Monday, June 11, 2007

The value of ephemera, or, Why we'll take it all!

A recent post on the Britannica Blog, entitled "What Are Conan Doyle's Undershirts Doing in Texas?" refers to a New Yorker article and applauds (I think) the collecting habits of Tom Staley, director of the Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The Center's collections contain everything from sandwiches to socks--indeed, whatever comes in with materials donated by or associated with persons of note.

The desire to obtain all materials associated with a particular figure, before the donor has a chance to "go through" the collection to remove anything thought to be irrelevant, is certainly one we have here in Historical Collections & Archives. We had to convince the donor of the Herbert Merton Greene Collection that, yes, we would really be interested in the Freemasonry materials as well as the pill maker, and that the photographs of Greene with his family and friends are just as valuable as the photos of him in military dress or at the office. Just this past Friday, we had a visitor who was describing to us the way in which she was dismantling an important collection of papers in her possession, trying--she believed, helpfully--to locate institutions that might be interested in any one piece. A photo of one locale could go to that town's historical society; old magazines might be donated to a library. What the owner of the papers was failing to realize was that the true value in the collection lies in its association with a famous personage, and that removal of individual items--no matter how systematic--would inevitably lead to a nearly complete loss of value for those materials. Hopefully, our respectful comments on her approach to dissemination of the collection will have had a positive impact.

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