Tales from the Archives: American Archives Month and the J. E. Caldwell Collection

Written by: Amanda Vasquez, DAR Archivist
October 29, 2018

The Society of American Archivists promotes October as American Archives Month each year. This event gives archivists an opportunity to promote both the collections they work with and their profession. For the past few Octobers we have blogged about the NSDAR Archives, giving readers a glimpse at the treasures it contains and how we care for them.

For this Archives Month blog we are featuring a donation the NSDAR Archives received of J. E. Caldwell records in early 2018. From 1892 until 2010 J. E. Caldwell was the official jeweler for the DAR, producing insignia pins, officer pins, and numerous other pins for DAR members. The donated records date from the mid-1890s to the early 1910s, which gives us an early glimpse of the company’s association with the DAR. While we do have an existing collection of J. E. Caldwell records, our collection documents only a small aspect of the 118 year association between the two organizations.

This blog has a twist. Normally at this point, we would go into show and tell mode and highlight the significance of the items that were donated. Have you ever wanted to know what happens to records and items after they are donated to the NSDAR Archives? If so, read on.

It was an easy decision to add this donation to the existing J. E. Caldwell Collection. When I compared the donated records to the existing collection, there was a fair amount of overlap of subject matter and type of records. For example, both collections contained contracts covering similar time frames and items, such as the production of the official DAR insignia, ancestor bars, and souvenir spoons.

This image is of a 1901 contract that was among the donated records. This contract for items including the DAR insignia, rosettes, ancestor bars, and souvenir spoons, is new to the NSDAR Archives. DAR President General Cornelia Cole Fairbanks and Recording Secretary General Eleanor Selden Washington Howard signed this contract. For the DAR insignia it stipulates, “The same to be furnished members only, on the presentation of a properly executed permit. For the sum of Five Dollars and Seventy Five Cents ($5.75).”

As I added the donated records to the J. E. Caldwell Collection they were rehoused into acid free folders and boxes. The NSDAR Archives is the institutional archives of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The records housed in the archives document the daily business carried out by the Society. Institutional archives provide continuity by recording an organization’s practices and procedures. They also provide accountability through documented agreements and legal records. The 1901 contract exemplifies a document that provides accountability to both parties that signed a contract. The J. E. Caldwell Collection is a good example of an institutional archive, as the collection primarily consists of business contracts and correspondence that possess a long term value that will help those who research them understand previous business practices and procedures.

This 1904 letter written by DAR Recording Secretary General Clara M. Fuller and this 1900 permit allowing Pearl Powers to purchase a DAR insignia are more examples of institutional archives documentation from the J. E. Caldwell donation. While institutional archives are made up of routine business records, researchers will always discover documents that enrich the historical narrative. For this donation, I found interesting correspondence between the DAR and J. E. Caldwell regarding other jewelers that were selling unauthorized DAR insignia pins and infringing on the insignia’s copyright.

This 1898 document evaluates the manufacturing of a pin by the firm of Harvey & Otis that was an infringement on the DAR insignia’s copyright. This 1904 letter written by Clara M. Fuller tells J. E. Caldwell that the DAR National Board of Management “expect[s] you to protect [its] rights in the matter of the Insignia, according to the terms of the contract.” Examining these records tells us that J. E. Caldwell had to work diligently to protect the copyright of the insignia. Both the DAR and J. E. Caldwell took this matter very seriously during the early years of their association.

All of the donated records were added to the J.E. Caldwell Finding Aid and to our collections management database so that they will be available to answer future questions about the association between the DAR and J. E. Caldwell. I hope this blog not only gave you a sneak peek behind the scenes of the NSDAR Archives, but also demystified archival work done to preserve DAR’s documents.

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