From time to time, the Naval Historical Foundation facilitates the donation of historically significant naval items to repositories around the country. This includes photographs, uniforms, books, paperwork, and other physical artifacts. While the Foundation does not currently acquire new items for our own collection, we often play a part in ensuring the safe transfer of artifacts from private collections to proper archival institutions.
We are often asked what the best place is to donate and item. This is not an easy question, as it depends on the type of item, the period it is from, and the current holdings of archives and museums around the country. In general, unlabeled photographs, ships plaques, and ball caps are not desired by most collections. While each item will need to be assessed for condition, historical importance, and uniqueness, we thought it would be helpful to share this basic list of contacts that you might want to investigate if you you are thinking of making a donation.
Naval History and Heritage Command
The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) is the U.S. Navy’s official history command, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and museums located around the United States. NHHC’s facilities at the Washington Navy Yard house millions of paper documents and photographs, as well as the Navy Department Library which has a collection of thousands of rare and interesting books on naval history. NHHC also maintains a large material collection of artifacts including uniforms, weapons, and ship artifacts.
NHHC accepts donations from the public. If you have artifacts that are considering for donation to the U.S. Navy, please use the following contacts:
- Photographs: Photo Archives, (202) 433-2765
- Art: Navy Art Collection, (202) 433-3815
- Books: Navy Department Library, (202) 433-4132
- Physical Artifacts: Curator Branch, (202) 433-7873
- Paper Documents: Operational Archives, (202) 433-3224
World War II Materials
The National Museum of the Pacific War is located in Fredericksburg, Texas, the boyhood home of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. They collect items related to the Pacific campaign of World War II. Information on donating artifacts can be found here.
Vietnam Era Materials
The Vietnam Center and Archive at Texas Tech University has millions of pages of documents, photographs, and artifacts related to the Vietnam War. The accept donations from the public, information can be found here.
National Archives and Records Administration
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the official record keeping organization of the United States government. While the majority of their holdings come directly from the government itself, they do acquire selected relevant and important documentation and photography from private donors. They have pamphlets on their website regarding donation of photographs (here) and motion pictures (here). In general, NARA will not have an interest in acquiring materials from private donations, unless they are closely related to Federal records already in their custody. You can reach the NARA at 1-866-272-6272.
Library of Congress
The Foundation has a long standing relationship with the Library of Congress (LOC). The LOC is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections. The LOC does accept selected important items for donation, and provides instructions here on their website. Additionally, LOC runs the Veterans History Project which collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. If you have a firsthand account from a veteran, this is the place to go.
Other Navy and Military History Museums and Archives
There are many museums around the country which celebrate our Navy’s history, and which might be interested in a donation of your historic material. You may want to contact a museum or museum ship in your local area. If the items in question are from your service, or from the service of a family member, a local museum might be interested. You can find a full list of museums ships at the Historic Naval Ships Association website, complete with contact information for each of them. Additionally, you may want to try contacting the local NHHC museum in your area, a full list of which can be found here: www.history.navy.mil/museums/index.html. Additionally, your local college or university may have a Special Collections department in their Library, which may be interested in items with a local connection.
Please note: The Naval Historical Foundation does not have the capability to appraise the value of donated items.