Merriam-Webster defines an archive as “a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved.” The South Carolina Historical Society is home to the largest private manuscript collection in the state, meaning we do not hold official government records (birth, marriage, death, etc), but we do have personal papers, records of philanthropic and social organizations, parish registers, business records, and much, much more that all pertain to South Carolina and its rich history.
One of my favorite responsibilities as the archivist for the society is to acquire new items for our collection. It’s my job to meet with donors to see if their materials fit within the scope of our collection and abide by our collection policy. The collection policy is an important tool that keeps us on the straight and narrow so we don’t fill our space with objects that have nothing to do with South Carolina or its people. Once a decision is made, we either ask the donor to sign a deed of gift form signing ownership to the society or, if the item does not fit within our collection, we may recommend another institution as a possible home.
The old adage “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure” resonates with this process. We receive numerous calls and emails each year where someone is downsizing or has inherited an item and asks if we want a scale model of a cotton gin, a piano, or a secretary. These are not items that we accept (we really like paper), but it starts a conversation with a potential donor. This gives me the opportunity to inquire if they have come across ephemera, documents, letters, photographs, maps or plats, or books. These items may possess incredible research value for patrons visiting the SCHS Reading Room—we have more than 2,000 visitors per year!
The moral of this story is: please contact us before you toss! The society truly appreciates the opportunity to hear about materials in your possession before you send them to the circular file (or trash can). Please don’t hesitate to email or call me at (843) 723-3225 x114.