Historical Artifacts and Numismatics

Historical Artifacts

The Artifact Collection holds more than 2,000 objects that represent several centuries of American history. Highlights include the pen Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation; a windowsill from a Harvard detention house, signed by students confined for bad behavior in the early 19th century; the swords of William Prescott and John Linzee who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill; George Washington’s epaulettes; and a silver urn made by Paul Revere in the neoclassical style he adopted toward the end of the American Revolution. A late-17th-century chest of drawers later became known as the “the Witch Bureau” when an 1861 description recorded that “from the middle drawer…one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem.” The full range of artifacts at the Society encompasses examples of armor, canes, china, clocks and pocket watches, firearms, furniture, jewelry, powder horns, political ephemera, silver, and textiles.

Numismatics

The MHS numismatic collection consists of approximately 7,000 medals and tokens, 30 coins, 400 buttons and ribbons, and 3,000 examples of paper money. The strengths of the collection are early colonial Massachusetts coinage, paper money circulating in Massachusetts in the colonial period, paper money and fiscal paper issued by the Continental Congress, obsolete bank notes and scrip issued in Massachusetts, and medals and tokens related to Massachusetts and to the Society's manuscript collections. Most of the coins and medals in the collection are described in Malcolm Storer's Numismatics of Massachusetts (Boston, 1923), published as volume 76 of the MHS Collections.

How to Find Artifacts and Numismatics

With the exception of Revolutionary-era artifacts that are cataloged in ABIGAIL, information about the artifact collection is available only at the MHS.  Contact the Curator of Art for more information.

Viewing Artifacts and Numismatics

View artifacts online, experience the collections in person, or visit the online Gallery to view highlights of the collection. Artifacts not on display are available by appointment only.  Contact the Curator of Art for more information.

Upcoming Events

History of Women and Gender Seminar

Transgender History and Archives: An Interdisciplinary Conversation

18Dec 5:30PM 2018
Location: Knafel Center, Radcliffe Institute

This panel aims to begin an interdisciplinary conversation in transgender history. What is the state of the field of transgender studies in history, archiving, and public ...

MHS Tour

The History and Collections of the MHS

22Dec 10:00AM 2018

The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, ...

Early American History Seminar

The Consecration of Samuel Seabury and the Crisis of Atlantic Episcopacy, 1782-1807

8Jan 5:15PM 2019

Samuel Seabury’s consecration in 1784 signaled a transformation in the organization of American Protestantism. After more than a century of resistance to the office ...

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It was a rainy day in May 1839 and John Quincy Adams, stuck inside, was amusing himself writing poetry. He was trying to imitate the Roman poet Horace, and outdo the English poet Alexander Pope. ...

Barefoot Families and Demon Rum: The Work of an Urban Missionary

In June 1854, the Boston City Missionary Society appointed a Methodist Episcopal clergyman named Luman Boyden to serve as missionary to the poor in East Boston. The 48-year-old Boyden (pictured above, ...

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