Every year at this time we engage a public auditor to examine our bookkeeping, accounting and management procedures to ensure that we are operating in the best possible interest of Mennonite Heritage Village and its donors and supporters. The complexity of the accounting discipline results in some very interesting discussions and issues.
One of the issues we’ve been discussing this year is the valuation of our collection of artifacts. The balance sheet refers to our collection as “Cultural Properties and Antiquities.” By now we have in excess of 15,000 artifacts. Some of them have been here a long time, some are recent arrivals. We have very large artifacts, such as old buildings, and we have very small artifacts, such as reusable needles for medical syringes. The collection includes articles of minimal monetary value as well as articles of significant monetary value. Much of the value in our collection is of a cultural or sentimental nature. Many artifacts are literally irreplaceable.
The balance sheet wants to know the monetary value of our “Cultural Properties and Antiquities” for some good reasons. If our collection ever sustained some serious damages and we needed to file a claim with our insurance underwriter, we would need to have some reasonable sense of the value of the damaged artifacts.
The challenges in maintaining a credible representation of the monetary value of the collection are significant. First we need to establish the value of the item when it arrives at MHV. Since all our artifacts are donated, we don’t have the benefit of a number on a sales receipt. Artifacts may also change in value. An item that was acquired 30 years ago and had little value at that time may have become significantly more valuable by now. Monitoring this kind of unpredictable inflationary activity is hardly practical. This will be an interesting topic of conversation for our staff and our Finance and Audit Committee in the weeks to come.