December 6, 2015: Clinton Hart Merriam's Filing Cabinets from the Academy of Sciences
Okay, so this week's artifact of the week isn't particularly glamorous, but it pays homage to the everyday artifacts that themselves contribute to the curation of others. These filing cabinets belonged to Clinton Hart Merriam, containing the catalog cards for his basketry collection, now housed at UC Davis.
Merriam's collection is particularly valuable and unique in that Merriam kept extensive documentation of his travels and the baskets he collected, noting information such as the names of the people he bought baskets from and the native names for baskets, along with ethnographic information on the baskets' use and the culture from which the basket came. Merriam's documentation adds tremendous value to his collection, and keeping that documentation safe was the job of his filing cabinets.
As anyone who has ever lost a file can attest, when documentation isn't properly stored, the results can be disastrous. Interestingly, the story goes the Merriam actually had a pet squirrel at one point who would nest in the baskets and occasionally chew up the documentation housed within! There are a few of Merriam's baskets for which information has been lost, which may be the dastardly work of his squirrel-pet.
When Merriam's collection was transferred to UC Davis, his files came along with this filing cabinet. The records were archivally stored and placed in a more modern, sealed cabinet, which left this old, trusted guardian in need of a job. For many years, this filing cabinet served in the museum's working lab, holding various supplies needed for the ongoing task of preserving and maintaining a variety of other collections. This year, while rearranging museum space, Merriam's old guardian was returned with the rest of Merriam's collection and now holds copies of Merriam's California Travel journals, which document the exciting adventures of Merriam - adventures with records long ago stored in this very filing cabinet.
You can read more about Clinton Hart Merriam and the significance of his collection here.