HSP Nears Completion of Collections Review

From its inception in 1938, the Historical Society of Princeton has actively collected museum and reference materials relevant to Princeton or of general historical interest. Over time, a substantial and important collection of over 100,000 items was established, consisting of artifacts, maps, architectural drawings, archival manuscript materials, photographs, newspapers, and reference books. This collection is at the heart of all HSP’s core programs, with many of these items aiding in our mission of bringing the remarkable history of Princeton, NJ to life for diverse audiences.

“HSP’s collections create tangible links between the past and present, allowing community members to come face-to-face with Princeton’s story. Nothing is more educationally powerful than this encounter. It’s what makes museum collections so essential,” said Izzy Kasdin, HSP’s Executive Director. “As a history organization, we always prioritize strategies to more effectively to bring our exciting and important collections to the public, through school curricula, public programs, exhibitions, and more.”

As per field-wide best practices, HSP periodically reviews its holdings, a process that includes determining which objects truly support HSP’s mission and which objects are not relevant.

Starting in 2014, HSP began its most recent collections review, an extremely thorough look at each and every three-dimensional artifact in HSP’s possession, of which there are approximately 3,000. As part of this process, HSP reunited objects with records, improved the documentation of objects in our collections database, repackaged holdings according to conservation standards, and identified approximately 500 objects that do not support HSP’s mission and will be recommended for deaccession. HSP will retain the vast majority of its collection.

“Deaccessioning is a healthy process that is part of the natural life cycle of a museum collection,” said Stephanie Schwartz, HSP’s Curator of Collections and Research. “Most of the objects being considered for deaccession were acquired decades ago and have not been displayed or used in any way for many years.”

As with all professional museum institutions, a formal, Board-adopted Collections Management Policy governs all collections practice at HSP. This policy aligns with all best practices, industry standards, and American Alliance of Museums guidelines. Within its Collections Management Policy, HSP outlines its general criteria for the acquisition and deaccession of museum materials. Primarily, items in HSP’s holdings must document the history of the Princeton area or its role in state or national history.

Despite the good intentions of HSP and its many generous donors over time, there are some items that do not meet HSP’s collecting criteria, largely because they lack sufficient connections to Princeton history.  HSP has been researching these objects extensively to confirm that there is no compelling reason for them to be in HSP’s collection; each item has been reviewed three times over the last five years as part of this process.

“This review process has positioned our collection to be the best possible historical resource for the Princeton community, and has allowed the Historical Society to ensure it focuses on preserving, interpreting, and sharing the collections that are truly meaningful to the Princeton community,” said Dan Scheid, HSP’s Vice President of Collections.

In May of this year, objects recommended for deaccession will be presented to HSP’s Collection Committee and Board of Trustees; upon final approval, these objects will no longer be a part of the museum collection.

Consistent with established best practices, deaccessioned objects deemed suitable will be offered to other cultural institutions, while others will be sold at a well-advertised public auction. All proceeds generated by the auction sale will be restricted for the direct care of HSP’s important collections.