December 18, 2014

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part I)

While Boston's "New" State House recently unearthed a time capsule from 1795, we at the Old State
House just began displaying some of the items that were included in the 1901 time capsule that was found in our lion statue earlier this fall.  Due to the sensitive nature of these materials, the temporary exhibit will only run through the end of January. 

The contents of the time capsule fall into four categories: Boston newspapers, Grand Army of the Republic paraphernalia, government photographs and ephemera, and artifacts associated with the Old State House restoration in 1901.  In addition to the copper capsule and the red book, I selected 17 other items from these categories to display.  In the coming weeks, I'll use our blog to provide some additional information and photographs of these items for history fans who can't make it to the Old State House to see this display in person. The first category that I'll feature is Boston newspapers.

A few years ago our library staff found a reference in the February 24, 1901 edition of the Boston Daily Globe that listed the items deposited in the time capsule to be placed in the head of the lion atop the Old State House.  Given that much of the information we knew about the contents of the time capsule prior to opening it came from this newspaper article, it was only fitting that we found a number of items pertaining to Boston newspapers in the capsule.

The items that we selected to display are the February 19, 1901 edition of the Boston Transcript, donated by Edw. G. Richardson, City Hall Representative; the Boston Herald "Herald Boy" electrotype; an envelope labeled "A Message to Posterity from the Daily Newspapers at City Hall"; and "The Outlook for the Twentieth Century," a letter written by George Litchfield, Business Manager of the Boston Traveler. I've written about the Litchfield letter and the message to posterity envelope in a previous post, but I've included some larger pictures of them below, and have also provided some additional information about the other two items on display.

When opened, this sealed envelope was discovered to be empty - perhaps a joke from journalists in 1901!

George Litchfield outlines his thoughts for the future, touching on technology, communication, and travel.

The February 19, 1901 Boston Transcript was one of five newspapers included in the time capsule, but this was the only one that was labeled and folded; given the space constraints of our display case, this made it the perfect size to include.  One of my concerns about newspapers in the time capsule was that they would be in poor condition.  Have you ever tried to save an important newspaper article, only to find out that after a few weeks it has yellowed and become brittle?  We were lucky that the time capsule was airtight and watertight, meaning that the capsule contents didn't have interaction with oxygen or moisture and thus they remained in surprisingly good condition.  Note that this newspaper is only slightly yellowed, but beyond that it is in good condition and does not look like it is 113 years old.  At this point, we don't know very much about the newspaper donor, Edw. [Edward] G. Richardson, who is listed as "City Hall Representative."  The 1900 and 1901 Boston city directories have only one entry for Edward G. Richardson, and list him as a reporter with a business address of 324 Washington Street, which was the headquarters of the Boston Transcript.  It seems likely that Richardson was one of the reporters detailed to City Hall in 1901.

Also on display is an electrotype of the Boston Herald's "Herald Boy."  There were a few items related to the Boston Herald in the time capsule, including business cards, a newspaper from February 21, 1901, and a die cut for printing of the Herald building at 255 Washington, but this electrotype was the most visually stunning.  The headline on the newspaper that the Herald Boy is holding reads, "The Boston Herald Circulation Nov. 9, 1892, 533,140."  Electrotyping was used in printing beginning in the 1830s and its usage continued until the late 1900s.  Some newspapers in the early 1900s had entire electrotyping departments.

Be sure to check back in the coming weeks to learn about the time capsule items on display!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

December 9, 2014

Continuing an 18th century walk in the South End

Today we'll be concluding the walk down Washington Street that we began in the last post

We have just reached the edge of Marlbrough Street and now the street veers to the left, becoming Newbury Street (the Back Bay’s current boutique boulevard of the same name is unrelated). Here at the corner of Essex Street stands the majestic Liberty Tree. The space beneath the boughs of this ancient elm is called “Liberty Hall” by locals; it is a gathering place of the popular voice in Boston politics. The Loyal Nine, the earliest incarnation of the Sons of Liberty, organized many of these protests from a small counting room in Chase and Speakman’s distillery “near the Liberty Tree.” Several other shops advertised their proximity to it as well: a pair of Scottish glovers, a wine cellar promising “Old Sterling Madeira… and other wines all in their original purity,” and the White Horse Tavern (where Perez Morton grew up).

Continuing past the Liberty Tree on what is now Orange Street, you might become aware that the land is now narrowing toward the isthmus called Boston Neck. The land here is even more scarcely populated and the shoreline is dotted with far fewer wharves. Before long the cross streets disappear. The narrow row-houses of Boston give way to free-standing structures, between which you can glimpse the nearby shoreline. Without warning, the crowded bustle of Boston has given way to what looks like a small country town.

You might have noticed a standing stone here, beside one of the taverns for out-of-towners, which said, “From here to the Townhouse, 1 mile.” This indicated the distance, specifically to the northwest corner of the Old State House, which was reckoned as point zero for the mile markers along the colonial roads all the way to New York City and beyond. Many of these markers still stand today, unnoticed in the midst of modern residential neighborhoods.

