Client story

Valuing a collection of museum artefacts

The Australian Museum required a valuation of its entire heritage and cultural collection.

The Australian Museum has a collection of over 20 million items. Everything from ancient Animalia to irreplaceable relics are displayed, archived, organised and preserved both at the Sydney-based museum and offsite locations.

Rhinoceros horns, tiger paste seized by customs officials as well as some of the best preserved examples of tree kangaroo from Papua New Guinea, and the Tasmanian tiger (or Thylacine), are among its tangle of weird and wonderful artefacts.

The museum also has a taxidermy rat modelled by animators for the 2018 motion picture Peter Rabbit.

All these items might seem priceless, but in the context of financial reporting their value can be measured. Determining that value was the job of our Public Sector Valuations team.

All these items might seem priceless, but in the context of financial reporting their value can be measured. 

We had provided valuations to museums, galleries and libraries across Australia previously, but this project was unique as we had just helped draft a national valuation framework with the Council of Australasian Museum Directors, and this was the first valuation to follow.

How do you value 20+ million items?

We corralled an expert team, including a statistician and a group of history and cultural buffs, to scour the Australian Museum’s collection and start to determine a value.

We used a method known as ‘statistically verified multi stage sampling’ to calculate the most accurate ‘fair value’ estimate without having to apply a monetary value to every single item.

Sub-collections were categorised into high-value and low-value items. The high-value items were then individually sighted and valued. The low value items were subject to a statistical sampling methodology, which requires sighting and valuing a random sample of items, then using statistical techniques to extrapolate a value.

Qualifying and quantifying

Not all items have a clear cut value, says Ty Noble, our head of Public Sector Valuations.

“The collection includes an Egyptian figurine that needed to be carbon dated as it was originally thought to be a fake. but it was actually determined to be an authentic ancient artefact and its value increased by over $250,000,” Noble says.

“The collection includes an Egyptian figurine that needed to be carbon dated as it was originally thought to be a fake. but it was actually determined to be an authentic ancient artefact and its value increased by over $250,000.” 

Ty Noble, our head of Public Sector Valuations.

For items where a market value could not be established, we deferred to the ‘recollection costs’ methodology: the cost of mounting an expedition to collect similar replacement specimens.

Noble explains: “An opal would be valued on what the market would pay for it, but not all rocks have the same appeal to the market as they do science, likewise for nails or broken pottery from a shipwreck. When there is no market evidence for these kinds of things, we would have to refer to the cost of recollection.

“That’s the only way we can reliably measure the value of these items. If you can’t reliably measure something it should not be valued under the Australian Accounting Standards.”

Valuable work

The Australian Museum’s 2017/18 annual report stated that its financial position was considerably strengthened by the revaluation of its assets, which resulted in an increase in value of $284 million to $773 million.

This has been partly driven by changes in market values, improved awareness of the uniqueness of particular items and changes in the cost of recollecting specimens.

A major factor has also been the accurate valuation of its broad and varied collection. This will support the Australian Museum’s operational requirements for housing, restoring and maintaining the existing collection and also acquiring new items relevant to the Australian Museum Heritage and Cultural Collection.