MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

Frequently Asked Questions for the Collections Department

We receive many reference inquiries here at the Museum of the City of New York, primarily through our research email (research@mcny.org). The Museum makes every effort to answer questions directly related to our collections, or those that can be answered by collections objects. Unlike other area museums and libraries, like the New York Historical Society and the New York Public Library, we do not consider ourselves a research institution; our staff and our objects function primarily to support Museum exhibitions. The questions we receive are answered by the Museum’s archivists or curators who are familiar with their particular collections. Below are some frequently asked questions and responses.

Unknown photographer. [Reading room]. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, X2010.11.11685

Can I come in and look through your map/photo/postcard collection? How can I see an object I am interested in?

Our collection is considered “closed stacks”, which means our objects are not available to the general public for browsing. The best way to “browse” our collection is to use our online Collections Portal, which contains over 185,000 images of objects from the collections. The Portal can be searched by keyword, subject term, name, geographical location, and format. It is actually easier to browse on the Portal than in person, as the Portal pulls together all object types (ephemera, photographs, drawings), which is not how they are stored physically! In addition, the zoom function allows users to see much more detail than is possible in person.

Many of our paper-based collections, such as family or personal papers, and ephemera, are described using finding aids posted on the Museum’s Catablog. Researchers who are interested in viewing these collections can arrange an appointment with the Museum’s Collections Access Archivist by emailing research@mcny.org email address.  Inquiries are answered in the order in which they are received, and occasionally may take up to two weeks to receive a response.  We always make every effort to accommodate onsite appointments when warranted, but Collections staff oversees these appointments in conjunction with all of their other collections stewardship responsibilities.  Therefore, we recommend reaching out at least a month in advance of when you would like to make your appointment, and up to six weeks in advance if you need to plan to travel to New York City for the appointment.  Please see below for answers to some of our most frequently asked questions.

Cunard Line R.M.S. “Franconia”. ca. 1920. Museum of the City of New York, F2011.33.1197

Can I find information about my relative who came to/lived in/worked in New York City?

Unfortunately, we do not have much material in the collection to support inquiries related to genealogy or the general history of New York City. The Museum’s collections do not include vital records, like birth, marriage, and death certificates, or passenger lists. We generally recommend that researchers inquire with the NYPL’s Milstein Division of U.S., Local History, and Genealogy and the Municipal Archives for these types of questions.

Lucas-Monroe. [Chorus girls in “Du-Barry Was a Lady.”] 1939-1940. Museum of the City of New York, 80.130.750

Is there someone at the Museum who can appraise my belongings?

Museum employees are not allowed to appraise items.  As the Museum is an actively collecting institution, it is considered a conflict of interest, and we are not trained appraisers.  You can find an appraiser by going to the “Find an Appraiser” page on the American Society of Appraisers website: http://www.appraisers.org/find-an-appraiser.

Black, Starr & Frost. Vase. ca. 1910. Museum of the City of New York, 49.254.1

I have a damaged item—can you repair it?

Unfortunately no. The Museum does not have a conservation lab, so whenever one of our objects needs to be repaired or touched-up, we use outside conservators. You can visit the “Find a Conservator” page on the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works website: http://www.conservation-us.org/membership/find-a-conservator.

Do you take donations of objects?

Thank you for considering the Museum of the City of New York as a recipient of your donation, we are very appreciative that others are helping to preserve our city’s history. Please note that we cannot accept materials without prior communication. If you have artifacts or documents that you believe would complement the Museum’s collections, please send a description (including the size, content, condition, historical significance and provenance), as well as photographs or photocopies of the objects to collections@mcny.org.

We receive approximately 40 research inquiries every month, and this is just a small sample of the questions we answer. The best way to ensure a timely response is to email research@mcny.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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