Museum Open Monday

The New-York Historical Society Museum will be open Monday, December 22. For details, please visit our calendar.

Mobile App Tour

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A crucial part of New-York Historical Society’s mission is to make our exhibitions come alive for all of our visitors. The New York and the Nation app offers visitors an enjoyable, accessible, and cutting-edge way to learn about the major themes of our new series of permanent installations in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American history entitled New York and the Nation. The app provides additional interpretation as well as aids for those with disabilities.

Download the free app here:   iPhone   Android

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A crucial part of New-York Historical Society’s mission is to make our exhibitions come alive for all of our visitors. The New York and the Nation app offers visitors an enjoyable, accessible, and cutting-edge way to learn about the major themes of our new series of permanent installations in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American history entitled New York and the Nation. The app provides additional interpretation as well as aids for those with disabilities.

At the heart of the app is a series of 16 videos that will help contextualize each exhibit area. The videos feature New York Historical staff including President and CEO Louise Mirrer and Valerie Paley, Historian for Special Projects who organized the Smith Gallery installations. Also featured in the videos are Harvard economics professor Niall Ferguson, Ken Jackson past N-YHS President and editor of the Encyclopedia of New York and artist Fred Wilson. Additional media components include a series of letters and documents from the federal period read by actors portraying several key founding fathers including George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris. The app will also include audio descriptions and high resolution images for each of the more than 150 objects on display.

Taking advantage of Apple’s progressive “VoiceOver” technology, visually impaired visitors will be able to simply run their finger across the screen to find out what is on that page. So, if the screen features an image of the New York Rising salon-style wall, going from left to right the user would hear: “Painting—Eliza Beekman…Painting—Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, …Beekman Family Coat of Arms” and so on. When they come across an object that is of interest to them, they double click on it to hear a description of the object followed by its interpretive information. Never before has the New-York Historical Society been able to bring so much of an exhibition to life for the visually impaired visitor.

Apps are the perfect way for museums to extend the learning experience beyond someone’s 90-minute or two-hour visit. Rather than inviting a visitor to—after returning home—log onto their computer, navigate to nyhistory.org, and find the exhibition page where they can learn more about the topic or give feedback, we will provide them with an app that puts that capability in their pocket. A visitor might pull their phone out on the subway ride home, show it to a friend, or use it to plan additional trips to the New-York Historical Society for further learning opportunities. The App is available on both iPhone and Android platforms.

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Permanent Collection Audio Tour

Forty-four highlights from the New-York Historical Society’s collection can be accessed via iTunes (click here to download the free iTunes software). You can also play/download the individual audio tour stops below. At the bottom of the page there is an accompanying transcript.

Download Collection Audio Tour Transcript


Audio
The Course of Empire by Thomas Cole
02:04

In the late 1820s a young Thomas Cole quickly built a successful career as a painter of Hudson River landscapes, but he what he really wanted was to paint landscapes that had a greater purpose. By 1827 he started thinking about a cycle of paintings that would show the rise and fall of a civilization, and a few years later he began to make sketches and develop his ideas. But he had to find someone who would be willing to pay for the cycle, since it would take him years to paint them. He tried to persuade Baltimore collector Robert Gilmor to commission the series, but Gilmor wasn’t interested. Finally in 1833 the New York merchant Luman Reed commissioned Cole to paint a cycle of five paintings for the art gallery in his new home on Greenwich Street. In this series, Cole painted a cyclical view of history: we see a civilization appear, grow to maturity and then collapse. Cole’s vision was pretty pessimistic compared to his fellow Americans. At this time most people thought that the United States was an exception to Cole’s view of history, and that it wasn’t like the civilization he had painted—it would never fall. Most people would have thought of books like Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which influenced Cole’s thinking. He also drew from Byron’s epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. The first time Cole exhibited the paintings he used a quote from the poem: “First freedom, then glory; when that fails, wealth, vice, corruption.” When it came to choosing a title for the series, he was inspired by the first line of Bishop George Berkeley’s 1729 poem, “Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America” which begins, “Westward the Course of Empire takes its way.” Sadly, Luman Reed didn’t live to see the finished series. He died after a sudden illness in June of 1836, but his family encouraged Cole to complete the paintings. Reed’s collection became the core of the New-York Gallery of the Fine Arts, and the entire collection was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1858.

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In the late 1820s a young Thomas Cole quickly built a successful career as a painter of Hudson River landscapes, but he what he really wanted was to paint landscapes that had a greater purpose.

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Audio
The Ulpius Terrestrial Globe
MP3 Audio | 00:53 min

The maps and names on it are based on the explorations of Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European known to have sailed into New York harbor. That was in 1524, only 18 years before Ulpius made this globe. The globe is important to us because it's the first to show where New York City could be found. Of course, the name New York is not on the globe. but if you look closely you can find where it would be. The names on the globe are in Latin and Italian, but you should be able to find the peninsula of Florida. It's labeled clearly with the name Florida. Then follow the coastline north for a few inches. One of those inlets represents the New York harbor that Verrazzano sailed into.

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This globe of the world is both beautiful and historical. It's made of copper, and we know the makers name—Euphrosynus Ulpius. We also know he made it in Rome in 1542.

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Audio
George Washington’s Inaugural Chair
01:07

At Federal Hall in lower Manhattan, Washington waited in the Senate chamber until it was time for the ceremony. He sat in this rather plain chair, and his Vice President John Adams sat beside him. When it was time, both men walked out on to the balcony of Federal Hall for the inauguration, and then returned to their chairs in the Senate chamber. No one that day bothered to save the chair as a historical relic; that didn't occur to anyone until 1831 when a U.S. Marshall named William Waddell identified it as the chair Washington had sat in. He took it home and his family guarded it for over 50 years. During that time they loaned it to two other presidents on their inauguration days, Ulysses S. Grant in 1873 and James Garfield in 1881. In 1916 the Waddell family donated the chair to the New-York Historical Society.

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George Washington sat in this simple mahogany chair the day he took the oath of office as the first president of the United States. It was April 30, 1789 and New York was the capital of the young nation.

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Audio
Federal Hall Railing (1789 Inauguration)
01:12

The ceremony was at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. Federal Hall had been New York's City Hall, and the government hired French architect Pierre Charles L'Enfant to redesign the building. L'Enfant eventually went on to design a little city called Washington, D.C. He added an elaborate wrought-iron balustrade to the façade of Federal Hall, and behind it was a balcony 12 feet deep. That's where Washington stood for his inauguration. The balustrade was painted, gold remnants of which you can still see. The most distinctive feature of the balustrade is in the center, the section of 13 arrows, one for each state in the new republic, each distinct, but all united. Federal Hall was demolished in 1812 and the balustrade was incorporated into the design of a building at Bellevue Hospital. In 1883, it was removed from that building, and this section was given to the New-York Historical Society for safekeeping.

