Fremont County, Iowa

Fremont County Historical Society
by Lona Lewis

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
August 11, 2008

A recent "View" told stories about some of the items in the Fremont County Historical Society (FCHS) collection. A museum, whatever its mission, cannot exist without a collection of artifacts to help illustrate the history of an area. The Fremont County Historical Society, since its inception in 1962, has been collecting family and business treasures that are helping tell the stories of this County. Over 4,000 items make up the collection from commonplace items to extremely rare and valuable pieces. All came from people who trusted the Society to care and keep them for posterity.

Very few items come to a historical collection because someone wants to get rid of them. They are given to an institution, so more than just that family can enjoy it in the future. These gifts from the past create a special responsibility for the Museum. All museums have very strict guidelines to follow in acquiring and keeping an item. The process of accepting an item for collection is called "accessioning".

Forms are completed, which represent a contract between the institution and the donor, when the Society agrees to take possession of an item and provide proper storage. For example, the Society needs to store the item in an acclimatized environment that has a temperature between 68 -78 degrees Fahrenheit all year. Exposure to sunlight is not allowed. Items are kept in the dark, or if on exhibit only in indirect light. Ultra-violet rays are excluded from the environment. Papers are stored in acid free envelopes. Clothing is stored in acid free boxes. Furniture is not exposed to sunlight. The books providing the instructions for proper storage are endless. There are even rules for folding a quilt! The FCHS renovation project now underway that will also build the new Rodeo Museum has a major component of establishing the proper environment for exhibiting and storage of collection items.

Equally important is cataloging. Any item accepted by the museum is assigned a number. The number identifies the original owner and where a description of the item can be found. Additionally, storage has to be organized so at any time the Society knows where to look for a particular item. In the event that the Society should decide that the item is no longer needed for its collection (a duplicate item, a deteriorating object) a member of the collection committee attempts to find the donor or family of the donor. Once found, the donor or family is given a chance to take possession of the article. If the family does not want it then the Society contacts other institutions to determine if it could be used in other collections. If none of these above actions result in a new owner then the Society can sell the item and use the funds.

The other side of the contract is what the donor needs to understand and be willing to honor. Collections in Museums are not items put there “until I die and then it goes to my family." A gift to an institution is for permanent possession knowing that the Museum can only dispose of the item by following the procedures described above. The donor by giving the item will be recognized as providing the item and will be appropriately honored.

In our museum, the policy has been, from the beginning that the only time an item is accepted on loan is only for a special, short-term exhibit. First, a definite length of time is established. A person must be identified as to be the one who will receive it at the end of the loan period. For example, a Rodeo belt buckle is loaned for a period of time for a special exhibit then is to be returned to the donor’s son James living in Kentucky. It is the responsibility of the family to let the Society know if the recipient changes. At the end of a loan period, if that person cannot be found the item becomes part of the permanent collection. Accepting loaned items is not a common practice because of logistics. The few times we have used a loaned item is for a short time for a special display that will be up for only a short time.

It is an exciting time in the life of our Museum as the Rodeo Museum Collection will soon start to be amassed. If you are thinking about giving Rodeo memorabilia or any other item of special interest to the Historical Society, you now know the protocol that will be followed in accessioning the item.

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