Hoarding at the Rensselaer County Historical Society

outside building RCHS.jpg

With over 30,000 items in their collection, what keeps RCHS off Hoarders

By Lauren Hittinger

The difference between collecting and hoarding lies somewhere between owning only what you can carry and... well... what you see on the A&E channel.

But at The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) collecting is their mission. RCHS has more than 30,000 items in its collection -- which may appear to tip to the side of hoarding, but their new exhibit helps explain what they choose to keep and why.

The "Hoarding History" exhibit at RCHS is located in one long room of the main building on 2nd Street in Troy. It shows off roughly 100 of the pieces added to RCHS collection since 2000. Director Ilene Frank estimates that the items in the exhibit are only about 20-30 percent of all pieces gathered during the last 14 years.

view down the exhibit.jpg

With so many items in the collection, Frank admits: "A lot of these pieces wont see the light of day. It's a balance of preservation versus access."

The historical society allows researchers to look at items and files. And genealogy is very popular. Some items get sent out on loan, like a War of 1812 uniform that was borrowed by the Canadian War Museum. Other items end up on display in the neighboring Hart Cluett House or in rotating exhibits.

Hart Cluett House stuff and vintage 1920s toliet.jpg

Costumes and clothing.jpg

The biggest question, Frank says, is always: "Are you collecting the right stuff?" So what is the "right stuff?"

Frank says RCHS is always looking for items that tell the story of community relationships. "We are especially interested in expanding our collection, so RCHS has the objects to better tell the stories of ethnicity and immigration, racial relationships and what we call 'Protest and Reform,' such as civil rights/equal rights, suffrage, temperance, labor unions, etc."

A few items

One of the first things I noticed in the hoarding exhibit -- a pair of paintings that were practically identical.

Dueling portraits Mary Thorne Mabbett.jpg

The oil paintings are both portraits of Mrs. Mary Thorne Mabbett. So why would a historical society want to keep two versions of the same painting?

Frank explained that the two pieces tell an interesting story. While nowadays you can take as many images as you want and instantly reproduce them, this was the only way to copy a likeness of someone. "This is going viral 1800's style," Frank says.

Trotbot print in case.jpg

One of Frank's favorite pieces in the exhibit is the Troybot print designed and donated by Troy Cloth and Paper.

"As much as we're telling the story of 100 and 200 years ago, this piece shows that we're still collecting," Frank says. They decided to keep the piece as part of their collection because, "the bridges that have been in that location (what we now call the Green Island bridge) have played a major role in Troy's history. The poster is a perfect collection item as it is made by a Troy business, highlighting, and maybe poking a little fun at, a Troy landmark and it fits our collecting theme of people and their surroundings. It's also a fairly small piece, easy to store. That plays a part in our decision too."

All the items in the RCHS collection are stored onsite, so space is a concern. RCHS also looks at relevancy, condition of the item, and uniqueness when accepting new pieces.

Temperance signed quilt.jpg

Hart Cluett House Items.jpg

part of exhibit.jpg

Frank admits that the RCHS collection is a bit skewed toward stories from a higher socioeconomic class, but a lot of that boils down to who has items to donate. Many of the items that people save are special occasion items, and they come from wealthier families. RCHS has a lot of special items like veils, wedding dresses, uniforms and silver, but Frank says it's harder to come by everyday items. "People just don't save their underpants."

You can view the "Hoarding History" exhibit Thursdays-Saturdays from noon to 5 pm. There is no fee to view the exhibit, donations are encouraged.

The RCHS is hosting talks on the exhibit May 3 and June 7 at 2 pm -- they're $5 per person, RCHS members free.

Lauren writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.

Find It

Rensselaer County Historical Society
57 2nd Street
Troy, 12180


This was a fantastic read! Thanks!

Come see our stuff and take part in our Should It Stay or Should It Go section where we ask for input on whether some items should stay at RCHS or be transferred to another museum. rchsonline.org

That baseball uniform is pretty sweet.. and whatever the hell is next to it in center of pic.

My guess is that "whatever the hell is next to" the old baseball uniform is one of the "Calico Indian" disguises worn during the Anti-Rent War.

J. Welf - that is a replica baseball uniform from the lat 20th century of a 19th century uniform. Can't imagine playing ball in wool. Paula - great eye, yes, that is a replica of a "Calico Indian" disguise. Hope you get to see them in person

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