The Museum has an extensive, permanent objects collection. This collection includes more than 800 stage costumes, over 600 instruments, and hundreds of other objects—from microphones to automobiles—documenting the history of country music.
Historic instruments include a harmonica used by country music's first African-American star, DeFord Bailey; Jimmie Rodgers's 1928 Weymann guitar; the autoharp Sara Carter used at the Carter Family's first recording sessions in 1927; Les Paul's 1941 experimental "log" electric guitar; a four-necked steel guitar Barbara Mandrell played onstage as a child; Mother Maybelle Carter's 1928 Gibson L-5 guitar; and Bill Monroe's Gibson F-5 Master Model mandolin.
As with many accredited museums with large holdings, less than one-tenth of the objects belonging the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum are on display at one time. The majority of the collection is accessioned, preserved, and stored using the best museum practices available.
The Challenge of Collecting
To preserve the history of country music, the Museum began a collection initiative in 1967. Like most not-for-profit cultural institutions, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum does not have an acquisitions fund.
The majority of our collection has been donated. Other items were purchased for pennies at garage sales and estate auctions in the days before collecting became an international mania.
Sometimes, despite their wishes, heirs and owners of country music's important relics are unable to donate their treasures to the public. Often, an object that could be a key connection to a major star or an important era in history has been swapped or sold by its original owner and gradually makes it way back to the marketplace, a marketplace that is increasingly difficult to navigate due to the current international popularity of collecting for both pleasure and as investment. This has driven prices for popular culture objects beyond even the most well-funded museum's ability to compete.
Securing historically important objects is less than half the battle. What remains is the eternal and expensive privilege of caring for, preserving, interpreting, and making the collection accessible to the widest possible audience. This obligation, which is a matter of public trust, is what differentiates a museum from a private collector.