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It's a railing that held a famous hand—George Washington's. New York City was the nation's capital when Washington took the oath as the first president on April 30, 1789.

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Audio
Civil War Draft Wheel
01:49

The names of eligible men went into the wheel, and if your name was drawn you had to serve in the army for three years—unless you were wealthy, because you could buy your way out by paying $300, about a years wages for a working man. The draft began on July 13, 1863 with wheels like this all over the city. This wheel was used on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At one office an angry mob hurled bricks, set fire to the building, and began one of the worst urban riots in the nation's history. All over New York, thousands of men and women rampaged for four days, tearing up railroad tracks, cutting telegraph lines, torching churches and the homes of abolitionists and preventing firefighters from putting out the fires. Over 100 people died in the riots, including African Americans who were lynched. Many of the rioters were working class and poor people who attacked the homes and churches of rich people, angry that they could escape the draft. And they attacked African Americans because they thought that white workers were being asked to fight for the freedom of blacks, who would inevitably compete with them for jobs, and because African-Americans were exempt from the draft. This Draft Wheel is the only one known to have survived the riots, unsmashed and unburned. It was donated to the Historical Society in 1865 with over a hundred handwritten cards still inside, each card representing a man whose name was never called for the draft. Look closely and you can read their names, addresses and occupations. Many of the names show that the men were immigrants.

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This simple, well-designed drum of polished wood touched off a riot. It's a Draft Wheel, used during the Civil War. By 1863 the Union Army was running out of volunteer soldiers, so the government announced the country's first draft.

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Audio
Pewterer’s Society Banner
01:44

Pewterers made things like plates and spoons and tankards. The Pewterers were in the crowd of 5,000 men who paraded in New York City on July 23, 1788—a parade to celebrate the new Constitution of the United States. The Constitution was being ratified, state by state, and it had just received the support of enough states to be adopted. However, New York had not ratified it yet. While the New York assembly debated in Poughkeepsie, in New York City men of all classes and professions paraded. Besides the Pewterers, there were groups of bakers, woodcarvers, engravers, cartmen, farmers, brewers and many more, including groups of doctors and lawyers. There were many banners and floats in the parade, but this Pewterers banner is the only surviving artifact from that day. On the left side is an American flag with 13 stars, one for each state in the new union, and below it is the Pewterers' coat of arms and their motto. On the right four workers are making pewter objects. Above them is an inscription that expresses the hopes of the Pewterers for the new nation. It says: The Federal Plan most solid and secure/ Americans their freedom will ensure/
All arts shall flourish in Columbias Land/ and all her sons join as one social band. The parade must have helped because the next day the New York assembly ratified the Constitution.

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This is the Pewterers' banner, painted silk with fringe on the top, bottom, and right side. Try to imagine it being carried, proudly, in a parade by men in the Pewterer's Guild. Pewter is an alloy of tin and metals like copper or zinc.

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Audio
Unidentified Woman (Lord Cornbury)
01:22

People used to think that it was Edward Hyde, also known as Lord Cornbury, a cousin of Queen Anne of Great Britain who appointed him governor of New York and New Jersey in the early 1700s. Popular history says that Lord Cornbury liked to dress in his wife's clothes, not just in private, but strolling down Broadway, in the state assembly and receiving official visitors. His explanation was that he should dress like a woman because he represented a woman, his cousin Queen Anne. His political enemies called him half-witted and a drunken fool; the public called him a tyrant and an embezzler and unfit to be governor. Eventually he was removed from office. For many years scholars said this was Lord Cornbury, but recent research raises doubts. It may be that Lord Cornbury's enemies started the rumor that he was the subject of the painting, and it was spread by satirists who wanted to make fun of him. The painting might actually be Queen Anne herself, or some other unidentified member of the English aristocracy. What we do know is that sometimes what we think of as history can change, depending on who's telling the story.

 

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This is a very curious portrait—Is it a woman with a five o-clock shadow? Or a man in woman's clothing? Scholars have different opinions, and you're entitled to your own. But here's the background on the painting.

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Audio
Ki-On-Twog-Ky by F. Bartoli (Seneca Chief Cornplanter)
01:50

In 1796 a European artist named Bartoli painted this portrait of the chief showing off his clothing. Ki-On-Twog-Ky was a mighty warrior; in the 1750s he led his tribe into battle against the French. Then during the American Revolution he fought with the British against the colonists. After the Revolution, Ki-On-Twog-Ky wanted to live in peace, but he worried about the safety of his villages. Even after the Revolution, British settlers were living just north of his lands, and he knew that if the British and Americans started fighting again his people could be drawn into war. So in 1786 he came to New York City, at that time the nation's capital, and asked Congress two questions: did Americans want to live in peace with the Senecas? And would the United States respect the boundaries of the land his people lived on, land assigned to them by treaty? Congress assured the chief that he had nothing to worry about.

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This is a portrait of Chief Ki-On-Twog-Ky, a proud leader of the Seneca tribe whose name means Cornplanter. He was born in western New York State, the son of a Seneca mother and a European fur trader.

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Audio
Bulls and Bears in the Market by William Holbrook Beard
01:43

Today, broadcasters often use the terms Bulls and Bears when they report on the Market—Bulls are investors who make money when prices go up, and Bears make money when prices go down. Beard didn't invent those terms, but he is satirizing the bullish and bearish investors by painting them as animals in a huge battle against the backdrop of New York City's Financial Center. The scene is Broad Street with the New York Stock Exchange on the left. This building was later torn down and replaced by the current Stock Exchange on the same spot. The building on the right with the columns is Federal Hall today, but back then it was the U.S. Sub Treasury building. The bulls and bears are locked in a huge battle, and there's fun in exploring the gory details. On the ground are tufts of bear fur and bull hide, gouged and bitten out. A bull on the left is chasing a bear up the red pole. In front of the Stock Exchange, look for a bear being tossed in the air. In the front right, a group of bears examine the hide of a bull they've slaughtered. In the extreme lower right a bear takes a break from the battle to study his account book. Look above him and in the middle ground a bear is using a rope to try and lasso a bull. Beard may have been inspired by the stock market crash of 1873, which produced the worst depression in 19th-century America. That was six years before he did this painting. Even in its satire, the painting captures the real energy and passion of the stock exchange that continue even today.

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William Holbrook Beard painted "Bulls and Bears in the Market in 1879" to poke fun at Wall Street and the Stock Market.

