Library: Library Collections
Numismatics & Historical Artifacts
The Massachusetts Historical Society collections include numismatics (coins, medals, and paper currency) and other historical artifacts, most of which came as part of donations of personal and family papers. Since the Society is not able to display its artifacts as a museum would, researchers will need to contact the curator to schedule an appointment in order to see any of these pieces.
A selection of the Society's works of art and some historical artifacts appear in Witness to America's Past: Two Centuries of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society, an exhibition catalog published in 1991 by the MHS in conjunction with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. You may find out about purchasing a copy of this book at the web page describing MHS published Catalogs.
The MHS numismatic collection consists of approximately 5,000 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. To find out about the availability of this volume, please visit the web page describing the Society's series of published Collections series.
The 3,000 artifacts in the MHS collection range from those of national historical importance (the pen with which Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863) to objects of only local or antiquarian interest (a windowsill from a Harvard detention house, signed by students confined there for bad behavior between 1801 and 1818). Other highlights include the swords of William Prescott and John Linzee from the Battle of Bunker Hill, George Washington's epaulettes and gorget, personal items belonging to Paul Revere, and a life cast by Leonard Wells Volk of Abraham Lincoln's face and hands. 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.