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Column: Duncan and Mary 'Found in collection'

Posted: January 18, 2018 3:32 p.m.
Updated: January 19, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Can you help the Camden Archives and Museum find these wonderful old portraits of two of Camden’s most distinguished citizens? If you can, please call (803) 432-6050.

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Museums and archives have coined a term for those unexplainable objects or documents they inevitably have in their care. They are labeled “Found in Collection.” I would venture to say that every institution who collects has confronted this issue. We take pride in our meticulous record keeping and documentation of our collections -- but there is always that errant object or manuscript that creeps into the collection storage. It’s that scrapbook, document, or photograph that someone brought in so we could make a copy and then never returned for it; the one that we neglected to do loan paperwork on because we thought we’d always remember whose it was. Time passes and the staff has no clue as to its owner and they have been taking care of it for thirty years. Oops!

The Camden Archives and Museum is no exception to this glitch in documenting collections. We do have “Found in Collection” items acquired along the way during the 46 years since we were established by the city of Camden. Those “Found in Collection” objects and documents are valuable in their own right. We just don’t know where they came from! Two such items are particularly annoying me right now -- annoying me because they are so tantalizing! 

You may remember the two articles a couple of months ago on the five-story flour mill in Camden built by Duncan McRae and Zachariah Cantey. Whenever possible, I like to find an image of the people I am researching so I checked our database for an image of Cantey. We have other Cantey family images, but none for Zachariah. Next I checked for Duncan McRae and, lo and behold, we have an image of Duncan and his wife, Mary Chesnut. I was so pleased -- until I pulled the images. 

They were just where the database said they would be. The 31/2 by 5-inch images show portraits of an aristocratic looking, slender, red headed Duncan and his dark haired wife wearing her elaborate mop cap. In the photos, the portraits are propped up on the floor outside of what appears to be an attic door. The backs of the photographs are labeled in great detail. Unfortunately, the images were taken out of focus. Even more unfortunate, they were “Found in Collection.” There is not a shred of evidence about where they are from and who brought them in. 

We would love to take clear images of these portraits for the collection, but we have no idea where they are. Even better, we would love for these portraits to come out of the attic and join our collection! Take a look at this influential Camden couple and help us track them down!


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