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Audio
The Peale Family by Charles Willson Peale
01:51

Most portraits in the colonies before the American Revolution were of individuals, so this group painting was unusual; in fact, it was one of the most ambitious portraits by a colonial artist up to that time. Peale captures the love and closeness of his family, and celebrates himself as an artist. He's the man in black on the left, standing in front of an unfinished canvas and holding an artists palette. He's looking down at a drawing his two brothers are doing of their mother, who's sitting at the other end of the table. She holds one of his daughters on her lap. His wife sits in the center at the table, holding another daughter. One of Peale's sisters sits next to the mother on the right; another sister stands in the back next to Peale. The other standing woman is the family housekeeper. The busts on a shelf in the upper right honor his painting teacher Benjamin West and an early patron, Edmund Jennings. The bust furthest in the background is Peale himself. On the table, a still life of fruit includes an apple peel, a deliberate pun by the artist on his name—Peale painting a peel. Peale also loved to study natural history. He organized scientific expeditions and started a museum in Philadelphia to house his collection of specimens, from birds to wooly mammoth bones, and to hang his beloved family portrait. In the painting, on the wall at the right youll see a note from Peale. It says: 
C.W. Peale painted these portraits of his family in 1773. Wishing to finish every work he has undertaken, he completed this picture in 1809!

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This is a family portrait that took 35 years to finish! Artist Charles Willson Peale painted most of it in the 1770s, but he kept coming back to it throughout his life, repainting the background, changing how he looked and adding his beloved dog Argus.

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Audio
Highlights From the John James Audubon Collection
01:59

Since too much light can destroy their delicate colors, we rotate the displays in this Niche every three months. From his early 20s, Audubon was obsessed by one idea: to observe, record and publish images of all of the species of birds in North America. During his life, people recognized Audubon's bird watercolors as both important documents of natural history and dazzling works of art. Audubon was one of America's greatest watercolorists and he depicted birds in new ways. He was the first to show birds life size and interacting with each other, and also showed different sexes, ages and seasonal plumages of the same species. We also value his images because they include species that became extinct, and today they live only in his watercolors. Audubon and his wife Lucy hoped that his collection of watercolors would stay in the United States after his death in 1851. Both the New-York Historical Society and the British Museum wanted to buy the collection, but the $4,000 asking price for the collection was a large sum at the time, and too high for the Historical Society. For a while it seemed that the bird paintings might end up in the UK, but after a year of private fundraising, the Historical Society acquired the collection of 434 preparatory watercolors for The Birds of America in 1863, along with around 50 other works. Later in the 1960s, donors gave the Historical Society the final preparatory watercolor and a rare copy of whats called the double-elephant folio edition of The Birds of America, printed on the largest size of paper available. And those gifts made this national treasure complete.

 

 

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John James Audubon's paintings of North American birds in the wild are some of the New-York Historical Society's greatest treasures. In fact, the Historical Society holds all 435 of Audubons preparatory watercolors for his renowned prints series The Birds of America.

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Audio
The Tontine Coffee House by Francis Guy
01:27

The painting's title is "The Tontine Coffee House," which is the building on the left with the flag on top and all those prosperous looking men standing on the porch. On the right side of the painting is the corner of the Merchant's Coffee House, and the street on the right is Wall Street. You're looking east and you can see the masts of ships at East River wharves. It's a busy scene of commerce as workers handle barrels and bales and boxes, unloading them or getting them ready for loading on those ships. Two of the workers in the center are African-American; they may be either slaves or free men, since New Yorks population included both at that time. New Yorkers ran on coffee even back then, but in 18th- century America coffee houses were also important meeting places. Politicians and military officers debated ideas. Merchants met to make business deals. The Tontine Coffee house was famous in the city as a marketplace for all kinds of commodities—ships, horses, real estate, rum, even slaves. The street on the left is Water Street. Today the intersection of Water and Wall Streets is still the heart of New Yorks financial district, and New Yorkers still fill coffee houses to conduct business and debate ideas.

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Long before there was a New York Stock Exchange, where do you think stockbrokers, traders and merchants met to buy, sell and trade? In buildings like the ones in this painting, done by Francis Guy in 1797.

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Audio
Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918 by Childe Hassam
01:36

You are looking west toward Sixth Avenue. At the top of the painting you can make out the structure of the Sixth Avenue elevated train station, now long gone. What dominates the painting is, of course, the American flags. Theyre huge and colorful against the drab gray, black, white,and beige in most of the painting. They are probably larger in the painting than they were in real life, because Hassam was declaring his support for Americas involvement in World War I. From 1916 to 1919, Hassam painted almost 30 canvasses highlighting the American flags that hung along New York streets, especially Fifth Avenue. His flag paintings are symbols of patriotic feelings in the U.S. during World War I, and are important examples of American Impressionism. Hassam had lived in Paris studying the work of the French Impressionists, who are characterized by their application of paint to the canvas in unblended colors using short broken strokes to create an impression of people and objects, rather than painting them in realistic detail.

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Artist Childe Hassam painted Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918—a view from the window of his studio at 130 West 57th Street.

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Audio
Louis C. Tiffany Dragonfly Lamp
01:48

For decades people thought that Tiffany himself designed all the lamps, but recently scholars found out that he employed a team of talented woman designers and artisans. Now we know that Clara Driscoll designed many of Tiffany Studios' most beautiful creations, and this lamp was one of them. Tiffany began his artistic career as a landscape painter, which is evident in his work; the lamps often show fruits, flowers and creatures like bats and insects. A row of nine dragonflies surrounds the shade, their heads pointing downward and jutting below the edge of the shade. Each has two round green eyes, their wings extend horizontally and their bodies extend about halfway up the shade. The blue and green glass is the water they are flitting above, and the upper third is the sky. The base of the lamp is bronze. Notice all the glass pieces are not the same thickness, so theres a dramatic play of light as you move around the lamp and tilt your head up and down. In 1906 Tiffany Studios priced it at $175. Think that was expensive? Well, in that same year, the average hourly wage was 17 1/2 cents, so these lamps were out of the price range for all but the wealthy. Be sure and see the full collection of Tiffany lamps on display in another section of the Luce Center. You can check the orientation map behind you to find out where they are.

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The New-York Historical Society is proud to have in its collection over 130 lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany's Tiffany Studios. This is one example, called a Dragonfly Lamp. It was designed between 1900 and 1906 by a woman named Clara Driscoll.
 

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Audio
Marquis de Lafayette Punch Bowl
01:56

The first answers easy: 22 gallons. The decoration is more complicated. It recalls a key event in American history that few people remember today: the Marquis de Lafayette's visit to the United States in 1824. Two scenes show Lafayette's ship, a steamboat, arriving at the tip of Manhattan, escorted by other ships with flags flying, while cannons fire salutes from the shore. Two hundred thousand people lined lower Broadway for a parade in his honor. Why the celebration? Well, you may recall from high school history that Lafayette was a hero of the American Revolution, a general wounded in battle, and George Washington thought of him like a son. After the war Lafayette returned to France. In 1824 President James Monroe invited him back for a visit, and the country went nuts for him! For over a year he toured large cities and small towns in all 24 states of the young nation. And everywhere he went there were parades, banquets, fireworks and concerts in his honor. Lafayette's visit reminded Americans about how their nation began and what it stood for, and sparked a huge rise in patriotism. The New York City celebration included a banquet inside Castle Garden, today called Castle Clinton, which is the round building seen on the punch bowl. So you might think this bowl was used at that banquet. Not possible. There are architectural details about Castle Garden in the punch bowl's decoration that didnt exist till years later. So this bowl was probably made in the 1840s or '50s, and used by the owners of Castle Garden to commemorate the visit and promote their establishment.

