The occasion of our 125th Anniversary prompted Society staff to consider what we have collected and how our collections have grown and evolved. Today our collections contain millions of objects, manuscripts, published items and visual images, but what are the first recorded acquisitions? Our curators and archivists revisited our well used accession books for the answers.
One of the earliest recorded acquisitions in the archaeology collection is a vessel excavated by the society’s first curator of archaeology, Warren K. Moorehead, at a Fort Anceint-period village site located in the valley below the Fort Ancient Earthworks in Warren County. In the natural history records, the first accession is for a small collection of four dragonfly and damselfly specimens that were donated to the Society in 1897 by Lynds Jones and William L. Dawson. The first official record for a historical object obtained by the Society in 1893 is a framed picture of a grist mill. While the grist mill is technically the earliest noted history accession, a large collection of materials related to the religious sect known as Shakers obtained in 1903 is generally regarded to be the first significant group of historical objects acquired by OHS. The collection includes clothing, household goods and furniture.
The library began formally describing acquisitions in 1900. The first publications recorded are a series of “The Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society.” In 1927 the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation, known as the Romans Law for its proponent Viola D. Romans, which allowed for the transfer of non-current records of state agencies and offices to OHS. The following year then Governor A. Victor Donahey made the first transfer of records to the Society. This was material was described in our publication Museum Echoes as “…a parcel of very interesting and valuable letters and documents relating to the history of the state…” Two early transfers of important state records to the Society were muster rolls documenting Ohioans’ military service from the Adjutant General in the early 1930s and several tons of records from the Department of Public Works pertaining to the building and operation of Ohio’s canal system that came to OHS in 1935.
The Society’s collecting activities evolved from primarily acquiring and preserving archaeological specimens that document Ohio’s prehistory to encompass six major collection areas: archaeology, natural history, historical objects, manuscripts and visual resources, library materials, and the state archives. We have continued to collect materials related to many of the subjects represented in our early collections, such as pre-history, natural history, military service and transportation. Over the course of the 20th century new themes have emerged, such as social history and popular culture, that the Society is increasingly collecting.