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About 45 benefactor stories are told as part of the show, which celebrates the museum's ''proud history of patronage and philanthropy''.
Among artefacts on display are several flintlock firearms, including blunderbuss weapons which were part of a collection of artefacts once owned by Scottish-born Alexander Thomson.
Mr Thomson founded Thomson and Co, an award-winning aerated water and cordial manufacturing company, in Dunedin in the 1860s, and his family donated items after his death in 1904.
Also celebrated in the show is German-born Wili Fels, a notable figure in the Hallenstein Bros clothing business.
He gave more than 8000 humanities items to the museum, and also established a major collections purchasing fund.
Other featured donors include collectors, missionaries and explorers, and items have come from many people and organisations, including Sir Ernest Shackleton, entertainer Ray Columbus and the Otago Daily Times.
''The Otago Museum's collection would not be what it is today - a world-class collection spanning many eras and nations - without the generations of benefactors who have entrusted us with their precious collections,'' museum director Dr Ian Griffin said.
The display will run at the museum's Special Exhibitions Gallery until November 23.