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This is an enormous punch bowl. Look inside—you can see a pale stain left from the punch! Now, you probably have two questions: how much does it hold? And what are the pictures on the outside about?
 

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Audio
Thomas Nast Jug and Stopper
01:15

The Anna Pottery Company of Illinois made this as a thank you gift for Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist of the 1860s and 1870s. Nast had used his cartoons to attack the massive misappropriation of public funds by Boss Tweed and his henchmen, who controlled the political machine known as Tammany Hall. Tweed is the bearded head without glasses, and most of the other heads are his associates. Also notice the behinds of all the Tammany Hall members trying to climb into the pot of money and power. A lot of people knew about Tweeds corruption, but it was Nast's cartoons in Harper's Weekly that finally aroused the public, the newspapers and government officials to arrest Tweed and send him to prison. The pottery makers also added their hero Nast to the jug. He's the highest head on the jug, the one not attached to a snake's body. Today political cartoonists still see Thomas Nast's cartoons as the gold standard for their profession. And this sculpture stands as a testament to the power of artistic expression.

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The swirling mass of snakes and heads on this jug represent an important cast of characters in New York Citys political history—the Boss Tweed gang. The coiled snake on top is the handle for the jugs stopper.

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Audio
Tiffany & Co. Ice Cream Dish
01:30

The service even had a title: "Dinner and Dessert Service for Twenty-Four Persons." Mackay was an Irish immigrant who struck it rich in 1873 when he discovered the Comstock Lode, the largest silver deposit ever found in Nevada. His wife asked if she could have enough silver to make something, quote, memorable. Well, enough silver turned out to be nearly a ton. Thats what Tiffany used to make the twelve hundred and fifty pieces in the service. Two hundred men worked two years to produce it. Each piece features his Mrs. Mackays initials...M L M...and her familys coat of arms. On this ice cream dish you can see them on opposite sides of the rim. The feet of the dish are elephant trunks. By the way, the inside is gilded with a thin layer of gold. This was one of two ice cream serving dishes in the set. Then there were 24 individual ice cream plates. The luxurious set also included such pieces as celery vases, separate dishes for olives, cheese, and grapes, a chocolate pot, crumb trays, candelabras, and of course knives, forks and spoons for 24 guests. The Mackays made their home in Paris, and Mrs. Mackay became famous in European high society for her sumptuous banquets and parties.

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Would your favorite ice cream taste better served from a silver bowl like this? John and Marie Louise Mackay [pronounced MACK-ee] must have thought so the bowl is part of their silver dinner service made by Tiffany and Company.

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Audio
The Beekman Family Coach
01:07

James Beekman had his family's coat of arms painted prominently on the doors, most likely after it arrived in New York. Walk around it and take a look. If you watch movies set in the 1700s, you might get the impression that everyone rode in carriages like this one. But painted carriages like this—with beveled glass windows and a place at the back for a footman—were rare even among the elite of the colonies. For instance, we know that in 1766 there were only 26 coaches like this in all of New York City. Probably the Beekmans used it pnly for special occasions, like going to balls and banquets and other formal events, since they had simpler carriages for daily use. This coach stayed in the Beekman family until they donated it to the Historical Society in 1911. It was hidden during the Revolutionary War so that it wouldn't be destroyed, and now its one of only three coaches to survive in its original condition from 18th century America. Click here for a video tour of the Beekman Coach with Curator Margaret K. Hofer.

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This coach belonged to the Beekman family of New York City. James Beekman was a merchant, and he was wealthy enough to have ordered it from England and shipped to the colonies in 1771.

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Audio
Duncan Phyfe’s Tool Chest
01:14

Phyfe was born in Scotland, came to America as a teenager, learned to work with wood and had a thriving business for four decades. At one time he employed 100 workers. Phyfe built this tool chest, a simple yet beautiful pine box, and amassed this collection of almost 300 woodworking tools for carving, veneering and inlaying furniture. It includes 60 planes and a variety of chisels, gouges, templates and squares all in pristine condition. You dont have to be a carpenter to appreciate the collection, especially the beautiful handles that he crafted out of mahogany, rosewood and ebony. Note especially the saw handles mounted in the top of the chest. You may be curious about the small white envelope tied with string inside the box. The handwriting on the envelope tells the story. It says: Mothers hair, taken off the morning she died, August 24, 1899, and it marks the the death of Julia Matilda Pinkney, Phyfes daughter-in-law.

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His is a very famous set of tools. The tools and chest belonged to Duncan Phyfe, one of New York's most important cabinet makers between 1790 and 1854.

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The Indian Hunter by John Quincy Adams Ward
01:37

He made it in 1866 and it established his reputation as an artist. It was so popular that in 1869 he was commissioned to do a version for the Park. It was the first work by an American sculptor to be installed in Central Park. If you want to find it, it's on a path between the Mall and the Sheep Meadow, at approximately 66th Street. Ward's sculptures, like The Indian Hunter, were popular with the general public and respected by critics. Notice all the details, like the concerned look on the hunter's face and the ribs showing through the dog's side. And see how the figures are in realistic poses, alert and ready to face whatever they've just seen. The careful detail and the natural poses were unusual for 19th-century sculptures, which were mostly classical works like marble portrait busts and statues of famous men. Ward showed that you could combine classical composition with realistic details and natural subject matter. He chose an American theme, but he modeled the young Indian's pose after the Borghese Warrior, an ancient Greek sculpture in the Louvre. He sold many small reproductions like this one; during his life he had it cast four times to meet the demand. By the way, you can see other important sculptures by John Quincy Adams Ward in New York City; he did the statue of George Washington that stands in front of Federal Hall, and he designed the frieze of sculptures high above the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange.

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Does this bronze sculpture look familiar? Then maybe youve seen the life-sized version in Central Park. Its called The Indian Hunter by John Quincy Adams Ward.

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Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Chester French
01:06

French made this maquette in 1916. It's plaster, painted to look like bronze. French wasnt sure how big the final version would have to be to fit the great pillared hall of the Memorial, so he started with this three-foot-tall model, and from it made another version 12-feet-tall,  which he actually placed in the Memorial. He and Memorial architect Henry Bacon saw right away that 12 feet was way too small, and agreed that it had to be 20 feet tall. And that's what you see in the Memorial today. The marble sculpture was completed in 1919 and dedicated in 1922. Look around in this display area of sculpture and youll see French's plaster model of the head that's on the colossal statue. It's the actual size of the finished sculpture of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.

