I’ve recently been introduced to one of the more exciting sides of working in the archives–hunting for buried treasure much more literally than is usual in the archives.
While going through the papers of Julia Cope Collins, a member of an important Quaker family and wife of a Haverford professor, I found a small envelope, labeled ‘Bryn Mawr Trust Company’. Below this was scrawled ‘Safe Deposit Box Keys.’ Indeed, there were three keys on a small keyring in the envelope, one with a number on the base.
For obvious reasons, this discovery excited me. The Bryn Mawr Trust Company is very close to Haverford’s campus–it was certainly possible, I thought, that the bank had kept a record of the items in the safe, or at even that the safe had been forgotten by the family and that the contents were still there.
A little quick googling provided a name of someone who might, it seemed, have some information about the fate of the box. I sent her an email, asking whether the safe might still be in use, or whether they might be able to give me any information as to what might have been in the safe.
While we were waiting for a response, everyone at Special Collections did some thinking and discussing of what might be in the safe, and what we could do with it. The consensus was that while we had a clear right to whatever was in the safe, sending the valuables to her heirs was the right thing to do. We would, however, probably keep the papers from the safe. We are, after all, a library.
A few days ago I got a call. Their Safe Deposit Box specialist told me that (shockingly) they don’t keep unpaid safe deposit boxes for fifty years, nor do they keep records for that long. The knowledge of what was in that safe deposit box has been lost to history.
Even after that disappointment, it’s certainly been an adventure. I’ve learned that even seemingly serious, grown-up people will get excited when they find an old safe deposit box key. And I’ve learned that most real places, unlike libraries, don’t keep records from fifty years ago.