A familiar question that I get is how old does an artifact have to be before a museum takes it into its collection? Obviously, it depends upon the mission of the museum; if the mission does not go beyond the 1870’s, then all of the artifacts are old by most people’s standards. However, if the mission is simply to collect and preserve the material history of a county or region then “how old is old?” takes on new meaning.
While everyone assumes that something has to be old to be in a museum, this is simply not true. As long as an artifact is meaningful to the mission of the museum, then it has a place in the collection. To provide an example, prior to becoming the Director of the Nebraska City Museum Association, I was the Director of the Institute of Industrial Technology in Newark, Ohio. Its name changed to simply “The Works”, the museum focused on the industrial history and technology of the county. That county still had over 60 manufacturers, many household names. While we looked to collect artifacts representing all of the past manufacturers, I was more than happy to accept the first of a new product coming off the assembly line. While it may not be old now, it eventually would be and its significance was that it was the first piece off of the line.
A good example of “not old but significant” is one of the new temporary exhibits that will be on display at the Otoe County Museum of Memories in Syracuse. Opening Sunday, May 7, from 1:30 – 4:00 and continuing on Sundays through the summer, the exhibit focuses on spring fashions; primarily on men’s sports coats from the 1960s and on. While this may not seem old to a number of us, it is fun to see what we as a culture thought was fashionable just 40 years ago. Their other exhibit features uniforms worn by men from Otoe County who participated in World War I to commemorate the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War. While only one of the displays may be considered ‘old’, they both emphasize that a museum’s collection does not have to be old, just significant.