Friday, March 19, 2010

Antiquing from an Archivist's Point of View

The antique dealer said to me, "So you must be from Dover," as I fingered the dull medal and tried to decide if it would suit my purpose.

"Um, no I'm not," I replied.

He stood beside me waiting for me to tell him why I was interested in the little New Hampshire Old Home Day souvenir, his curiosity now piqued, I guess. I considered whether I wanted to explain it all again, as I had done so many times before to so many different types of people.

"I'm an historian," I said, "I'm interested in things." Did I really want to teach what an archivist is when I was supposed to be enjoying a morning away from the office?

The dealer was satisfied and just told me to let him know if I needed his help. I wandered the aisles of the little antique shop on Route 4 in New Hampshire, known in this state as "Antique Alley." I peered in little glass display windows seeking mementos that would help illustrate my book about documenting communities and items that could possibly used in my classes to teach students about the importance of archives and preserving personal papers.

My closest friend was accompanying me on this trip. She has no background in what I do, but is trying to understand. "How about this cute postcard for the book?" She asked. I looked over her shoulder to see the Norman Rockwell Christmas card she held.

"I can't use it because of copyright issues," I said.

"Oh." We wandered some more. "Ooh! Here are the letters you need!" She exclaimed. I had told her that old handwritten letters would be perfect. So I again sidled up to her and this time saw the old town records she was examining. I hope that I stifled my sigh.

"These shouldn't even be here, although you'll find municipal records in shops like this all over the place and on E-bay." I explained, "These are the legal property of the town that created them and should be returned." I also explained this to the proprietor to whom I then had to explain what I really do.

"I'm an archivist and we manage records such as these. They really should be returned to the town. They are an important piece of documentary heritage." The shop owner thanked me kindly and said he'd notify the seller. He was nice about it at least...didn't harumph at me or anything.

I left the shop with my Dover medal, two lovely black and white images, and a small tin type. I always wanted a tin type. This one does not have its full case, but the frame and the little woman staring back at me are beautiful. It's always nice to have my own special bit of history to share. As an archives consultant, I don't always have archives and manuscripts at my disposal to use as samples for explaining. So I build my own "collection" and try to find items that are meaningful to me in some way and it makes the process of "collecting" more worthwhile - fun, memorable and educational.

My day on Route 4 was great. We found another little shop with more town public records and this time my friend jumped all over it. "Look! You had better tell them about these too." We then left for a great lunch in Concord at Siam Orchid Thai on Main Street. ( I highly recommend this restaurant by the way - super yummy.)

This morning I scanned my treasures to share some with you. And now I have also done my personal "educational" part. I love New Hampshire Old Home Days. I grew up in New York and there we had fireman parades and fairs where our town's heroes could show off their equipment. I suppose the point was to encourage us to keep supporting their purchases. They then held a big carnival to entertain the local kids. Old Home Days in New Hampshire has a similar atmosphere. According to a little research, (very little research to be exact - not up to my usual, but I'll save that for another day should my interest in this topic grow further) Old Home Days were started at the turn of the century, supposedly to encourage children who were leaving home in increasing numbers to come back to visit their families. Towns all over New Hampshire began having big celebrations to show off their towns and welcome back children for reunion (sort of like school homecomings, I guess.) Old home days can stimulate the economy, raise local awareness by encouraging groups within a locale to participate, and raise civic pride. Old Home Days can be a central part of a movement to stimulate cultural awareness and thus my little Dover medal has special meaning for me, someone who works primarily to promote cultural heritage. My antiquing is never straightforward.

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