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PA State museums to sell off railroad ephemera

State museums to sell off bits of history


HUMMELSTOWN, Pa. - Piled high in a cinder-block auction house near Harrisburg are castaway pieces of history from Pennsylvania's state museums.

Then there are the model trains - some handmade to scale - and real railroad memorabilia that are generating regional interest, said Jay Ziegler, owner of the auction house: Box after box of American Flyer trains, tracks, transformers, and miniature accessories for model railroad layouts, and a mysterious oversize model of a truss bridge.

There are plenty of railroad ephemera: miniature soaps, matchbooks, and equipment plates, brochures announcing the first Metroliners circa 1975, a handful of 1980s-era SEPTA signs, and train schedules for long-gone lines, including one for the Reading Co. noting a regular stop at the George School.

Railroad historians say rail-related collectibles have long been popular, particularly in Pennsylvania.

"Pennsylvania is a railroad state in every sense of the word," said Maryland-based railroad historian John Hankey. "Even if people are not riding trains anymore, they are still connected to them."

Miller said that before sending artifacts to auction, the state tries to keep them in the public domain by placing them with other museums in Pennsylvania. About 500 items went to other museums. The state also tries to contact the last-known family members of donors.

"We tried to find the stone wagon a home in the Lehigh Valley, but in this shrinking economy could not," she said.

Miller says items that leave the state collection undergo a committee's review before heading to auction.

Some objects are removed because they have lost their provenance, Miller said, holding up a white-linen christening dress that came from an unknown general store.

"The history is lost," she said. "Now it's just one of many christening dresses."

There may be no Antiques Roadshow-worthy moments tomorrow, but for people with a passion for the past, the auction presents an opportunity to bring a piece of history into their homes, curators say.

"There's a lot of power in objects, particularly those that were handmade and used by real people," said Jim Lewars, administrator of the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, which turned over about 300 items for sale. "You don't have to be a diehard to have a connection."


If You Go

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission auction will begin at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Ziegler Auction Co., 1550 Sand Hill Rd., Hummelstown, Pa. Doors will open at 7 a.m. for a preview of items.

For directions and information, including the catalog, visit www.zieglerauction.com. Telephone: 717-533-4267.