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Abraham Lincoln—as you see him in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. But this is not a copy of that sculpture; this statue came first. It's called a maquette, and it reveals the creative process of the sculptor Daniel Chester French.

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John Ramage Miniature Desk
01:27

You can see tiny samples of his miniatures in the two oval containers inside the desk. But Ramage didnt just make the paintings; he also built little frames and cases to hold the miniatures, often crafting the cases in gold with elaborate designs, and engraving the backs of the cases. This little desk held all of his tools for that work, so it was the ideal piece of furniture for a man who moved around from place to place. And move he did. He was living in Boston with this wife when the Revolution began in 1775, but he was born in Ireland and felt loyal to the British crown. So he moved to Nova Scotia, without his wife. He also married in Canada, but two years later he was exposed as a bigamist and fled to New York City to escape public disgrace. He stayed there after the war, married again and changed addresses often. Eventually he had to leave New York in a hurry because he was going to be arrested for bad debts. He took off for Montreal this time, leaving behind another wife. The Historical Society has nearly 800 miniatures in its collection, including 16 by Ramage.

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The owner of this mahogany slant top desk really got around in the 1700s. He had to. I'll explain why in a minute, but first I'll tell you about the desk. It belonged to John Ramage, an artist who specialized in miniatures—tiny paintings done on small pieces of ivory.

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Federal Dressing Table
01:26

This piece was probably built by following a pattern in a book written by Thomas Sheraton, a famous English furniture designer. The book is known as the Cabinet Makers and Upholsterers Drawing Book. Customers in the young nation felt that English furniture makers did the best work, and they wanted furniture built in America to have the high English quality and latest English designs. This table is mostly mahogany, with white pine and poplar used on the interior and other light woods for the inlay. Sheraton described the table as a piece of furniture that "contains every requisite for a lady to dress at." There are seven drawers you can easily see, and inside the cabinets are banks of smaller drawers and pigeonholes. Above the large center drawer you can slide out a flat leather-covered writing surface, and when you pull out the center drawer it contains a round cutout to fit a washbasin. The rounded bottom sections of the dressing table have sliding doors revealing storage space. We only know of two dressing tables of this design built in America. The Historical Society is fortunate to have acquired this one from Mrs. Livingston's descendants.

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This is a lady's dressing table that probably belonged to Margaret Maria Livingston. It was built in New York sometime around 1800, and it's a good example of the fact that even after the United States won its independence, it still looked back to Europe for inspiration in art and design.

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Checkers Up at the Farm by John Rogers
01:45

Rogers was a railroad mechanic who taught himself how to model with clay as a hobby. People loved his first sculptures so much that he decided to turn his hobby into a profession. His subjects were amusing and warm, and captured poignant scenes of American life that everyone could relate to. In this scene, a farmer sits on an upturned basket, hoe still in his right hand. Opposite him is a well-dressed visitor from the city, with his wife and child. The men are playing a game of checkers, and the farmer is laughing as he points to a successful move. Notice the realistic detail of the clothes and the facial expressions. Rogers liked his sculptures to tell simple stories, but the stories had psychological depth and touched people emotionally. Rogers was also a savvy businessman; he patented his sculptures and mass-produced them in inexpensive plaster. He sold them for about $15 each in his own shop, in general stores and art galleries throughout the East and the Midwest, and eventually directly to customers through a mail-order catalogue. By the end of the 19th century he had sold more than 80,000 sculptures. Today most people have never heard of him, but his works mark the start of popular, accessible art in the U.S. The Historical Society has almost 150 sculptures by John Rogers. The sculptures he sold to the public are in plaster, but this one is a bronze master model that he used to make the plasters. Look around in this case and youll see many of them.

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At the end of the 19th century, if you were middle class and you loved art you probably had a sculpture like this decorating your parlor. This group is titled "Checkers Up at the Farm," and the sculptor was John Rogers.

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The Dying Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization by Thomas Crawford
01:31

The poignant title tells you why the chief looks the way he does. As the sculptor himself wrote, the chief is broken and bowed before the progress of the civilized white man. Walk around the sculpture to see its details. The chiefs long hair down his back, and his headdress of feathers, his decorated moccasins, his tomahawk on the ground at his left side, and the animal skin that he sits on. Of course look closely at his face, the eyes open but staring blankly into an uncertain future. Crawford did not originally design this sculpture in three-dimensions as you see it here. He first designed the Dying Indian Chief in 1853 for the triangular pediment above the entrance to the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. You can see how his pose would fit in a corner of the triangle. If you visit Washington, D.C. today you can see the entire group of figures. Taken all together, the Senate sculptures tell the story of America's discovery, settlement and development as a nation through western expansion. Of course, often at the expense of Native Americans. The Senate sculptures are carved in relief, which means they are attached to the wall behind them. Crawford made this freestanding version later In Rome, in 1856.

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This sculpture is one of the largest works in the Luce Center, and it has an impressively long name too: "Dying Indian Chief Contemplating the Progress of American Civilization." The sculptor was Thomas Crawford.

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Napoleon Bonaparte’s Arm Chair
01:15

So how did it get to the New-York Historical Society? Its story with many characters. Napoleon used it in his council chamber at Malmaison, where it remained until at least 1814. It was brought to America by Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte, who fled France after Napoleon's ultimate defeat in 1815. Joseph came to America and settled in Bordentown, New Jersey at a lavish estate known as Point Breeze. When Joseph returned to Europe he gave the chair to his business associate Felix LaCoste, the Consul General of France in New York City. When LaCoste died, Vice-Consul Louis Borg purchased it from his estate. Borg eventually presented it to the New-York Historical Society in 1867. Miraculously, the chair retains its original upholstery and much of its original finish. The seat is faded and worn, so it was probably used often by its owners over the years. Who could resist the temptation to sit in such a seat of power?

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This chair belonged to the most powerful man in Europe during the early 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte. It was made in Paris of carved and gilded beech wood, and upholstered with regal red wool trimmed with gilded silver thread.

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Slave Shackles
01:29

These were presented to the Historical Society with a card that explained their history. We're told that they were around the ankles of a 17-year-old girl named Mary Horn. She had been a slave of a man in Georgia named Judge Horn. The Civil War freed Mary, but she still lived and worked on Horn's plantation. Then in 1866, a year after the war was over, Judge Horn placed these shackles on Mary to keep her from going to see her lover, George, who lived on a nearby plantation. George turned for help to some Union soldiers still stationed in Georgia led by Colonel William W. Badger of the 176th Regiment New York Volunteers. George begged Colonel Badger to free Mary from her shackles, and as the story goes he held her over an anvil while Badger cut them off. See the two round circles of steel? Notice there are open spaces in the circles. Thats where the shackles were riveted together. Colonel Badger then married George and Mary, and he told George to protect Mary, by force if necessary—prophetic advice. Judge Horn went to jail for a year for re-enslaving Mary, but when he came home and tried to once again treat people like slaves, a riot broke out on his plantation. George killed Judge Horn.