And then you come upon the town wall. Boston is a well-fortified town because of this narrow neck. All it took was a small wall at the narrowest point to make the town virtually unassailable. Outside this gate, just outside the perimeter of the town, the old wooden gallows stand. The hanging of criminals outside the town signifies communal rejection and served as a warning to anyone entering the town. I should also note that convicts were hung by the neck at Boston Neck, which is probably an intentional bit of gallows humor.

That brings us to the end of our tour. If there are any other Boston neighborhoods you’d like to visit in the 18th century, please let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or in the comments below.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager

December 3, 2014

An 18th century walk in the South End

In a previous post we described the experience of walking down King Street in the center of 18th century Boston. This time, let’s explore the South End.

We begin our journey at the door of the Old State House on Cornhill Street (now Washington Street). Again, you hear the clatter of cart wheels and horse shoes on the pebblestone street. This is the only street into the town and on market days you will find it busy with farmers hauling bushels of crops, country shopkeepers with empty carts to collect new shipments from the wharves, and public coaches departing from King Street carry paying passengers on the Post Road down to New York City.

Across from the Old State House is the “Old Brick Meetinghouse,” pictured to the right, which stood in that spot until its demolition in 1808. It was the last Boston church built in the old puritan style with a square shaped hall and centered cupola.

Walking another hundred yards down Cornhill brings you to another large brick church (and Boston’s largest building), the Old South Meetinghouse. This religious and political giant often hosts meetings attended by thousands. On Sundays the bell towers of Old South and Old Brick toll in slow counterpoint to the background chorus of bells singing from fifteen other churches that stand in the town.

The Meetinghouse marks the end of Cornhill Street and here things grow quieter at the beginning of Marlbrough Street. Here we come to a building well-known to Bostonians, the Province House, which is the official residence of the Royal Governor. It is an impressive house, gated and set back from the street surrounded with stately trees and topped with an iconic weathervane made by the same craftsman who made the weathervanes that top Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

A number of other mansions stood off of Marlbrough. Samuel Adams lived in a three-story house on Winter Street. John Rowe, the merchant, had an estate on Pond Street and Royal Sherriff Stephen Greenleaf lived in a fine property on the end of West Street. These were straight-laced Georgian townhouses with brick facades and fragrant gardens. Unlike the crowded streets of the North End, here in the South End people could keep their neighbors at a distance.

In our next post, we will finish our journey by walking to the very edge of town.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager

November 26, 2014

Restoration work is nearly complete!

It’s been a while since the last project update, so here we go. As many of you have been following the time capsule story, the restoration project that led to its discovery has been moving towards completion.

By the end of October the masonry restoration on the west façade was finished, deteriorated wood at the windows and door surround was replaced, and painting was completed. At the start of November the scaffolding came down to reveal a newly pointed and painted façade, although the average person walking by would likely not notice the work done. That is our goal during restoration projects, to make the necessary repairs and replacements without it appearing that we did anything.

The work on the east façade continued as well. The balcony balustrade and moldings were repaired and reinstalled. A late October storm caused damage to the window below the clock, so repairing that window was added to the project, and it has since returned with a new frame that exactly matches the previous one. Replacement of the balcony doors is being worked on as we speak, with new doors being fabricated due to the deterioration found on the old ones after removal and striping of the paint. Painting of the wood work on the east façade is in progress.

Most recently, the Lion and Unicorn statues were returned to the building after slightly more than two months away for restoration. Skylight Studios repaired and regilded the statues, the Lion in gold and the Unicorn in palladium. The new time capsule fabricated and donated by John F. Shea Co. could be seen from below as the crane from Marr Rigging lifted the Lion up to be secured in place by the crew from NER Building Restoration. All the while our general contractor Commodore Builders ensured a smooth day.

As the project comes to substantial completion, the Society needs a few more days of good weather and continued good work from all involved in the project.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

November 24, 2014

A time capsule for 2114!

The new time capsule has been soldered shut and put back into the lion statue! Skylight Studios conservator Robert Shure placed the new time capsule inside the gilded scroll that forms the base of the statue (rather than the head, to make it more easily accessible in the future).

Items waiting to be placed in the time capsule.
After taking suggestions from the public, we selected over twenty items that represent Boston in 2014. The copper time capsule from 1901 was air-tight and water-tight and kept the materials inside in good condition for 113 years. John F. Shea & Co. in Mattapan, MA graciously donated the new time capsule, which is also made of copper. Each of the items in the time capsule were printed on acid-free paper or archival quality photograph paper and placed in either acid-free folders or tissue paper. We hope that these items cause excitement, and some intrigue, when the time capsule is opened by future Bostonians 100 years from now! Below is a list of all of the items that were included:

