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Kansas Collectors - Part 1

Sock monkeyEveryone Needs a Hobby

The Museum: The House of the Muses

Museums were born through the efforts of private collectors.

A "museum," according to the Greeks, was a temple dedicated to the Muses (sister goddesses who watched over music, poetry, history, dance, and astronomy). Museums were a place to muse, where people went to think, dream, ponder, or contemplate.

Early exhibits at the Kansas Historical Society.

Early Museums

Usually cluttered, early museums often featured a mixture of natural history, art, and historical collections brought together from all over the world (see the early exhibits at the Kansas Historical Society at top, left). Some collections, including such oddities as two-headed calves and giant hairballs, were meant to intrigue people.

"A Museum in the American sense of the word means a place of amusement, wherein there shall be a theatre, some wax figures, a giant and a dwarf or two, a jumble of pictures, and a few live snakes. . . . in most instances a collection of stuffed birds, a few preserved animals, and a stock of oddly assorted and very dubitable curiosities."
- Edward P. Hingston, The Genial Showman. Being Reminisces of the Life of Artemus Ward, 1870

During the early years of the Kansas Historical Society, most donations were accepted whether they had a direct connection to Kansas or not. Paintings hung in rows on every spare inch of wall space. Battlefield relics, bones, natural curiosities, and historical artifacts all found a home.

Perkins and his wife are pictured riding camels at the Egyptian pyramids at Cheops in 1900

Perkins Collection

The Society has been collecting since 1875. Today, the Society's Kansas Museum of History alone has about 100,000 artifacts, including several collections acquired from private collectors. One such example is the Perkins collection.

Lindley Murray Perkins' passion to collect took him around the world three times (center, right).  View the satchel from his travels. His voyages yielded an array of natural and historical souvenirs. Perkins displayed many of them in his house in Baxter Springs, where his collection came to be known as "one of the largest foreign collections west of the Smithsonian."

Perkins' sons donated the collection to the Society in 1920 after their father's death. For fellow Kansans, Perkins' collection exposed them to a world most would never see. However inappropriately collected or poorly documented, it served as a small window into foreign cultures.

Gaining Focus

It seems to us that the Kansas historical society ought only to keep relics relating to Kansas history and not lumber up its rooms with sticks and stones from all parts of the United States. . . . The historical society has many articles and documents of priceless value, but all that an indiscriminating people send, should not be accepted.
-Topeka Mail, October 23, 1884

The debate about what museums ought to collect began as early as the late 19th century. Collectors still influence what museums take in and therefore display, although museums today look much different from their predecessors. Modern museums focus their collections and use artifacts to tell stories about people and events.

Present day exhibits at the Kansas Museum of History

The Society uses artifacts to tell stories about people and places in Kansas. Unlike private citizens, who collect with their personal tastes in mind, the Society must collect for all Kansans. Exhibits at the Kansas Museum of History (bottom, left) are changed periodically so that visitors can see different artifacts and so that objects can be rested after the strain of being on exhibit.

Museums and collectors often have different goals for their collections. The Kansas Museum of History believes artifacts are our link to the past, and thus preserves them for future generations. Many collectors, on the other hand, enjoy their collections with the understanding that they may get used up.

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Everyone Needs a Hobby: Kansas Collectors and Collecting is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History.

  1. The Museum: The House of Muses
  2. The Drive to Collect
  3. Bringing People Together
  4. Living With a Collection
  5. Collecting as Play
  6. Collection as Investment
  7. Working Together: Collectors & Museums

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