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It's rare to find artifacts related to the history of slavery in this country, so these steel ankle shackles are unusual. And the fact that we know who wore them makes them especially valuable to us.

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George Washington’s Valley Forge Camp Bed
01:10

It's made from three simple folding stools that can be joined together, and it has a canvas top stretched on a folding wooden frame. The boards you see on three sides held mattress padding in place. The whole thing was easy to fold up and transport from camp to camp. It's six-and-a-half feet long, so it just barely fit General Washington, who was 6'2" tall. It probably wasnt very comfortable, aut it was luxurious compared to his troops, who often had to sleep on the ground. This simple bed is probably the most personal object used by George Washington that the Historical Society owns. It reminds us of the realities of his military career rather than the elegant images we see of him in uniform, or the distinguished portraits of him as President. After the war, Washington entrusted this bed to his secretary, Richard Varick, who was later elected mayor of New York. Varick passed it on through his family until it was presented to the Historical Society in 1871.

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George Washington slept here. Really. We believe that Washington slept on this camp bed at Valley Forge during the brutally cold winter of 1777.

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19th-Century Noah’s Ark Toy
00:55

If you were a kid in a strict religious family in late-19th century America, you might have some toys for weekdays, and special toys like this that you played with only on the Sabbath. Toys with a morally uplifting message. Most Noah's Arks were made in Germany, like this one, built between 1850 and 1900. German wood carvers also specialized in making all the tiny animals to go inside the ark. See how the side wall of the ark slides so you can get the animals in and out? The Noah's Ark toys came with hundreds of animals, like in this set. They aren't action figures, or transformers, or Barbie dolls, but they were probably an answer to the prayers of bored 19th century American kids.

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Here's a 19th century toy that gave kids a message: you can only play with toys on the Sabbath that have a moral or religious theme. Like this Noah's Ark, built of wood and painted. It's an example of what were called Sunday Toys.

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Audio
Milestones
00:51

"Fifteen miles to New York." "Seven miles from City Hall New York." These milestones were called the "sentinels of the highway" and they quietly marked the progress of travelers to and from City Hall. Milestones have stood by roadsides for millennia. In New York, the first milestones were placed on roads leading to the city in 1769; the milestones you see here date from between 1801 and 1823. Most milestones date from the period of New York’s most rapid growth, when it became the "final destination" for an increasing number of people. Milestones were not placed simply for travelers’ convenience. They also regularized rates for post-riders, since mail rates were set by distance. Some milestones carried the names of local donors, or of nearby taverns. They were, in other words, the first highway billboards.

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"Fifteen miles to New York." "Seven miles from City Hall New York." These milestones were called the "sentinels of the highway" and they quietly marked the progress of travelers to and from City Hall. Milestones have stood by roadsides for millennia. 

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Log Water Pipe of the Manhattan Company, 1800-1840
01:10

New York City’s tap water is often considered among the world’s best, but it wasn’t always the case! The inhabitants of early 18th century New York City had concerns about clean drinking water. In front of you is a rare survival from our earliest water system. This log pipe was made between 1800 and 1840 by the Manhattan Water Company, a private company founded by Aaron Burr to pipe fresh water to city homes. The pipe was about as basic as you could get, consisting of a wooden log, with a tunnel bored through it, and a sliding iron gate to regulate the flow of water. The water came from a modest well near the unsanitary Collect Pond, located behind City Hall. In 1800, the Company’s water was accessible only to those who could afford it. Things have changed a bit. New York’s public water system now supplies one point three billion gallons of water each day to city and upstate residents, tourists, and commuters. It comes from a watershed north of the city covering 1,969 square miles. It includes 359 miles of aqueducts and tunnels, and another 6,181 miles of distribution pipes.

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 New York City’s tap water is often considered among the world’s best, but it wasn’t always the case! The inhabitants of early 18th century New York City had concerns about clean drinking water.

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Erie Canal Barrel, 1825
01:16

This little barrel was once a prop in a dramatic piece of political theater. On November 4, 1825, New Yorkers gathered to celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal. Cannons boomed, fireworks sparkled, politicians pontificated. And Governor DeWitt Clinton poured water from Lake Erie out of this little barrel into New York harbor. It was a great day for DeWitt Clinton. It had taken eight years and enormous political courage to get the state to pay for the 363-mile-long project called “Clinton’s ditch,” reaching from Albany to Buffalo. The Canal was 40 feet wide, just four feet deep, and it had cost well over 10 million dollars to construct. That’s the rough equivalent of a billion dollars today. But the Canal repaid its costs many times over. New York came to dominate the trade of the Great Lakes and the fertile interior of the United States. Soon the city’s trade overwhelmed all the other Atlantic seaboard ports, and New York City became the fastest growing community in the world. The Erie Canal helped make possible the great metropolis that welcomed immigrants from all around the globe and gave them opportunities to build new American lives. Every New Yorker owes a debt to Governor DeWitt Clinton and his barrel of Erie water.

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This little barrel was once a prop in a dramatic piece of political theater. On November 4, 1825, New Yorkers gathered to celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal.

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Gouverneur Morris’s Wooden Leg, ca. 1780
01:41

This primitive prosthetic leg was worn by the vital, energetic and outspoken United States founding father Gouverneur Morris who is widely credited with writing the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. He served as a U.S. senator as well as George Washington’s minister to Versailles during the turbulent years of the French Revolution. On May 14, 1780, while taking the reins of his phaeton—a four-wheeled carriage—on a Philadelphia street, Morris was dragged and entangled in a wheel when the two horses bolted. His left leg was broken in several places, and doctors quickly amputated it below the knee. For the rest of his life, Morris relied on a series of pegged oak legs that were fitted to his stump, although he briefly tried a copper limb cast from a mold of his right leg. Rumor quickly spread that the unmarried Morris, a notorious ladies man had incurred the injury while leaping from a window in flight from an enraged husband. Hardly deterred by his infirmity, Morris used the wooden leg as an accessory to his carefully cultivated image as a charismatic public man. In one legendary story, which may or may not actually have happened, Morris claimed to have been surrounded by a mob of angry French Revolutionaries who screamed “an aristocrat” as he passed in his coach. Morris took off his wooden leg, thrust it at them and responded to the accusation, “Yes, truly, who lost his leg in the cause of liberty” which quickly won over the angry Parisians. Gouverneur Morris served as President of the New-York Historical Society in 1816, which was also the year of his death. In case you were wondering, Gouverneur was his first name, not a political title. It was actually his mother’s maiden name.

