The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the Papers of the Harmony Society: An Acquisition, a Five-Decade Loan, and Recovery

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Eleanor Mattern


Among archivists and manuscript collectors, the term “replevin” commonly describes efforts by government archives to recover public records that are in private hands. At times, such efforts can provoke friction, raising questions about the line between public and private property rights. This article chronicles an atypical replevin case in Pennsylvania, one that focuses on the struggles over the ownership of papers of a private origin, but which became government property with their transfer to the Commonwealth in 1937. This is a custodial history of a collection of papers documenting the Harmony Society, a religious separatist society once located in western Pennsylvania and in southwest Indiana. It is a story that involves a former Harmonist, a scholar, misplaced trust, and recovery that highlights the complex psychology of ownership.

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