Purchase or Sale of Historical Records

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For Immediate Release 
February 15, 2005
Contact: Doug Dunbar

State Officials Issue Reminder about the
Purchase or Sale of Historical Records

AUGUSTA , MAINE – Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and Maine State Archivist Jim Henderson are reminding Mainers that many historical records are lost from the public arena to private collections each year—in violation of Maine law.  The Secretary of State and Archivist are working to make public sector officials and private sector dealers aware that while private records are fair game on the open market, government records are not.

“It’s important for Maine people to understand that state and local government records are the property of those governments and may not be sold or purchased except in very rare instances, and then according to statutory and regulatory procedures,” Dunlap and Henderson explained.

Periodically, staff members at the Maine State Archives become aware of government records (usually town records) which are for sale by dealers or private individuals, sometimes on Internet auction sites.  Efforts are then made to inform the parties involved and recover the document or artifact.  The Maine Legislature enacted Public Law Chapter 365 in 2003, sponsored by then-State Representative Matthew Dunlap, clarifying that unauthorized sale or transfer of a record is punishable as a Class D crime.

The items that have been recovered in the past include tax receipts; records of deorganized towns and plantations; and a Town Record Book with the act of the Legislature establishing the municipality and containing all original early records.  Another item found on an Internet auction site was advertised as “miscellaneous town records. . . including indentured servant agreements, correspondence with other towns regarding the ‘poor’ and schools, and tax records.”

As part of this educational effort, a notice has been sent from the Maine State Archives to auctioneers and other interested parties to highlight the law and to help avoid embarrassing and costly problems.

The Archives Advisory Board establishes rules for the disposition of state and local records (excerpts enclosed) which outline the appropriate disposition for these records.  5 MRSA 95-A, Protection and Recovery of Public Records governs the recovery of public records in Maine.

More information about the sale or transfer of historic public documents or artifacts, as well as details about ongoing efforts to support the preservation of such records, can be obtained by calling the Maine State Archives at 207-287-5793.  Questions can also be submitted by e-mail (SOS.Office@maine.gov).