Collections FAQ

seperator image


Q. How did the collections at the Historical Society come about?
A. More than 95% of the collections have been donated since CCHS was founded in 1893. Donors offer papers, objects or photographs of historical interest to Chester County because they feel there is a story worth preserving and sharing. Some also feel they can no longer care for the items properly. Our goal is to honor the community’s trust and to fulfill our mission by preserving and making accessible to the public those things that help tell our collective story. 

If you are unsure of whether or not your item(s) might be of interest, do not hesitate to contact CCHS and speak to someone in the collections department.

Q. What does the Historical Society collect?
A. We collect items for the library, museum and photo archives that are about Chester County life and development up to the present. Items may relate to the greater southeastern Pennsylvania area if appropriate to the stories of local interest. Collections range from the ordinary to the unique, without regard to social, religious, cultural, economic or political background. Our Collections Management Policy provides the framework for what we collect. Items more likely to be accepted are of historic interest, do not duplicate items already collected, are in good condition and can be cared for reasonably by CCHS. There are exceptions to the rule. 

Q. Does the Historical Society ever purchase items for the collection?
A. On occasion we are able to purchase items through the generosity of past donors who have contributed funds for that purpose. Financial contributions to the Collections Fund for future acquisitions are welcome.  

Q. Does CCHS give tax write-offs for donations?
A. Donors may obtain a tax deduction within the calendar year of the completed donation by locating the Charitable Contribution information and form on the IRS website. Accountants well versed in charitable giving should be consulted. Please note that CCHS is prohibited by the IRS from providing a financial appraisal of donations. 

CCHS follows the code of ethics of the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) and the Society of American Archivists (SAA).  CCHS adheres to the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).  We do not accept things illegally obtained and do not condone the destruction of property or accept things obtained by deliberate destruction for the purpose of donation. Salvaged items, however, may be considered. 


Museum collections include but are not limited to agricultural, industrial and domestic artifacts; decorative and fine art items including paintings, prints, ceramics and glass, furniture, and metals; prehistoric and Native American artifacts (adhering to the NAGPRA Act of 1990); clothing and textiles; and dolls and toys. 

Library collections include but are not limited to books, pamphlets, manuscripts including personal papers, archives, business records, diaries, scrapbooks, broadsides and posters, maps, architectural drawings, ephemera, and Chester County Historical Society archives.

Photo Archives

Photo archives collections include images produced from the 1840s to the present such as: portraits, landscapes, the built environment and local events.  The subjects may be casual or formal. This area also contains negatives and transparencies, audiovisual materials such as oral histories, musical recordings by local composers or musicians, videos of events, and digital recordings.


Q. I have a family heirloom that is deteriorating. How do I take care of it?
A. Caring for things of historic value is an interesting and sometimes challenging task. Some may require the assistance of a professional conservator. Please be aware that a conservator needs to see the object and cannot make a diagnosis over the telephone. You should expect the conservator to provide a written treatment proposal. These may be separate from, or included in, the cost of the treatment. If you go through with the treatment, you should also expect a written report that explains what was done. 

Art Conservators Alliance: A regional group of independent conservators with a variety of specialties. 

Winterthur Museum Conservation Clinic: Provides free advice about care and possible treatment for a variety of artifacts.  An appointment is required. 

The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC): Provides referrals via the member conservators listed in their directory. They are organized by geographic region and area of specialty.          

Conservation On Line (CoOL): Project of the Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries. It is an excellent resource for conservation subjects, such as caring for photographs, textiles, objects, paintings, etc. 

Art-Care: Provides referrals to conservators, appraisers and other art-related needs.

Preservation of Historical Photographs: 

Library of Congress: Collections care information for photographs, scrapbooks, audio visual materials and other ephemera  

National Archives: Tips on preserving family papers and photographs with guidelines for digitizing. 

Wilhelm Image Research: Authority on the preservation of color photographs, Henry Wilhelm has now made available as a free download his book on the preservation of color photographs. See his website for independent research information on the permanence of digital prints and information on cold storage. 

Image Permanence Institute at RIT’s College of Arts and Sciences: Learn how to identify historical photographic processes, timelines and tools for preserving historical collections.



