The power of community: funding the Byron Reed Collection

Guest Commentary

It is typical to think of museum collections as static and unchanging things. History happened in the past, and as such it is just a stepping stone to the future, to progress, right? Unfortunately, sometimes the modern quest for progress can endanger the history that made it possible. Such could have been the case in 2013 for a well-known collection housed in a museum vault in Nebraska. 

As most of you know, the Durham Museum in Omaha, Neb., is home to an amazing rare coin, document and book collection — the Byron Reed Collection. As you probably also know, that collection was the source of some anxiety in 2013 as the city of Omaha, owners of the Byron Reed Collection, discussed the fate of critical funding that would care for and preserve these 8,000 artifacts. Before the city council debated whether to award the Durham this much needed support, I reached out to several numismatists in the Omaha area to support the increased funding to adequately care for the collection. 

Not only did the local community answer that call, but they engaged the broader numismatic community as well. The response was simply amazing, and I am happy to report that the city council voted unanimously to reinstate the museum’s funding at its original level of $100,000 annually to maintain and care for this incredibly historic collection. 

Since the New Year is not only a time for reflection but an opportunity to make resolutions, here are a few things we at the Durham have planned, to continue to care for the Byron Reed Collection in 2014. The rare document collection is slated to be completely rehoused and have an updated inventory completed by year’s end. Byron Reed collected a large amount of 16th and 17th century French monarchical documents, correspondence and land deeds from 18th and 19th century America, and also incredible pieces from the founding and development of the Omaha area. Once this inventory is complete, it will allow us to better assist scholars and researchers who are interested in these previously unstudied artifacts. 

Another project that we will undertake is the digitization of almost 700 specimens of paper currency. These will be scanned at 800dpi and made available for viewing beginning in June through our public database found on the museum’s website at DurhamMuseum.org. As you view the collection and see any information that is important to add about the artifacts, please feel free to leave comments online or to send us an email. It is always appreciated to hear from experts and enthusiasts in the field.

We at the Durham Museum cannot say “thank you” enough for all the numismatic community’s help and support. It is truly an honor to be able to care for these amazing artifacts and make them available for appreciation, study, and research. If you would like to help us continue in our efforts, the Durham’s annual fund is a great way to help directly impact our mission of preservation and education. As we move into 2014 and beyond, we are grateful to have local, regional, and national partners who will help us succeed in making this rich and varied history available for future generations to enjoy. 

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