State is missing more than 1,800 artifacts, audit shows

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HARRISBURG -- More than 1,800 historic artifacts, including a Civil War-era rifle and an eight-century-old Turkish gold ring, are missing from the state's collection, according to an audit released today.

State Auditor General Jack Wagner attributed the losses to lax oversight and an antiquated inventory system used to track the state's 4.5 million artifacts.

Other items were found to be damaged, including some that had been suspended from overhead pipes or stored in humid basements.

"The missing artifacts are pieces of Pennsylvania history that are likely lost forever, either through mishandling or theft," Mr. Wagner said.

"As guardians of the commonwealth's historic and cultural heritage, the commission must take a more proactive approach to ensure that all artifacts are properly handled and accounted for."

In addition to the missing artifacts, auditors discovered a backlog of 5,100 items that have yet to be catalogued.

The findings were uncovered during spot checks of the State Museum and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Lancaster County.

Hundreds more items are likely missing from other sites under the commission's auspices, Mr. Wagner said during a press conference this morning.

Commission spokesman Kirk Wilson, though, said that many of the missing items probably are still in the state's possession but may be in the deep recesses of storage.

"I think the majority of them are here. It's just that we have an inability to do a true inventory," he said.

Mr. Wagner recommended hiring a development director and buying a modern bar-code identification system to record and track artifacts.

The commission also has an electronic database, but auditors found that it is neither complete nor reliable.

During the 2006-07 fiscal year, the commission's annual budget was $58.4 million, but now is about half that, $27 million.

As a result of budget cuts, staffing declined from 443 to 228 in the last four years.


Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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