Thursday, February 23, 2012

Walking in the Front Door

     I mentioned in a previous post that one way artifacts arrive at the museum is by "walking in the front door" meaning that someone brings them in to me unexpectedly.  I honestly never know what I’m going to find when I get the call to come downstairs and look at an artifact.  They run the gamut from really wonderful artifacts, to more common but still desirable artifacts, to reproduction or post-war items, and occasionally some strange, random items! 
Here’s a nice ambrotype of Civil War Surgeon, Isaac F. Kay, First Lieutenant, Company K, 110th Pa. Infantry. It was donated by a descendant, who also donated several other items of Dr. Kay’s. These are the kind of “walk-ins” we like to get!
Though the case looks a little rough, we were still happy to accept this cupping kit. One of the first things I did was to carefully remove that masking tape!
Here is one of the glass cups that was in the case. This would have been heated and placed on the patient’s skin, which would then raise a blister. Some doctors believed that cupping or blistering was a way to rid the body of “bad humors.” 

     Not everything which is brought in to the museum is accepted for our collection.  Sometimes I have to break the news to people that the Civil War artifact they’ve brought to me is not what they thought.  I recall one gentleman who brought in what he insisted was a Civil War canteen that had been in his attic for many years.  It did not look at all like a period canteen, but he was adamant that he’d been told it was from the Civil War.  After unsuccessfully trying to convince him otherwise, I finally pulled the canteen out of its cover and turned it over to reveal that it was stamped “Japan” on the bottom!
Not a Civil War canteen!

     We also occasionally have items dumped at the museum by well-meaning people.  What they probably don’t realize is that without the proper transfer of ownership (i.e. signed papers), it is difficult for us to use the items or even to discard them.  Though I heartily encourage the donation of historic items to museums, if you want to donate an item to a museum, be sure the museum can use the item, and please sign the Deed of Gift.  Thank you (stepping down off my soapbox now)! 

     In other museum news, I probably should mention that my title has changed.  I am now the Curator at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.  However, since I am still the only member of the Collection Department, I will still be functioning as the Guardian of the Artifacts!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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