Artifacts Sometimes of Interest to Aspen Historical Society

Feb 5, 2014

If you find something really, really old, the Aspen Historical Society might be interested in taking a look at it. But they’ll only come knocking in certain cases. 


This came up after the recent news of an old watch found on Pearl Pass, south of Aspen. Lisa Hancock is Curator of Collections with the Aspen Historical Society. She says if something like that pops up in the news or by word of mouth, the first question that comes to her mind is… who owns the land where the artifact was found?


Credit Elise Thatcher

Lisa Hancock: “It depends on if it’s on US Forest Service land, whether it’s on private property, that affects the ownership, and we cannot take anything into the collection without clear title to it.”

And even then, Hancock doesn’t usually rush to the phone.

Hancock: “Most of the things that were found, like the recent watch that was found, is not something that we would solicit the person who found it to give to the collection. But every so often there are items that that would happen. If that watch, say had an engraving on the back that said, you know, John Smith. And we were able to look in our records and find out where John Smith lived, what he did, how he was connected with Ashcroft, all of a sudden that little tiny watch can tell a big story.”

That’s when Hancock and the Society would reach out to the owner and gently let them know that an option for conserving the item would be to donate it to the Society. And donating is the only option… since the Historical Society cannot purchase artifacts. Now, Hancock says if someone finds something that could be historically significant, please don’t hesitate to call. 

Hancock: “Lot of times we get calls from people who’ve found stuff in the walls of their historic home. Mostly newspapers because people used newspapers as insulation, in historic homes, and that’s not something we take into our collection because we have our entire newspaper, every newspaper that’s been printed in Aspen is in our collection.”

Sometimes the sheer lack of space in the archives is also a factor when deciding whether to take in a donated artifact. And if someone thinks they’re going to find an important historic item, they can dial up the Historical Society. That happened for a big discovery this fall. Workers with a National Geographic Channel TV program… along with an Aspen excavation company… unearthed a gigantic time capsule in September. Again, Lisa Hancock.

Hancock: “And we ended up being the appropriate repository for all that material.” 

Which means thousands of items are at the Historical Society now. The time capsule will be highlighted in the National Geographic program, called Diggers, later this month.