Donations: Frequently Asked Questions

The California State Railroad Museum welcomes donations. The Museum’s Collections are primarily the result of the gifts of many individual and corporate donors. More than 95 percent of the present collection is the result of gifts from more than 2,000 donors since the Museum’s inception in 1976. Each year, families, collectors, and companies select the California State Railroad Museum as the permanent repository for their railroad artifacts, manuscripts, photographs and publications.

California State Railroad Museum Mission Statement

The California State Railroad Museum preserves and interprets the artifacts and culture of Western railroads and railroading for present and future generations. We use iconic collections, innovative and immersive exhibits, engaging interpretation and programs, and memorable events to create enjoyable experiences, empower learning and inspire appreciation for a diverse audience about the role and impact of the railroad and mobility in California, the West and the Nation.

We’d love to hear about your donation offer. Fill out the Collection Information Questionnaire and email the form to [email protected]. Provide us with as much information as you can. If you are unable to complete the online form, contact us at [email protected], to have a form sent to you. Try to include a photograph and measurements of the object with your form. Once the form is received, we will evaluate the proposed donation and a decision will be made by the Acquisitions Team.
The Museum collects materials that tell stories of the railroad through the stories of people. These materials could include 3D objects, full-size equipment, photographs, ephemera, books, maps, manuscripts, scrapbooks and more.
Review the Scope of Collections.
As a unit of California State Parks, the Museum’s collections are governed and managed in accordance with the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s Department Operating Manual (DOM) Chapter 2000 and the practices, procedures and forms contained in DPR’s Museum Collections Management Handbooks, Volumes One and Two. The Museum’s curatorial staff has the day-to-day responsibility for the care and use of the collections. Museum staff manage the collections in full compliance with professional standards governing the ownership and responsibility for maintaining and documenting cultural property.
Donation offers are evaluated by the Acquisitions Team, who consider how the donation will contribute to the Museum’s interpretive focus of telling railroad stories through people as well as the Scope of Collections statement. This process can take up to eight weeks from when we receive your offer. Once the donation is approved for acquisition, the donor will be contacted to complete a Deed of Gift to transfer legal ownership of the collection to the Museum and arrange a method of delivery.

Review the Scope of Collections.

Additions to the Museum’s permanent collections are made very consciously and cautiously and are carefully made by the Museum’s curatorial staff. At the present time, the Museum accepts less than half of the artifacts and documentary materials offered for donation. If materials are declined, Museum staff attempt to suggest other appropriate beneficiary institutions.
Though the Museum would like to preserve all railroad history, we have space restrictions and must consider our interpretive and research needs. Examples of items which are rarely accepted include foreign railroad publications and toy and scale model train layouts.
The process of removing items from permanent Museum collections is known as deaccessioning. The Museum goes to great lengths to avoid deaccessioning its holdings, but sometimes it is necessary. A few reasons to deaccession include items that are duplicate, are out of scope, damaged or pose a health hazard.
It is the Museum’s preference to own and have full, clear title to all permanent collections held by the institution. The Museum also places a high value on owning all associated copyright, literary and intellectual property rights associated with objects and materials which it holds. The Museum places a high priority and value on owning original, authentic and well-documented original collections as opposed to reproductions, replicas or fakes.
Incoming loans are entered into only when there is a very specific need or program, where outright gift is not an immediate option, or in instances where temporary loan or custody will likely lead to eventual Museum ownership.
The Museum does not accept unsolicited donations through the mail or in-person. If a donation is accepted, a collections specialist will advise the donor on the most appropriate method to receive the gift. Depending on the collection, options include shipping or scheduling a time for pick up or delivery. Shipping collections to the Museum will be at the donor’s expense.
The fair market value of collections donated to the Museum are usually tax-deductible. Donors can learn more from the IRS Publication 561 and consult an accountant, attorney or Internal Revenue Service for more information.
Acceptance of a donation does not guarantee objects will be displayed in an exhibit due to limited exhibit space. While not on display, collections are professionally preserved in storage and made available to researchers or museum programming with advance notice.
Donors to the Museum receive the satisfaction of knowing their donated items become a permanent part of the collections of the California State Railroad Museum at Sacramento and/or at Railtown 1897 State Historic Park at Jamestown. In addition, donors with individual or cumulative gifts of cash or in-kind contributions of collections totaling $5,000 or more are acknowledged by name on the Museum’s donor acknowledgement wall in the Museum. Donors are acknowledged by name and in categories by the estimated total value of their gift(s).
The Museum relies heavily on donations to build its collection and will consider a purchase only on rare occasions.
The Museum cannot legally appraise collections. If you require an assessment, you will need to speak with a professional appraiser – preferably someone who has a background in the subject matter of your item or collection. Both the American Society of Appraisers ( and International Society of Appraisers ( provide contact information for a wide variety of specialists.