The new time capsule all packed up!
  • 2013 Boston Marathon medal and biography of donor Gregory Soutiea.
  • Letters from Boston journalists (Kiera Blessing, Boston Globe; Steve Annear, Boston Magazine; Brian Burns,
  • Photograph of current Boston Mayor, Martin Walsh.
  • Photograph of former Boston Mayor, Thomas Menino.
  • Tickets from April 20, 2012 Fenway Park Centennial Boston Red Sox game, donated by Peter Loring.
  • David Ortiz limited-edition bobblehead, donated by the Boston Red Sox.
  • Apple iPhone 5, donated by Patrick LeTourneau.
  • Boston Globe newspaper, October 10, 2014, with story about discovery of 1901 time capsule.
  • Letter from British Consul Suzie Kitchens, on current United States/Great Britain relations.
  • Photograph of Governor Deval Patrick with Prime Minister of England David Cameron, at Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial, 2013.
  • Winning student essays from the 2013 Boston Duck Tour Essay contest.
  • Foreign Relations of the United States 1977-1980, Volume III, (bound in red, latest in a series represented by the 1896 volume found in the 1901 time capsule), with a letter from Davita Vance-Cooks, Public Printer of the United States, Government Printing Office.
  • Letter from Brian LeMay, Bostonian Society President and Executive Director.
  • Facsimile of a 1901 letter from George Litchfield, Business Manager of the Boston Traveler. This letter was included in the earlier time capsule that the Bostonian Society opened in October 2014.
  • Facsimile of a photograph of the team who worked on the 1901 Old State House restoration project. This photograph was included in the 1901 time capsule that the Bostonian Society recovered in 2014.
  • Photograph of the current restoration work teams – Commodore Builders and Skylight Studios.
  • Photograph of the current Old State Restoration Project team.
  • Old State House Lion & Unicorn: An Unfolding Story, an essay written by architect Donald Tellalian.
  • Box from Mike’s Pastry (with no canolis, unfortunately).
  • Letters from children participating in Greenovate Boston’s Community Summit 2014, and a Greenovate Boston button.
  • “Idahoan’s research uncovers time capsule,” facsimile of an article from Idaho Statesman, October 28, 2014.
  • Two 18th-century hand-wrought nails removed from the Old State House tower in 2008.
  • Two 19th-century cut nails removed from the tower in 2008
  • Fragment of a 1713 brick removed from Old State House during the 2014 west façade restoration project.
  • Menu from Legal Sea Foods restaurant, 2014.
  • Photographs of Boston’s central artery 2003, and Rose Kennedy Greenway, 2013 (before and after the Big Dig).
The Old State House restoration work is nearing completion. Stay tuned for updates!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 31, 2014

Mystery letters: opening the sealed envelopes from the time capsule

When we opened up the time capsule earlier in October, we found five sealed letters.  Two were not labeled, one was labeled as from C.W. Ernst, Esq. Mayor's Private Secretary, one was in an envelope from the Boston Traveler, and the last one was in a thick envelope with "A Message to Posterity from the Daily Newspapers at City Hall" handwritten on the cover.  These letters caused a good deal of intrigue, but we couldn't slice into them for fear that we would accidentally damage the paper inside. 

I spent some time earlier this week slowly opening the letters using a bit of steam and a micro spatula.  The process was slow, but in the end each of the letters were removed from their envelopes with no damage.  Next came the fun part of finding out what was written and sealed 113 years ago.

S.D. Rogers and Mr. E.G. Priest
These two small sealed envelopes were packaged together along with the Fernald family history electrotype.  When opened, they were found to be beautifully handwritten letters  that provided short biographies of E.G. Priest, the clerk of the S.D. Roger & Company firm, and S.D. Rogers himself.  The S.D. Rogers Company was the firm that handled the restoration of the Old State House in 1901.

C.W. Ernst, Esq. Mayor's Private Secretary, Boston, Mass.

The letter in this sealed envelope was brief, and was written by C.W. Ernst on February 16, 1901.  Ernst was the private secretary to Mayor Thomas Hart, whose cabinet card was included in the time capsule.  The note that Ernst wrote and sealed states, "Nothing endures but wind.  The best contribution of New England to government is the town meeting."

Boston Traveler
Next, I opened an envelope from the Boston Traveler, 307 Washington Street.  Some of the ink from the letter had seeped through into the envelope, so I knew in advance that it was going to be a typewritten letter.  Opening it up, I found a two page legal-sized letter with the title "The Outlook for the Twentieth Century."  It was written by George A. Litchfield, the Business Manager of the Boston Traveler.  In the letter, he outlines his thoughts for the future, touching on technology, communication, and travel.  One of the lines that I found particularly interesting reads, "we shall fly; not merely navigate the air with cumbersome machinery sustained by bags of gas, but we shall step from our houses, an at our convenience or pleasure 'mount up on wings as eagles, run and not be weary, talk and not faint.'"

A Message to Posterity from the Daily Newspapers at City Hall
This letter was by far one of the items in the time capsule that generated the most interest.  It was listed on our inventory as being written by journalists who were detailed to City Hall, and everyone on staff was curious about what journalists felt was important enough to share with posterity.  I slowly worked to open the envelope, looked inside, and found that it was empty!  As it turns out, journalists in 1901 might have been playing a joke on future Bostonians!