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This primitive prosthetic leg was worn by the vital, energetic and outspoken United States founding father Gouverneur Morris who is widely credited with writing the preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

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Audio
Edison Stock Ticker, 1923
01:34

Time, information, money. The secret of New York’s financial success over the past two centuries has been its ability to communicate information quickly and accurately. Thomas Edison’s stock ticker that you’re looking at right now was a milestone in this technical evolution. Edison was still only 21 years old, tapping out Morse code for Western Union, when he invented the Universal Stock Ticker, the first dependable high-speed quote machine. The 5,000 tickers he sold in the next few years allowed Edison to finance his own laboratories in New Jersey. The stock ticker made the light bulb, phonograph and movie camera all possible. By the 1920s, the Edison tickers began to fall behind the pace of trades as they happened on the floors of the stock exchanges. Tickers like one you’re looking at, made in 1923, were often as much as an hour behind. Wise brokers should have seen the warning. On “Black Tuesday,” October 29, 1929, the market crashed, losing 12 percent of its value in one day. The Edison machines ticked late into the night just to catch up with the day’s business—more than five hours behind the trading times. The lack of information made many brokers and investors nervous and when investors get nervous they often sell their holdings. When you have more sellers than buyers, prices go down. While the crash had many causes, the slowness of the tickers definitely didn’t help. Ironically, Thomas Edison didn’t lose a dime. He never invested in stocks.

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Time, information, money. The secret of New York’s financial success over the past two centuries has been its ability to communicate information quickly and accurately. Thomas Edison’s stock ticker that you’re looking at right now was a milestone in this technical evolution.

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French Press Wardrobe by Lannuier, 1779-1819
01:21

At the end of the 1700s, everything French was in style in America. Beginning with Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, politicians loved being sent on missions to Paris. They wrote letters about politics, peace and war, but they also sent back news and samples of the latest French styles in clothing, fine china and furniture. Charles Honoré-Lannuier, who learned his craft in Paris, had the right idea when he moved to New York in about 1804 and became the first Frenchmen making furniture for newly rich Americans. In France, he was called an ébeniste, which meant that he was qualified to make case furniture covered with veneers. Look at this wardrobe. Inside, the piece is made of a sturdy, common wood like pine, but we see only a thin outside layer of mahogany. Against the dark wood, the bronze decorations look even more elegant. Inside it also has small drawers, hooks and pull-out shelves, which means it was probably used for clothing. This type of wardrobe was called a French Press, shows the neoclassical taste that was popular from about 1810 to 1825. The pilasters at the corners are topped with golden capitals. A small Roman bust sits atop the pediment. Its symmetry and sense of balance was surely meant to impress!

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At the end of the 1700s, everything French was in style in America. Beginning with Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, politicians loved being sent on missions to Paris.

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Gambling Wheel from Coney Island, ca. 1911
01:11

Gambling goes way back in the city’s history: everything from shuffleboard to billiards to cards. Early New Yorkers played all kinds of games to win and lose money. Take this gambling wheel for instance. Coney Island, or the "Island of wild rabbits" as the Dutch called it was a pretty quiet place until the end of the 19th century, when railroads began bringing crowds of working-class people to the beach. They flocked to all kinds of entertainment: boxing, horse racing, carousels, roller coasters, romps through the “fun house,” and, of course, gambling. The amusement park operators tried to keep gambling out. But people were still drawn to the bingo parlors, dart games and
to wheels like this one, made around 1911. These wheels distilled gambling down to its purest form. No “games” with elaborate rules to learn — this was about pure chance. Soon Coney Island’s gambling enterprises began to fade. With off-track betting, Lotto and slot machines in places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the gambling wheel lost much of its allure. Today, these early amusement park games are important historical artifacts and coveted collectors’ items.

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Gambling goes way back in the city’s history: everything from shuffleboard to billiards to cards. Early New Yorkers played all kinds of games to win and lose money.

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Van Rensselaer Teapot
01:16

Inside this teapot a mystery has been brewing for many years. The New-York Historical Society has owned this teapot since 1915. It came from a descendant of its original owners: Johannes Schuyler and his wife Elizabeth Staats of Albany, who were married in 1695. The teapot might have been a wedding present. For a long time it’s been considered the earliest silver teapot in New York, which would make it a very special wedding present because tea was just becoming popular in Western Europe. The New-York Historical Society’s curators first thought the teapot came from Germany or Holland. Fifteen years later, the markings convinced researchers it was actually made in colonial New York. Since then, at least one other silver object associated with a wealthy family of Dutch heritage in the Albany area has been found with the same markings. Scholars now wonder if this may actually be the mark of silversmith Killian Van Rensselaer III. Van Rensselaer trained in New York City and Boston and then set up shop in the country near Albany in 1683. Four years later, he inherited the Manor of Rensselaerswyck. Although he lived until 1719, Van Rensselaer would have been too busy running the huge estate to have much time for silver.

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Inside this teapot a mystery has been brewing for many years. The New-York Historical Society has owned this teapot since 1915.

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Cockroach Trap
00:52

They say they’ll be crawling around the ruins of New York after a nuclear disaster. When everything else is gone, cockroaches will still be here. And as long as there have been cockroaches, there have been cockroach traps. This one dates from the second half of the 19th century. It works like this: a cork is pushed into the hole of the side of the earthenware trap. Some delicious morsel is placed inside. The unsuspecting cockroach falls into the hole on top, has its fill of food, and is unable to crawl out of the steep slope inside the hole. Death awaits it, at which time, the cork is removed and the cockroach is tossed into a garbage-can grave. This trap is a tricky solution, but it’s definitely more elegant than the cans of poison we use today. If only it had done the job better, it would have made 21st century New Yorkers very thankful.

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They say they’ll be crawling around the ruins of New York after a nuclear disaster. When everything else is gone, cockroaches will still be here. And as long as there have been cockroaches, there have been cockroach traps.

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Beekman Mantelpiece (from the Beekman House, Mt. Pleasant, ca.1765)
01:29

As you look at this carved wooden mantelpiece, imagine yourself in the drawing room of James Beekman’s country estate, Mount Pleasant. It’s the late 1760s, and New Yorkers are beginning to talk about resisting laws and edicts from London. You’re looking out the window at the shore of the East River, where 51st Street ends today. Mr. Beekman, one of New York’s richest importers, is expected any minute. The city has been buzzing about the new sofa, mahogany chairs, settee and fire screen he ordered for this room from Samuel Prince, one of the most stylish furniture makers in town. And he covered the furniture with imported green damask fabric. James Beekman’s taste, you feel, is unparalleled. Now imagine a scene more than a century later. You are standing in front of the same mantelpiece, only now it has been moved to the Luce Center at The New-York Historical Society. Torn down in 1874, the estate Mount Pleasant fell victim to the city’s march northward. Even on its own, the mantelpiece stands as remarkable testimony of the woodcarving skills that flourished in colonial New York City. Look at the robustly scrolled pediment at the top and the whimsical figures of a dog and two swans under the shelf. The mantelpiece is all that remains of Beekman’s glorious former mansion. Make sure to see the Beekman coach near the silver cases in the Luce Center.

