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Museum Collection - Museum Day

by Jesse Brody on 2017-05-18T14:17:51-04:00 in Archives, Anthropology & Sociology, Art

For Museum Day, I decided to research Special Collection's Museum Collection. This collection includes many archeological artifacts, but we have little or no information on where they were collected, by whom, or under what circumstances.

The original core of the collection was from the Chester County Cabinet of the Natural Sciences, Chester County’s first natural sciences museum. So I started with what material we have about the Cabinet. However, I discovered that its contents only pertain to the herbariums and botanical specimens contributed to the Cabinet, rather than artifacts I'm researching.

Then I went to the student newspapers. Full-text searching the student newspapers is often a great way to pinpoint relevant information. In this case, unfortunately, the papers reported on so many student trips to other museums that I couldn’t pick out information about West Chester’s own museum.

In the course catalogs, I began finding scraps of information. Starting in 1879-1880, the museum collection was located in the Main Building in an addition that had been built in 1878-1879. When the Old Library was built in 1902, the collection was moved to its second floor. The mineral collection of the late Alfred Sharples was donated by his son F. F. Sharples in 1904-1905, and it seems that J. Preston Thomas’s collection of animal heads, horn, and Native American artifacts was made in 1906-1907. In 1909-910, over fifty Roman and Etruscan ceramic artifacts were donated by Dr. Edwin Barber, Director of the Pennsylvania Museum, and a collection of taxidermy birds and bird eggs, made by the late Frank Darlington, was added in 1915.

It seems that the attention and care given to the museum may have waned in the late 1920s. The museum was always given a paragraph description the course catalog up until 1927-1928, and in 1938-1939, it stops being mentioned at all. What does this mean? In 1939, the Old Library was renovated and perhaps the perennial problem of space in libraries led to the relocation or dissolution of the museum. Or maybe the staff responsible for the course catalog just decided not to devote space to the museum anymore. It’s hard to tell if the change in the course catalog provides anything meaningful.

We have an inventory of the museum collection from 1946. Esther Wolfe, who was probably a West Chester student, created an “Accession List of Recataloged Items” which consists of an inventory of a large number of Native American artifacts, as well as European Neolithic artifacts, some ancient Greek pottery, and random items ranging from a Turkish comb to Chilean spurs. In total, there are 684 items listed, according to the count at the end of the accession list. An inventory of the museum collection completed in 2012, however, consists of about 300 items. Wolfe notes at the end of the accession list that there is a card catalog for the collection “in Museum,” an indexed clipping file, and a collection of school loan articles filed in “old Herbarium Cabinets,” and that she also created a report in 1946. There is also a bibliography of books and museums consulted in doing all this work. Clearly, at some point we lost track of both records and artifacts.

Occasionally archival research yields useful information easily and quickly, but very often it doesn’t. I still don’t have any idea where I might find the provenance information I’m looking for, or a full picture of the history of the Museum Collection. Sometimes archival research is like that. 

 

Images: 

Top right image: Artifact to the left has a label reading "Pottery from Cliff dwelling ruins - 1000-2000 years before Spanish came" (Museum Collection, Box 1, 45-109). Artifact to the right has a label reading "Ancient Pueblo Pitcher 11-1200 A.D." (Museum Collection, Box 1, 45-129). Artifact in the middle is listed in the inventory as "ancient pueblo kettle with incised design" (Museum Collection, Box 1, 45-128). 

Middle image: Artifact to the left has a label reading "2 Handled Cup Greek 5th-4th cent. B.C." (Museum Collection, Box 8, container 3). Artifact to the right has a label reading "Etruscan Buchero Ware 5th-3rd cent. B.C." (Museum Collection, Box 8, container 3). 

Bottom image: Artifact to the left has a label reading "Cochiti Storage Bowl - Note design for four points of world, 1891" (Museum Collection Box 3, not listed in inventory.) 

 

References

Sturzebecker, Russell L. The Centennial History of West Chester State College. West Chester: Tinicum Press, 1971. 

West Chester University Course Catalog 1879-1880, pg 21. 

West Chester University Course Catalog 1904-1906, pg 41. 

West Chester University Course Catalog 1906-1907, pg 39. 

West Chester Course Catalog 1909-1910, pg 36-39. 

West Chester Course Catalog 1916-1917, pg 44. 

Wolfe, Esther. "Accession List of Recataloged Items." 


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