Some of these letters will be included in the display of time capsule contents at the Old State House.  Stay tuned for more information about that temporary exhibit!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 15, 2014

Contents of Time Capsule Revealed!

Yesterday I was excited for the opportunity to take materials out of the time capsule!  The capsule was full to the brim with documents, so the whole process of carefully removing materials took over two hours.  Each item was inventoried and photographed, and then placed in acid-free folders or boxes. The next step will be to scan the documents so that we'll have preservation copies and select items for a temporary exhibition.

The most striking thing about the contents of the time capsule was their amazing condition.  We knew that the capsule was air-tight and water-tight, so there was little worry about moisture or oxygen causing damage.  However, I was concerned about the high temperatures that the capsule would have been exposed to up in the Lion's head, as heat can speed up the chemical breakdown of paper.  However, the documents seem to be in great condition!  There was no little to no deterioration of paper quality, and some of the ink was so vivid it looked as if it had been written yesterday!

But what are the contents?  And what about that mysterious red book? 

The red book is a government publication, titled Papers relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, with the annual message of the President transmitted to Congress December 7, 1896, and the annual report of the Secretary of State. There are no inscriptions within the book, so we don't know if it holds any significance.  It's my guess, though, that it was placed on the top of the pile of documents as a space-filler.  I checked WorldCat to see if there are other copies of this book in the area, and it does look as though this is one of the few copies out there.

Letters that are sealed will need a little bit of preservation work before they are opened. Please follow along on our blog for updates, and enjoy reading the full list of time capsule contents below!
  • Foreign Relations of the United States, 1896 (hardback book)
  • Blank packing paper
  • Wood removed from the Old Lion age of same 21 years in 1900 (notation is written on a business card for American Painting & Decorating Co. and tacked onto the back of the piece of wood)
  • The Banker Tradesman – the financial, legal, real estate, and building information, vol xxix, n. 4, February 20, 1901
  • Blank piece of letterhead from M.H. Gulesian
  • Business cards for S.D. Rogers & Co (Carpenters and Builders), Mr. Edwin H. Woods (Publisher and Treasurer of the Boston Herald), G. Fred Richmond (Boston Herald), and John A. W. Silver (Deputy Superintendent of Public Buildings)
  • Boston Transcript of February 19, 1901 from Edw. G. Richardson, City Hall Representative
  • Pamphlet of the Organization of the School Committee of the City of Boston, 1901
  • Cabinet card of Mayor A.P. Martin [mayor 1884] with inscription “Yours truly”
  • Card with inscription “Geo. G. Proctor, 665 Sixth St., South Boston, Mass”
  • Parchment role of employees of public buildings department, February 1901
  • Bill for tuition and one piece of music, January 1, 1901 signed by John A. Silver
  • Sealed letter from C.W. Ernest, Esq. Mayor’s Private Secretary, Boston, Mass.
  • Letter from A.J. Rodway, describing the heraldic seal of the Lion and Unicorn
  • Sealed letter from the Boston Traveler
  • Campaign button for John D. Long, Candidate for Vice-President
  • Nail from Old South Church and nail from Old State House
  • Group photograph of individuals who worked on restoration of the Old State House, February 19, 1901
  • Sealed letter inscribed “A message to posterity from the daily newspapers at City Hall”
  • Grand Army of the Republic lapel button
  • Grand Army of the Republic badge
  • Samuel L. Powers for Congress campaign button
  • Boston Journal, photograph showing the 5th Massachusetts regiment
  • Fernald Family History, possibly on electrotype
  • Cabinet card of Moses Gulesian
  • Veterans button, possibly Grand Army of the Republic
  • McKinley and Roosevelt campaign button
  • The Boston Herald, February 21, 1901, with leaflets of advertising rates
  • Electrotype of Boston Herald, Herald Boy
  • Miniature electrotype of Boston Herald from April 11, 1900
  • Photograph of Nathan Matthews, Junior [Mayor 1891-94]
  • Photograph of Josiah Quincy [Mayor 1896-1899]
  • Six photographs of GAR officials, these images are pages cut out of a publication
  • Photograph of Edwin Curtis [Mayor 1895]
  • Cabinet card of C.G. Davis, Sergeant at Arms
  • Cabinet card of W. Murray Crane, Governor
  • Cabinet card of John B. Smith, Governor’s Secretary
  • Cabinet card of William W. Campbell, Deputy Sheriff
  • The Boston Post, February 19, 1901 and February 21, 1901
  • Cabinet card of Thomas Hart, Mayor
  • Cabinet card of Milton C. Paige, Superintendent of Public Buildings
  • Cabinet card of John A. W. Silver, Deputy Superintendent of Public Buildings
  • Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Department Directory, 1901
  • Die cut for printing of the Boston Herald building, 255 Washington Street
  • Letter from American Painting and Decorating Company about the work done on the Old State House, February 18, 1901
  • Boston Daily Globe, February 16, 1901 advertisement of circulation

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

All photographs by Amy Nelson, Finance and Administrative Assistant

October 10, 2014

Time Capsule Opened!

