In 1791, when founder Jeremy Belknap set out to gather contributions for the Massachusetts Historical Society, he envisioned the MHS as a research library, full of "books, pamphlets, manuscripts, maps or plans." However, he was also interested in developing a "cabinet", or museum-like collection space, for natural and man-made "curiosities" that could help the public understand American history.
In response to his request for contributions for the MHS, he received a number of such curiosities, including ostrich eggs, "a very large Flamingo," foreign coins, a bundle of palm leaves, and a fish hook made from a bone of Captain Cook brought back from the Sandwich Islands. Over the years, the MHS has focused on the collection, care, and publication of manuscripts, donating many of its natural history or foreign "oddities" to more appropriate institutions. Nonetheless, the building still is filled with unusual and interesting items that we want to share with you.
"From Our Cabinet" serves as the Massachusetts Historical Society's online showcase for some of these materials. Visit this site each month for a new example of the treasures in our collection!