Conrad Landin describes the Department for Culture, Media and Sport following where Durham County Council has led:
Museum workers criticised the Imperial War Museum (IWM) yesterday for blaming cutbacks on government funding shortfalls while selling its collection off at knockdown prices.
The museum has reportedly disposed of a sixth of its holdings for an income of tens of thousands of pounds.
Sussex-based dealer Alan Hewer told the Sunday Times he had bought a rare set of military journals for £18 when they were priced at £2,000 online.
He had also paid just £30 for a rare book in the museum’s collection which was priced at £1,350 elsewhere.
He said this was “great for collectors” but “hardly of much benefit” to the museum.
“Imagine the public outcry if you walked into the National Gallery and were told you could help yourself for £50 a picture,” he added.
British museums and galleries have found themselves under increased financial pressure following cuts in public sector grants, with some scaling back their operations and slashing staff levels and working conditions.
In 2015 IWM director-general Diane Lees suggested planned cuts to the museum archives were due to “significant reductions to government funding.”
The news of the south London museum’s recent sales came after some of its World War I trench maps were found in a skip.
Civil Service union PCS’s culture sector president Clara Paillard said:
“It seems ironic that at a time when we are told there are budget constraints and cuts, that museums not only sell artefacts but sell them at knockdown prices.”
But she told the Star that selling off collections was problematic in itself.
“We are the guardians of public collections — they belong to the public,” she added.
“It’s not about their monetary value, it’s about their historical value and their value to society.”
The museum said most of the disposed material consisted of duplicate biographies and War Office publications, as well as viewing copies of films, footage from ITN and BBC documentaries and “items outside our remit.”
It said it had followed a “vigorous process” with some items valued by professionals and all disposals agreed by the board of trustees.
“We do not regret the reduction of these holdings,” it said in a statement.