Wednesday, December 21, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (Dec 21, 2016): Searching for the place where things should be

Where should things go? 

Regular Reader Ann Folsom wrote in with a great question that I wanted to share as a SearchResearch Challenge, especially at this holiday time of the year.  

Her excellent question:  
Some of us are in the position of downsizing or finding out what's in those trunks in the attic, learning what a family member treasured enough to put away. For instance, I recently heard of a woman unable to find a buyer for her player piano and its 150 piano rolls.  In another case, a family member passed away, leaving an enormous collection of lovely, varied, interesting teacups.
What happens to family photo albums from 80-90 years ago? The clothing and backgrounds are interesting, and who knows what might be of historic interest to future researchers?  
Likewise, families often have magazine and comic book collections, stamp and coin collections, not to mention electronic collections (outdated computers, with instruction manuals and floppy disks of various types)
I've even seen collections of mounted trophy heads,  artwork from painters, journals and magazines in various fields, and personal libraries of books.  Where should they go?   I'm guessing that somewhere out there, somebody would have loved to have the player piano or the piano rolls.  
I have no idea how you'd make the connection. Some tech historian might really welcome the electronic collection of Victor computers, attachments, and disks.

This leads to today's Challenge, which comes in two parts:  

1.  How do you find the "best" place for your collection of artifacts from another time?  Is there a strategy to match your collection with an interested buyer / acquirer?   That is, how would you find a good home for your collection?  

-- and then there's the opposite of that question... 

2.  If you're searching for archival materials to acquire, what's a good strategy for finding them?  (As an example, what's the best way to find archival piano rolls to acquire? How about old oak library card catalogs?)

What would your advice be to Ann?  Is there an effective strategy that would match archival artifacts with interested buyers or acquirers?  

Let us know what your advice would be.  How can you give stuff back to the universe after you're done with it (and do it in a way that is beneficial to the world at large)?  And how can you figure out how to acquire the stuff that you're interested in as well.  (While I'm not a big collector, I have been known to acquire the occasional historically interesting postcard.  How does one do that??)  

Who knew there was an amusement park at Fulton at Tenth Avenue in
San Francisco, next to Golden Gate Park known as "Beer Town"?
You can't make this stuff up. Postcards make the past visible.

Search on!  


  1. I would start with your local historical society. Nearly every town or county has one. Ours told me not to throw anything away of local interest until I had them take a look at it. I have found a home for lots of stuff there - even old microfilm from our library. I also know of a place devoted to technical computer history When I was offering old magazines free on a listserv, Ed Sharpe contacted me and I shipped a number of them off to him. He is an interesting fellow. However, there is a museum for nearly everything, so when I was trying to find him again, because I couldn't quite remember the name of his site, I Googled computer museum and many others came up. Some of them are digital, so they may not want to house your artifacts, but would photograph and document them for posterity.

  2. Hello Dr. Russell and everyone. Happy Winter/Summer Solstice and Happy Holidays.

    Very interesting questions. I don't have any idea. In the past knew about some people who their family passed and they wanted to sell stuff and we didn't find any good place. So it will be great to SearchReSearch and also know and read the answers

  3. Deb here with Anne who got very excited about this question and said she had a friend who just did this with audio tapes. Her friend took her tapes from her radio features from an NPR affiliate and had them digitized and then sent them to the Library of Congress for their Archive of American Broadcasting. So the LOC is one place to see if you could donate items to in their various archives. Although they couldn't take everyone's materials it's certainly worth a shot. Anne said that Stanford Univ. has a archive of recorded sound so they could be interested in sound recordings. Depending on what it is you could try searching for archival collections to see if other universities had archives of whatever you were trying to get rid of. Museums would be another place to try. Local historical societies are another place to try as are libraries with local history depts. But as we know with old books some of this stuff just isn't what these places would want to have in their collections. So we thought of online sites such as eBay or Craigslist. If you really think something is valuable you could bring in an appraiser to give you an idea of the value. Will post question 2 separately.

  4. Who knew there were so many people interested in old piano rolls? When Anne and I did as search on Google for archival piano rolls we found several sites which were dedicated to preserving this form of music in digital format. So amazing what you will find by doing a general search. In this case we could reach out to some of the individuals who run these websites to find the actual rolls. But if the digital format works there were many sites offering these. Another place would be sites like ebay. Stanford library has a catalog of these rolls and we found a company QRS Music Technology still manufactures piano rolls. And you can even find Maurice Ravel's music on a piano player roll.

  5. Good Challenges. Disposition: to start with the easiest, [computer museum] finds loads of them. An email should be able start things off.

    [player piano museum] also finds many places to try

    [tea cup museum collection] also lots of hits

    FOr Fine Arts try big city museums and auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christies

    To acquire a collection, these same sources as above can be tried.

    Personal notes:

    But sometimes its really difficult to find anyone interested. My uncle a military and idustrial photographer for over 50 years, with all his negs catalogued, indetified and findable, had little interest from any usual source.

    A friend inherited a nice collection of native art that I thought immediately was valuable to the ages. I suggested he contact an anthropology museum for an assessment and at least let them measure, photograph the goods and in return offer help with assessing the values for insurance purposes. Which he did.

    Another friend had a huge collection of genealogical reference material and her own books of research. She died. The offspring not wanting any of it asked the local genealogy group to come and take what the wanted. They took a few books, the rest, everything else went to the dump.

    But beware of family warfare if your inherited collection turns out to have noticeable value.

  6. Talking to a local historical society is a great idea; also find a professional archivist -- they are experts at this. Most universities and larger colleges have at least one.

    the UCSB library has a famous collection of cylinder recordings, and an deep collection of digitized records -- the detailed metadata can make for fun searching of songs. and