Historical Society of Princeton to auction off almost 500 items Friday

Gustav Stickley Child’s Rocking Chair, to be included in the October 4 auction. Image courtesy of the Historical Society of Princeton.

For the last five years, the Historical Society of Princeton has conducted a review of its collection of more than 3,000 objects. The review was completed recently, and the Historical Society deaccessioned 487 items, permanently removing them from its collection.

That Historical Society will be selling many of the deaccessioned items at a live auction Friday, Oct. 4 in the Wojciechowicz Barn at Updike Farmstead on Quaker Road. Rago Auctions will sponsor the event and David Rago, founder of Rago Auctions and an appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow, will be the emcee. Doors will open for the live auction at 4 p.m., and bidding will begin at 5:30 p.m. A tag sale will follow on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 8 a.m. to noon. Some items included in the tag sale are not in the catalog and won’t be part of the Friday auction.

The items to be auctioned include fine and decorative arts, ceramics and pottery, antique and period furniture, toys and dolls, medical instruments, assorted household items, and more.

All items to be auctioned were studied as part of an intensive, five-year-long collections planning and review process that began in 2014. This was one of the Historical Society’s periodic reviews of its holdings, a standard practice among historical societies and museums. This review follows other similar projects in 1978, 1997, and 2004.

As part of this process, the Historical Society reunited objects with records, improved information in its collections database, repackaged holdings according to conservation standards, researched objects to confirm their provenance, and identified 487 items that do not support the organization’s mission, largely because they lacked sufficient connections to Princeton history. These items were approved for deaccession by the Historical Society’s board of trustees in August.

Some deaccessioned objects have been offered to other cultural institutions. Some will be retained at the Historical Society of Princeton as handling objects to be used for educational programs. All others will be sold at the auction.

“Deaccessioning is a healthy process that is part of the natural life cycle of a museum collection,” said Dan Scheid, the Historical Society of Princeton’s vice president of collections. “This review process has positioned our collection to be the best possible historical resource for the Princeton community, and has allowed the Historical Society of Princeton to ensure it focuses on preserving, interpreting, and sharing the collections that are truly meaningful.”

A collections management policy governs all collections practice at the Historical Society, including acquisitions and deaccessions. Izzy Kasdin, executive director of the Historical Society, stressed that all items were evaluated to determine whether they should remain in the collection without considering their value. Each item was considered in terms of whether it fits with the organization’s mission.

“We are clearing out the noise of the collection,” Kasdin said. “Over the years, we’ve acquired a lot of material. We didn’t have a collecting policy in the past. For example back at the Bainbridge House, we recreated a doctor’s office that was a combination of 18th and 19th century furniture and medical equipment. The items don’t have a Princeton connection, and are not used to tell Princeton’s story now, so they have been sitting in storage.”

She said that one of the most exciting parts of the lengthy review process has been exploring every piece of the collection. Each item was reviewed three times. “As a result, we have become much more aware of what is in our collection,” she said. “We’ve also improved documentation, and we have a much more accessible and informed collection as a result of the process.”

All proceeds from the auction will be used for the care of the Historical Society of Princeton’s remaining collections.

For more information about the Oct. 4 auction, visit the Historical Society of Princeton’s website at princetonhistory.org.