We opened the time capsule yesterday! Materials won't be removed until next week, but in the meantime, we wanted to share some behind-the-scenes photographs from yesterday's event. Amy Nelson, one of our staff members, was buzzing around the studio taking photographs, and we're thrilled to share some of them here - be sure to click on the image to see the larger version!

Watch this space for updates on the contents of the time capsule!

October 1, 2014

Thou shalt not steal: the Hancock Family Bible

Last month the Society held a special event and for one night only displayed some rarely seen artifacts related to John and Dorothy Hancock. One of the featured items was the Hancock family bible.

The bible was donated to the Society in 1886 by Franklin Hancock. In the Society’s early years, Franklin donated a number of personal Hancock items, such as one of John’s coats and a pair of Dorothy’s shoes. Our membership lists show that Franklin was a lifetime member of the Society, but the donation file for the bible does not provide any further information about him and his place in the Hancock family. John and Dorothy only had two children and neither lived beyond childhood, so Franklin could not have been a direct descendant. With a little digging, I was able to determine that Franklin Hancock was born on November 17, 1818 and died June 1, 1893. He was the son of John Hancock (b. 1774), who was the son of Ebenezer Hancock (b. 1741). Ebenezer was John Hancock’s youngest brother, so that means that John Hancock was Franklin’s great-uncle.

This bible was printed in 1721 in Edinburgh, Scotland and belonged to John’s grandfather, Reverend John Hancock of Lexington. After his father died, John lived with his grandfather for a few years before he was taken in by his uncle Thomas. We do not know if the bible passed to John’s father or his uncle before he received it. According to our donation file, John later lent the bible to the chaplain at Castle Island for use of the troops stationed there.

John made a few notations on the title page of the bible which make it an even more personal item. In the upper right-hand corner, he signed his name with an apostrophe “s” to ensure that everyone knew who it belonged to. In the upper left-hand corner, he inscribed “Thou shalt not steal, saith the Lord” as a reminder to anyone who might be contemplating slipping off with his personal bible. These details illustrate the importance that he placed on the family bible.

According to our files, this oversized bible was sent to the James MacDonald Company in New York for conservation work in 1961. It has been rebound and the backs of the first pages have been reinforced with Japanese paper. Even though the bible has been repaired, it is still one of the more rare and fragile items in our collection and is only taken out of storage for special occasions.

For more information on John Hancock, check out The Baron of Beacon Hill by William M. Fowler, Jr.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

September 25, 2014

We're in the news!

If you've been following along on our blog, you know that the Old State House is in the middle of a restoration project.  Nearly two weeks ago, the iconic Lion and Unicorn statues were removed from their perch on the east façade of the Old State House.  There was rumored to be a time capsule placed in the Lion's head, and earlier this week Skylight Studios artist Bob Shure and Matt Ottinger, our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation, were able to confirm its existence by using a special fiber optics camera.

We're thrilled that this news has been picked up by local, national, and even international media outlets.  In case you haven't had a chance to read any of the articles or watch any video, we've included links to some below:

Stay tuned as we finalize plans to open the time capsule!

September 18, 2014

Restoration Project Update!

The Old State House has been full of activity in the last two weeks. After the scaffolding was finished the first week in September, work immediately began on cutting the old mortar joints. Our contractor, Commodore Builders, had the crew from NER Building Restoration moving at a solid pace throughout the cutting process, even though most of the work is done by hand. The mortar cutting is done with a single saw blade cut through the center of the joint and then the mortar is chiseled out by hand to avoid damaging the historic brick. During the work a very interesting line of lead flashing was found buried in the old mortar joints along the floor level of the second floor. Reviewing historic photos, it is currently believed that the flashing is a remnant of a small balcony located on the west façade during the mid 19th-century.

Last week, the carpentry crew from M&A Architectural was on-site to remove the balcony doors and balustrade for restoration. The removal of the wooden elements from the balcony went smoothly and although deteriorated wood was easily spotted on the removed pieces, the urns that adorned the balustrade posts were in great shape. Over the next two weeks, the carpenters will be back at the Old State House to remove some windows and other building elements for restoration.

The biggest news was the removal of the iconic Lion and Unicorn statues on the east façade. On Sunday, Commodore Builders team from NER and Marr Rigging successfully removed, crated, and delivered the two large animals. Made from hollow copper, the statues are being restored by the staff at Skylight Studios, the same place the statues were restored in 1991. The first step to the restoration of the statues is to find whether there is truth behind the documentation of a 1901 time capsule in the Lion’s head. Finding out if a capsule has been residing in the Lion is not a simple task and the exploration must be done carefully. Skylight Studios and the Bostonian Society will examine the Lion and hopes to have a very exciting announcement in the next couple of weeks.

During the next couple of weeks, the re-pointing of the west façade will begin, more information will be gathered from the wooden elements taken from the balcony, and of course more news on the Lion and Unicorn. Stay tuned to the blog and our website for updates.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

September 11, 2014

A Notice to Towns: Committee of Correspondence broadside on display

If you stop by the Old State House this month, you'll have the chance to view an original Committee of Correspondence broadside that was issued in Boston in September 1774. A facsimile of this document is always on display in our Colony to Commonwealth exhibit, but we don't often have the opportunity to display the original due to the sensitive nature of 18th-century documents.