Q. Can you tell me the value of my family heirlooms and photographs?
A. CCHS staff are not able to provide financial appraisals of historical materials, largely because the IRS prohibits this.  There are several sources that you can contact for appraisals. Also, check the internet for Appraisers or Auctioneers and look for online information from recent auctions.  If you have an object or photograph related to a specific region, try to find an appraiser in that area. Local antiques dealers and auctioneers may be of assistance. 

There are several appraisal organizations that may provide assistance in locating an appraiser: 

Association of International Photography Art Dealers, Inc. (AIPAD)

American Society of Appraisers

Appraisers Association of America 

International Society of Appraisers

Learn more about appraisers at




Q. If I am researching my family genealogy and can't come to CCHS but know what I'm trying to find, how can I obtain information?

A. We are happy to help you.  The more specific the information is that you can provide, the better.  Research Services can be found under the Collections button at the top of the CCHS webpage.   

Q. I would like to do genealogy research but I’m not sure how.  Do you help people with that?

A. The library reference staff is available to help point you to resources when you come into the library during regular hours.  We also hold genealogy-focused workshops and speakers.  The Chester County Archives is another good resource. Research inquiries can be sent to

Q. Are professional genealogy researchers available to help me with my family research?

A. Yes. One place to start is the Association of Professional Genealogists 

Photo Archives
Q. I have some unidentified photographs at home. Is there any way to look up the numbers that are written on the back in photographer’s record books?
A. Photographer’s record books are very rare and sadly many are no longer in existence. The Chester County Historical Society only has inventory books for the following photographers for the following dates:

George Pyle, itinerant daguerreotypist, Register of Sitters, December 1846 – October 1847

Gilbert Cope, West Chester, Inventory of Glass Plate Negatives 1887-1918

Ned Goode, West Chester, Inventory of jobs, 1938 – June 1954 

Q. What are those postage stamps on the back of old photographs? Did they send them through the mail?
A. Have you ever seen a Civil War era photo with a stamp on the back? It is logical to assume that the photo was sent through the mail. But, look again at the stamp. It will most likely be issued by the Internal Revenue Service and will be green, orange, red or blue in color. These stamps were not used for postage, but rather indicate that a tax was paid on the purchase of the photograph. IRS stamps will appear on photographs sold between August 1, 1864 and August 1, 1866 when a tax was levied on certain "luxury" items in order to raise funds for the war effort. Pianos, carriages and playing cards were also taxed at that time as well. 


Q.  I saw your on-line catalog of objects.  How may I look at specific examples?

A.  Contact the museum staff to make an appointment.  An Access to Collections Form can be obtain on the CCHS website at It is preferably, if possible to make your request at least 3 weeks in advance to ensure optimal service. 

Q. May I do measured drawings of artifacts?

A. Measured drawings are possible if the artifact(s) are being reproduced for personal use.  Commercial reproductions require individual negotiations. 

Q. May I photograph artifacts?

A. Personal use photographs are permitted.  Publication photographs may need to be rephotographed at a high resolution.  Publication fees apply.  Photography fees can be found on the CCHS website. 


Q. How do you select exhibit topics?
A. CCHS strives to create a balance of exhibits topics that appeal to the varied interest, ages and learning styles of diverse audiences. Exhibitions may be about the collections or a local subject within the national context of history. An exhibit relates to CCHS’ mission and provides a balance of topics with other exhibits on view.  

Q. Who may suggest an idea?
A. Anyone may suggest topics for exhibits. CCHS staff reviews ideas about once a year to continue the 3 to 4 year exhibit schedule. We determine whether or not an idea can stand on its own, is appropriate to the mission, has an audience, and is feasible for education, marketing and other opportunities. 

If you are looking for more information. . . 

The internet is a wealth of information and searching is easier than ever. If you are looking for a museum or historical organization elsewhere, simply type basic search terms such as “history museum” or “historical society” and the geographic location.  

The Official Museum Directory may be available in public libraries. It lists museums by state and has a subject index. It is helpful for locating information about museums that specialize in subjects, areas of history, art or science. 

Maloney's Antiques and Collectibles Resource Directory is divided by subjects, such as Dolls or Civil War. Each subject includes contact information for dealers, museums and publications.  Free on-line basic searches are available.  More detail is available with a subscription.