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Questions and Curios

A comparison between thrift stores and museums was made to me recently. Despite my best efforts to avoid the topic of museums and museum studies completely in my thesis for school (because holy….), it managed to sneak its way in and needless to say I have been talking a lot and thinking a lot about museums lately.

After this comparison was made I thought “yes… you’re on to something”. After thinking about it some more I realized that museums and thrift stores are absolutely nothing alike.

Museums are for displaying important objects, every item is separated and has fancy lighting and a label and a history that is culturally significant. People spend their whole lives studying these objects; people make careers out of setting up exhibitions. And other people pay good money just to go and look.

Thrift stores crowd their items together. You can’t just look you have to find. These objects are not priceless, but a cheap price. They don’t even compare in their social and historical value. It’s just a warehouse of other people’s throwaways and donations under fluorescent light.

Or are they?

Where do museum collections come from? Where did they start? Cabinets of curios? Personal collections? When one goes back in time the two begin to look strangely similar. Fundamentally, both museums and thrift stores display objects that have a history and (a) previous owner(s). But what makes the objects in the museum more valuable than those sitting on a musty shelf at Value Village?

Well, really, lots of things, but we won’t get into that. Instead, consider this – if you took Andrea’s Pinocchio and put it in a glass case with a label and its own little light, would it suddenly seem more valuable? Somehow more important? Perhaps even… museum worthy?

I’ve come to this conclusion: objects themselves have no real value. The only value that they have is attributed to them by you, by me, by the social and economic norms that shape our opinions and sense of worth.

What do you think? Are museums and thrift stores really all that different?

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