MS0119/DC 973.3116.1774
But first things first - what exactly was a broadside? Broadsides were large pieces of paper that were only printed on one side and were often posted in public places. They were used as a way to pass on announcements and advertisements, and were ephemeral in nature, meaning that they were printed to serve a specific purpose and weren't necessarily meant to be saved. As a result, some broadsides were printed on poor quality paper and it can be difficult to preserve them into the 21st-century.

The Committee of Correspondence of Massachusetts would issue broadsides from their headquarters in Boston and distribute them to towns throughout the area. For example, a few in our collection were sent from Boston to the town of Medway. Committees of Correspondence were organized in each of the thirteen colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution. As its name suggests, the committees served as a way to maintain communication within Massachusetts as well as with other colonies. The broadside that is currently on display was issued by Boston and surrounding towns on September 27, 1774 and is signed by the clerk, William Cooper. The broadside calls upon citizens to withhold from [British] troops every article except provisions necessary for their subsistence. The notice goes on to urge all citizens to participate, stressing that “unanimity in all our measures in this day of severe trial, is of utmost consequence.” This broadside gives insight into the sentiments of Boston and Massachusetts residents on the eve of the American Revolution. Click on the image above to see an enlarged version of the broadside and read it in its entirety.

As this document turns 240 this month, we are excited for the opportunity to share it with our visitors and blog readers!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

September 4, 2014

Old State House restoration has begun!

The long wait is over! Our much anticipated West Façade Restoration Project is officially underway. Last weekend Commodore Builders delivered and set up the scaffolding on a busy Saturday. The project includes full re-pointing of the façade, repairs to the chimney, restoration to the windows and some wood elements, and repainting of the woodwork.

While the majority of the work is focused on the west façade, there will be work taking place on the east end of the building as well.
The Society has also been fortunate enough to have raised funds for the restoration of the balcony and the Lion and Unicorn statues. The work on the east façade will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks and will include a crane for the removal of the statues for their restoration at Skylight Studios in Woburn.

The Old State House will be open throughout the work and readers of this blog are encouraged to stop by and see preservation and restoration in action. We will be posting updates here throughout the project, so check back often.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

August 28, 2014

The Art of Scrimshaw: pieces from our collection and a how-to guide to make your own

Whale's tooth with view of Amsterdam, MB0282
Sometimes the best part of learning can be getting your hands dirty. That’s exactly what we have been doing on Summer Saturdays at the Old State House! One of my favorite hands on activities is one designed around the art of scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw is pieces of carved and colored whale tooth or bone. Although whale tooth and bone were the most common materials for scrimshaw, examples can also be found of tusk, ivory or bone from other sea or land animals. Carving animal tooth and bone is a practice that goes back centuries, but the term scrimshaw came into use in the 19th century- as the whaling trade was exploding worldwide. Whaling ships would embark on trips that lasted years and the whalers often had ample time on their hands. The act of creating scrimshaw, called scrimshandering, was a detailed art that could easily occupy many hours and whalers could then bring the finished products home to their families and friends as souvenirs from their time abroad.

Scrimshaw clothespin, MB0070
These examples from the Bostonian Society’s collection show how diverse scrimshaw can be. Some show familial scenes, while others are more artistic or depict places the men traveled to. The shape of the scrimshaw can vary. Frequently scrimshaw took the shape of the original tooth, but sometimes it would be shaped into useful tools like this cribbage board and clothespins.  Busks were also common scrimshaw gifts, brought home to wives and sweethearts. Busks were a component of the corsets worn by women in the 19th century, the vertical piece lying against a woman’s sternum. A very intimate souvenir!

Whale's tooth with
family scene, MB0036

Whalers used whatever tools they had at their disposal, such as jackknifes, files and India ink. As scrimshaw became well known some men brought special tools with them on the ship in anticipation of the pieces they would work on. Tools that resembled a dentist kit were some of the most popular tools! The small picks worked well on the tooth and bone. Our hands on activity uses materials that are more readily available in the 21st century. We are doing this activity in the museum this summer, but it can easily be done at home as well, or even in the classroom.

Scrimshaw Activity

  • Block of white soap
  • A ball point pen
  • Black washable poster paint
  • Wooden carving tools (such as this one available at craft stores)
  • Sponge, cut into small pieces
  • Paper plate
  • Newspaper or craft paper to cover work space

  • Smooth off soap surface with wooden tool
  • Use point of wooden tool or the point of the pen to carve image (the pen will not make any marks on the soap). Carve whatever image you want. It can be a meaningful representation of something you love or a beautiful design. It’s up to the artist!
  • When carving, be careful not to press too hard, the soap may split.
  • If the soap is dry, the soap particles can irritate your throat, so don’t breathe too deeply!
  • Use sponge to apply paint. Use enough to get into the carving to make the entire image appear. Wipe away excess paint, using the sponge as well as paper towels to get the desired look.
  • Let the paint dry.
  • Share your art with friends and family- regaling them with tales of your time on the high seas!
Resource note: A great resource for more information on scrimshaw (and the history of whaling) is Leviathan, by Eric Jay Dolin.