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As you look at this carved wooden mantelpiece, imagine yourself in the drawing room of James Beekman’s country estate, Mount Pleasant.

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Fire Engine Condenser Case, 1830–1840
01:34

This fire engine condenser case was spotted in New York City’s grand, five-mile-long procession celebrating the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842. Elaborately painted, carved and gilded, the ornamental case was mounted on the yellow truck of Clinton Engine Company No. 41, which was drawn through the parade by 55 firemen outfitted in their traditional fire-caps, red shirts and dark pants. Like the ambitious aqueduct project itself, the fire company—with its bold red-and gilt-striped engine and its brave volunteers—was an object of tremendous civic pride, encouraged in no small part by the efforts of the company’s namesake, DeWitt Clinton—a former New York City mayor, US Senator, four-term New York State governor, as well as president of the New-York Historical Society. The center of the painted scene features a portrait bust of Clinton, with the Genius of Agriculture placing a wreath of flowers on his head. To the right is a distant view of Albany, Clinton’s home during his stints as Governor. The Erie Canal, Clinton’s crowning achievement, is featured at the left. The Clinton Engine Company, organized in 1813, was located at the corner of Delancey and Clinton Streets, today’s Lower East Side. The company was disbanded in 1865 when the state legislature replaced the volunteer companies with the Metropolitan Fire Department, a paid force of professional firefighters. While the change brought improvements in firefighting techniques, it may have spelled the demise of the distinctive and captivating equipment like this decorated condenser case.

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This fire engine condenser case was spotted in New York City’s grand, five-mile-long procession celebrating the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842.

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Audio
Harry Howard
01:52

Who is this heroic, larger-than-life fireman? He’s thought to be Harry Howard, a New York City firefighting pioneer. Howard began his career in 1840, and by 1857 he rose to the rank of Chief Engineer. He was known for his great bravery, and he saved many lives. Howard was the first to establish the bunk system; this required some of the volunteers to sleep in the bunkhouse every night so they could respond quickly to alarms. In fact, under his leadership, losses due to fire dropped so much that fire insurance rates in New York actually decreased! From the time of New York’s founding, fire was always a major threat. Just a few years before Howard began his career, the Great Fire of 1835 burned more than 700 buildings and virtually destroyed the downtown business district. Since the 17th century New Yorkers banded together to fight fires, and these volunteers organized themselves into companies. They were praised in paintings and prints, and in poetry and plays. But these volunteer groups had their shortcomings too – they sometimes brawled with rival companies and were accused of drunkenness and stealing. This statue was mounted on the roof of Fireman’s Hall, which was built for the Volunteer Fire Department of New York City in 1854. The firehouse was decorated with other carved ornaments including hooks and ladders, axes, and even a fire hydrant. In 1865 legislation was passed creating a full-time, paid fire department in New York, so the volunteers disbanded their companies, and decorations like this one were taken down. This carved figure might have been lost for good, but luckily in the 1920s the sculptor Elie Nadelman and his wife Viola found it in the cook’s loft of an old volunteer firehouse. The New-York Historical Society purchased it from the Nadelmans as part of their remarkable collection of folk art some of which can be seen in the sculpture section of the Luce Center.

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Who is this heroic, larger-than-life fireman? He’s thought to be Harry Howard, a New York City firefighting pioneer.

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A South-East Prospect of the City of New York
01:04

This wonderful panorama shows the waterfront of the East River. On the left is the Battery at the south end of Manhattan. The picture is from the mid-18th century and while we don’t know who painted this view, it’s clear that the artist wanted to show New York as a bustling British outpost during a time of war. The view of the town is based on European paintings and engravings of cityscapes, and the artist showed clean, orderly houses receding into the distance, almost as far as the eye can see. But the main focus is on the ships in the harbor. These ships either belong to the British navy or British privateer fleets that harbored in New York in 1756 during the French and Indian War. Or they may be French ships that were captured by British privateers in 1757. Or they may be part of a large British fleet that left in 1761 on a secret expedition. Since we don’t know for sure, we estimate that they were painted between 1756 and 1761. We do know that the painting was owned by Goldsborough Banyer, an important public official in New York during the middle of the 18th century.

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This wonderful panorama shows the waterfront of the East River. On the left is the Battery at the south end of Manhattan.

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The Elie Nadelman Collection
02:06

The woodcarvings and other examples of folk art on these shelves were collected by the sculptor Elie Nadelman. Nadelman is well-known today as an avant-garde artist who created elegant and spare modernist sculpture. His accomplishment as one of the first serious collectors of folk art in America is equally important. Nadelman began collecting shortly after he emigrated to New York City in 1914. He and his wife, Viola Flannery Nadelman, quickly amassed thousands of treasures during their travels around the countryside and while on summer trips to Europe. In 1924, the couple began construction of a stone museum on the grounds of their Riverdale estate, which they called the Museum of Folk and Peasant Arts. It was the first museum in the United States devoted exclusively to folk art and the first in the world to focus on the European origins of American folk art. The Nadelmans were forced to sell the collection as a result of financial setbacks caused by the stock market collapse in 1929. In 1937, the New-York Historical Society purchased the bulk of Nadelman’s folk art, and today holds more than 1,600 objects from this seminal collection. The Nadelmans collected furniture, sculpture, paintings, ceramics, glass, iron, pewter, drawings, watercolors and household tools. Their objects are dispersed throughout the Luce Center. Here you see a selection of Nadelman’s carved wooden animals, some of them attributed to the Pennsylvania master carver Wilhelm Schimmel. Towards the top are molded plaster ornaments known as chalkware, inexpensive substitutes for real sculpture that were hawked on city streets by immigrant peddlers. If you look carefully throughout the Luce Center, you can find Nadelman’s collecting legacy in many areas, including decorated pottery; molded glass bottles; ornamental metalwork; painted furniture; and carved butter molds, just to name a few. On the bottom shelf to the left is an example of Nadelman’s own sculpture: a quartet of female figures showing women in the act of dressing and grooming.

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The woodcarvings and other examples of folk art on these shelves were collected by the sculptor Elie Nadelman. Nadelman is well-known today as an avant-garde artist who created elegant and spare modernist sculpture.

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Creative: Tronvig Group