Pieces of Pennsylvania history go up for auction

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HARRISBURG -- In the market for an antique Conestoga wagon? Perhaps a shawl, butter mold or other household item from a bygone era?

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is inviting the public Friday and Saturday to an auction of items being removed from the state's collection.

More than 1,000 items will be for sale, including furniture, books, newspapers, household items, signs, textiles, jewelry, railroad items, prints and engravings, ceramics, an early 20th century sock-knitting machine, a loom and one large Conestoga wagon.

Money raised through the auction can only be used to buy new museum pieces or to conserve the more than 5 million existing collection items, with most of the funds going toward conservation, said Mary Jane Miller, collections manager for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. She declined to estimate how much the commission hoped to raise from the sale.

All the items being sold have already been offered to other museums, Ms. Miller said, and have been carefully evaluated before going through the process known as "deaccession."

"Does it meet our mission statement? Does it duplicate what we have in the collection?" she said. For instance, the Conestoga wagon, from the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, was one of a number of such wagons there.

"I don't want the public to think we're getting rid of the last one," Ms. Miller said.

In situations with donated items, the original donor has also been notified as well, Ms. Miller said, in case they would like the item back.

"It's a careful process," Ms. Miller noted. "We're doing it to preserve [public] collections."

Items are proposed for deaccession annually with an auction occurring once every few years.

The objects for sale come from museum sites around the commonwealth, including the Anthracite Heritage Museum in Scranton, the Drake Well Museum in Titusville, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, Bushy Run Battlefield in Westmoreland County, the Fort Pitt Museum, Somerset Historical Center and State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

The auction will be conducted by Cordier Auctions & Appraisal of Harrisburg.

The catalog of items for sale can be viewed online at cordierauction.com, and absentee bids can also be submitted online, said David Cordier, president of Cordier Actions. A preview sale starts Friday and the main sale is Saturday at Cordier, 1500 Paxton St., Harrisburg.

A spokesman for the Historical and Museum Commission declined to say what the most valuable item for sale might be.

The commission doesn't like to put values on items and it depends on the interests of those who show up and bid, said Howard Pollman, a spokesman for the PHMC.

"If you're looking for a chance to own a little piece of history, we have it here," Ms. Miller said. "Some of them have great stories behind them."

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254. First Published February 10, 2014 11:59 PM

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