By Alexa Drolette, Museum Programs Manager

August 20, 2014

Not that Samuel Adams! -- Chasing a Revolutionary Patriot across Boston (Part II)

As we learned in last week’s post, Samuel Adams bounced from job to job, but his engagement with radical politics was a constant in his life and his political inclinations likely influenced his steady resolve to preserve the flag. Adams always involved himself in local politics and was an outspoken fixture at town meetings. He supported Thomas Jefferson and the Whigs, and he was written about on one occasion as a great orator of Boston. He was a regular attendee at the anniversary celebrations of Thomas Paine’s birthday, where he made toasts decrying political and religious tyranny. Like Thomas Paine, he was an atheist. In his later years he became a radical abolitionist, allying himself with men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Liberty Tree, Boston Common.  1983.0003.011.144
In the 1850s, newspapers recognized him as one of the last surviving “relics” of the Revolutionary period and reported that he had an incredible memory of those times. At the 75th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence in 1851, he was one of three Revolutionary veterans riding in a carriage for the procession. By his own account, he witnessed the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the British departure from the town, and Washington’s entrance into Boston. He claimed to have been one of the “Boston boys,” young men who acted as sentinels for the Sons of Liberty when they had their secret meetings, and that he even served as the confidential messenger of the patriot Samuel Adams. He stated that he served as a privateer during the Revolution. Thus far it is difficult to confirm these impressive stories.

Adams began displaying the flag for various public occasions in the 1850s, including the anniversary celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday in 1851 and a meeting of the Free Soil Club in 1852. He evidently wished that the flag continue to be used to support radical politics. In his will, he left it to his granddaughter, and then intended it to pass to Abby Folsom, another abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. He called it the “Flag of Freedom of yore hoisted over Liberty Tree so called in Boston,” though one wishes that he might have mentioned how he came to own it. This question still remains to be answered.

The impression that emerges from the details of Adams’s life is that of a man who lived through an incredible period of American history: from the last years of British colonial rule to the years leading up to the Civil War. He preserved the Liberty Tree Flag as a living emblem of the radical politics he was caught up in as a young man, and of the reforms he still hoped to bring about. In this effort he had a strong sense of history, evinced by his remarks at Boston’s last town meeting before it became a city:

“ ‘Names is nothing. Only let us have Boston, and I care not what you call it.’ ”

By Kathryn Griffith, History Department Intern

August 13, 2014

Not that Samuel Adams! -- Chasing a Revolutionary Patriot across Boston (Part I)

The Bostonian Society has on display at the Old State House what at first appears to be a rather unassuming textile. Unfurled, however, it is an enormous flag (8’ by 13’) with nine red and white stripes, and it came into the collections with a remarkable story: that it hung from the great Liberty Tree in the early days of the Revolution, and even a few years before, when the Sons of Liberty began opposing British rule in Boston.

Liberty Tree Flag, 1893.0093
Before coming to the Old State House, the flag was displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. When Bostonian John C. Fernald donated the flag to the Society in 1894, it was noted that the flag had first belonged to Mr. Samuel Adams, a Boston wire-worker, who died in 1855 at age 96. For decades very little was known about this Samuel Adams or how he came into possession of the flag; sources often only repeated his name and occupation.

The flag is currently being prepared for an exhibition about the Liberty Tree, so I have been researching Adams to learn more about him and the flag. Following a centuries-old paper trail, I have tried to connect the dots between the appearance of a flag on the Liberty Tree (documented in Boston newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s) and the death of Adams in 1855. Why did an obscure wire-worker hold fast to the flag for more than seven decades? What did it mean to him?

I found a man who, far from being an anonymous Bostonian, was a well-known local character and who led a very long and interesting life. Samuel Adams was born in 1759, reportedly in the North End, to a book-binder named Benjamin Adams and his wife Abigail. Samuel had an older brother, Abraham, who became a leather-dresser and a well-respected citizen. Samuel married Catharine Fenno in Boston in 1781. They had 8 children together, including a son named for Benjamin Franklin, and a daughter, also Catharine, who married William Fenno, and through whose descendents the flag passed to John Fernald.

Adams moved around quite a bit according to the Boston city directories and the advertisements he placed in newspapers. He had several occupations during his lifetime; in fact it seems he came late to wire-working. In the 1790s Adams owned a wharf at the end of Cross Street from which he sold various goods. In the early 1800s he became the town crier, and printed a number of interesting advertisements announcing things he had found throughout the town. As a wire worker, his business was known as the Sign of the Flying Man and Fender Manufactory, and his advertisements included beautiful designs of his work. His work in wire also earned him the nickname, “Rat-Trap Adams,” by which he was known affectionately (or not, depending on the source).

The story of Samuel Adams and the Liberty Tree Flag will continue next week . . .

