Monday, June 28, 2010

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Provenance

This curious image caught my eye at the local antique shop. Do you spot something odd about it?
Why is the girl in the front row holding a "No Hunting" sign?

Otherwise, this class (supposedly graduated from a New Hampshire school) strikes me as rather ordinary. Typical hair, dress, and dark lipstick of the period in a rather ordinary New England room, with steamers that provide a clue about a celebration of some sort. The image is interesting from a provenance perspective. In fact, all images that end up at the antique shop interest me in this way. How do people's private images wind up here? Would they miss them? Would they be upset to know that I am evaluating them?

In the archives field, "provenance" is important for determining the authenticity of materials and for understanding the contextual value of items. If I were to do more research on this image, I would start with the information given to me by the antique dealer. The dealer's label reads "circa 1940s Lakemont Academy photos." As an archivist, I would not presume that this is factual from someone else's identification. If I cared to take the time for my personal collection (or were managing a collection in which this photo would serve as documentation of a community), I would try to confirm what the dealer has told me. To do this, I would need to find other similar collections. by contacting the dealer to ask from where he got this material. Then, I would contact the family, collection, etc. from where he said it originated. Or, I would contact the Lakemont Historical Society or another repository in the area and seek similar collections to compare the faces in the photo and find out more information about the Lakemont classes from the 1940s.

The first image was accompanied by a second one and the two were sold together for ten dollars. (Overpriced, I think, but I was really curious about that "no hunting sign.") The second image is of the school's basketball team. Some of the boys appear in both photos, and the basketball shirts do say "Lakemont," making me more confident about their origin. But the more information I could gather about the items the better and I would work to unravel the puzzle until I was confident about the items' origin - putting the images into context, learning more about this class, and perhaps learning how the antique dealer came by these images.

Confirming provenance gives users of archival material a context. Random photos found in an antique shop may not be interesting until we can relate them to ourselves, our community, or a personal interest. A fellow Lakemont grad or basketball team member may have found this fascinating despite their initial ordinary appearance.

Or, than again, that "no hunting" sign may have been enough to pique someone else's curiosity...

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