its collections. Once a part of the museum’s collection, objects reside in the state-of-the-art Cultural Heritage Center where a professional staff cares for them, ensuring their long-term preservation for generations to come.
The collection pieces of the Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society help tell the story of the South Dakota experience. These artifacts are the tangible link between today and the past, and will continue to be irreplaceable tools of knowledge well into the future.
The museum’s collection covers a wide range of topics and periods. The collection consists of all types of materials, old, new, big, small, purple, green, toy, weapon, etc. We have a world-class collection of Lakota materials and internationally significant objects that document the European arrival on the northern plains. Our military collection is extensive, as are our collections of quilts, political buttons, and toys, among others. The museum generally does not collect large transportation items, large agricultural equipment, archaeological or natural history specimens; or any item that may violate state, federal, or international law.
One misconception is that the museum only collects old things. Not everything old is important, and not everything important is old. What happens today will be what children 50 or 150 years in the future will read in their textbooks. It is the museum’s responsibility to collect artifacts that touch and shape the lives of present-day South Dakotans, just as we do for our ancestors.
The collections are a treasure trove of information for researchers, and are used in the museum’s nationally recognized exhibits. In addition, the museum frequently loans collection pieces to other museums.
The Museum of the South Dakota State Historical Society depends almost entirely on the generosity of donors to grow the collection. On average, the museum adds around 500 objects to its collection annually.
By donating artifacts to the museum you:
• support the preservation of the South Dakota story
• help the museum tell our great state’s history through that artifact in our nationally recognized exhibits
• make another piece of information available to researchers.
• ensure that the items will be cared for to benefit present and future generations
Artifacts not on display are available for family or public viewing with prior notice.
No museum has unlimited resources, and no museum can collect everything. Therefore, the museum is selective in what it collects. The museum staff evaluates donation submissions monthly. The staff adheres to the guidelines set forth in the museum’s collections policy to determine if an object matches the criteria required for the piece to become a part of the collection.
As a rule, the museum collects artifacts that relate to the human history of South Dakota. These artifacts could be 100+ years old, or made yesterday. The museum does not collect large transportation items, large agricultural equipment, archaeological or natural history specimens, or any item that may violate state, federal, or international law.
The museum only accepts donations free of conditions or restrictions. Examples of restriction or conditions include an item must always be on display, must be displayed or stored as a group, or that the museum may never get rid of it if need be. Restrictions and conditions eliminate the flexibility the museum needs to function professionally, and can have hazardous ramifications for the artifact.
As a donor, you may be able to take a tax deduction for all or a portion of the fair market value of your gift. The museum does not provide appraisals for any items, under any circumstance. The museum will provide information on how to find an appropriate appraiser.
Make a Donation
If you are interested in making an artifact donation to the museum, please contact:
Jay Smith, State Museum Director
South Dakota State Historical Society
Attn: Jay Smith
900 Governors Drive
Pierre SD 57501
Please also complete the object history form for each object and send or e-mail it to the museum.
Museum collections require a great deal of care. Things are not just bagged & tagged and thrown on a back shelf to collect dust. At least not in this museum! In order to ensure that artifacts will last as long as absolutely possible, a number of precautions must be taken both while on display and in storage.
Like humans, artifacts are healthiest in stable environments. We don’t like to be too hot, or too cold. We especially do not like rapid fluctuations, which often make us sick and uncomfortable. In artifacts, fluctuations can cause cracking, warping, and mold. We keep our collections at a constant temperature and humidity.
Have you ever wondered why museums are so dark? The answer is that light is also an issue for artifacts, especially ultraviolet (UV) light. Think about how the sun affects skin. The U/V in the sun alters the pigment in your skin, making it darker. Luckily, our skin is resilient and goes back to its original color. Artifacts are not so lucky. Light damage is permanent. Neither fading, nor darkening is reversible. Click here to try an experiment on light damage. The museum filters out harmful UV, and keeps lights levels in the exhibit galleries low. Artifacts are kept in a near pitch-black room while in storage.
Artifacts are picky about what types of materials they come in contact with. One of the more damaging things to artifacts, especially metals, is your fingers. The oil on your fingers bonds to surfaces, causing discolorations and corrosion over time. This is why museum workers wear gloves while handling artifacts. Click here to try an experiment at home. The museum uses archival materials such as acid free paper and boxes, polyester film, and special foam sheets for storing and exhibiting items. Objects not on display reside on museum-grade shelving and cabinets in the museum’s secured storage area.
Objects in the museum’s collection are cared for by trained professional staff that adhere to industry standards of best practices, and stay up-to-date with collection care procedures.
Our prime directive in collections care is to do no harm. When that is not possible, we try to minimize the type and amount of damage. All alterations to objects should be reversible. Please see the links below for further information about collections care. We also encourage you to ask us if you or your museum has any questions about collections care. Please contact Jay Smith, State Museum Director, at Jay Smith , or (605) 773-3798.
The museum’s collection is an outstanding resource for research into the material culture of South Dakota. Researchers are welcome and strongly encouraged to take advantage of the informational treasure trove housed in the Cultural Heritage Center. Staff is available to help researchers by appointment Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Research in Person: We are best able to accommodate you if you contact us in advance, state your needs, and let us know when you will be visiting. At least 48 hour notice is required. You can be granted permission to examine most museum objects that are in storage. Access to objects currently on exhibit may be limited. Research photography is permitted. Publishing any photographs of objects in our collection requires written permission and payment as outlined in the fee schedule. All researchers must complete a research registration form, and present a valid photo ID upon arrival.
To click to complete a research registration form.
Inquiries: We will answer your reference requests by e-mail, phone, letter or FAX. We will provide up to 10 photocopies free. Each additional page is $.25. See fee schedule for additional charges.
Use in Publications: Adding images of artifacts into publications is a fantastic way to convey information and increase the interest of the reader. Many items in our collection are widely published, and we are interested in seeing even more of the collection in publications both in print and online. See fee schedule for basic fees. Payment of our Reproduction Rights Fee gives you permission for the one-time, non-exclusive use of the reproduction. Our contract also requires that you provide us with one copy of the publication in which the reproduction appears. Subsequent use will require you to contact us again and pay an additional fee.