By Kathryn Griffith, History Department Intern

August 7, 2014

Historical Postcards on Display

Did you know that the Society’s archives includes a large holding of historical postcards? For the summer months, we selected five of these cards to display in the Old State House, each one portraying an iconic Boston site. Purchasing and sending postcards first became popular in America after the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and this display will give our visitors and blog readers a glimpse into the history surrounding these souvenirs.

The oldest postcards in our collection date to 1898 and depict the Old State House, Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall, and scenes from the Public Garden. As you can see from the image to the left, these postcards were printed in gray scale with a color image of the seal of the City of Boston on the left-hand side of the card. The back of the card includes the line “Private Mailing Card (authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898)” which is referring to the Private Mailing Card Act of 1898. Prior to this date, only the Postal Service was permitted to produce and sell postcards. When the Act was established, it allowed private companies to distribute cards; however, they could only refer to them as souvenir cards or correspondence cards, and it was also required that the line “private mailing cards” was printed on the back. This practice ended in December of 1901 when private companies were allowed to start using the term postcard.

One of my favorite postcards on display is a 1904 card of Old South Meeting House. This postcard was sent to Miss Hester Johns of Pittsburg, PA and is one of the few in our collection that includes a personal message, which reads, “We are having a very nice time. Going to the beach tomorrow.” From the picture to the right, you can see that the message was written right below the image of Old South. In the early 1900s, the back of postcards could only include the recipient’s address, so personal messages had to be written on the front of the card. It was not until 1907 that the Postal Service allowed postcards to have a divided back, which provided space for both a personal message and address.

The Society continued to collect postcards of Boston Proper through the 1970s and over the years we have accumulated quite the collection of cards depicting famous Boston sites. The cards illustrate the ways that the city has both stayed the same and changed over the past century.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

July 30, 2014

Building an 18th Century Wardrobe: Dorothy Hancock

With the recent opening of two new exhibitions at the Old State House - The Council Chamber, 1764 and Revolutionary Characters - a variety of 18th century artifacts have moved into the spotlight, including examples of imported textiles and accessories.

1887.0093 A-B
The purchasing and selling of imported goods became a contentious matter in the 1760s when boycotts were encouraged to urge the repeal of various taxes. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, Bostonians understood the implications of dealing in British trade, from selling sundries to wearing imported fabric. Style-wise, wearing imported items such as London-made shoes and Chinese silk was de rigueur and exemplified a refined urban look often difficult to procure from artisans in a provincial colony. To the left are a pair of shoes from our collection that features embroidery and a cut out design on the vamp, which became increasingly popular in the 1790s.

Detail of 1887.0093 A-B
Some of these luxury items have fallen into my care at the Bostonian Society, namely elements of Dorothy Hancock’s closet. At a time when buying local was a patriotic virtue, Dorothy Hancock owned imported garments that exemplified the latest in European fashion. In the late 18th century, she purchased some Bragg and Luckin shoes in an enviable London style made specifically for export.  As you can see in the label affixed to the foot-bed of the shoes, they indicate that they were made specifically for export to the colonies.

Stay tuned for future posts with more from Dorothy's closet . . .

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibits Coordinator

July 23, 2014

From our collection: Colonial Currency

Revere engraved currency, MS0119 DC1219
Every month I select an item from the archival collection to display in a special document case in the Old State House. Throughout most of July, two pieces of Massachusetts paper currency engraved by Paul Revere, dating to 1776 and 1779, are on display. Most people know Revere from his famous midnight ride, but he is also well known as a blacksmith and engraver. The Society is lucky to have a few of his items in our archival and museum collections.

Hole cancelled currency, MS0047
Each of the thirteen colonies issued their own paper money during the American Revolution, and those pieces were not easily transferable for use in other colonies. Paper currency in the colonies was different from how we think of money today; these pieces were used as bills of credit, issued by the government. Some of the currency in our collection includes what looks like a hole-punch in the center, which is referred to as “hole cancelled.”

Though the bulk of the paper currency in our collection is from Massachusetts, we also have pieces from Rhode Island and New Jersey as well as a few pieces of Continental currency printed in Philadelphia by Hall and Sellers. The first Continental currency, referred to as Continentals, was issued in June of 1775 after a resolution was passed by the Continental Congress.

NJ currency, MS0047
As you can see from the Revere currency pictured above, paper money included elaborate designs and ornamental motifs. Of the two that are on display, the four shilling and six pence piece has an engraving of a codfish at the top center and the five shilling and six pence piece has an engraving of a pine tree. It was typical of engravers of colonial currency to try to prevent counterfeiting by designing intricate typefaces and ornaments that would be difficult to reproduce. Additionally, Continentals were printed on special paper that included thin blue threads and mica to prevent counterfeiting. Though it seems like a harsh punishment, the line “To counterfeit is Death” was included on some pieces of paper currency, like the New Jersey currency pictured to the right.

There is much more to say about colonial currency than can fit in a blog post, so please don’t hesitate to comment with any questions and I’ll try my best to find the answer!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager