Preserving Pieces of Pennsylvania’s Past: An Inside Look at the Building of the Commonwealth’s Collections

Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Associations between butterflies and buttons, Conestoga wagons and cannon, sculpture and arrowheads, or fossils and founder William Penn’s original Charter may seem tenuous, even obscure and, perhaps, nonsensical. But a relationship does exist: they are among the one and a half million objects and thirty thousand cubic feet of manuscripts, records, maps and photographs in the custody and care of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Whether two- or three-dimensional, they document Pennsylvania’s history, from rocks and minerals formed long before man walked on earth, to a mid-twentieth century four-door Packard sedan and souvenirs of the most recent political campaigns.

The rich array of the Com­monwealth’s collections curated by the state’s official history agency is not limited to moveable objects and papers. Some of the collection is architectural, preserving his­toric sites from elegant eight­eenth-century mansions such as Graeme Park, Pottsgrove Manor and Hope Lodge in Montgomery County to in­dustrial structures and com­plexes, including Eckley Miners’ Village near Hazelton and Cornwall Iron Furnace in Lebanon County. Old Econ­omy Village in Ambridge and Ephrata Cloister in Lan­caster County convey the tranquil feeling of communal societies established by re­ligious groups in previous cen­turies. Military sites from Washington Crossing in Bucks County to Fort Pitt in Allegheny County echo with the triumphs and setbacks of those who fought to settle and build this country. In addi­tion to these historic sites, regional museums, chronicling Pennsylvania’s military, in­dustrial and agricultural prog­ress, make up a statewide network of twenty-seven fasci­nating places for visitors to explore Pennsylvania’s heritage.

The greatest concentration of collections, however, is housed and exhibited in the William Penn Memorial Building, the official State Museum located in center-city Harrisburg, just north of the capitol building. The museum is the heart of the Common­wealth’s collections, where individual themes and spe­cialized topics are skillfully interpreted in expertly mounted exhibitions depicting the full spectrum of the state’s nat­ural, domestic, cultural and industrial history.

The background of the State Museum collections is similar to others maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and to many throughout the coun­try; it is, in itself, as rich in his­tory and legend as it is long and complicated. Not only do the individual objects tell stories of their original crafts­men or owners, their pur­pose or relationship to historical events, but they often enter the collections intact with anec­dotes which offer intriguing glimpses of eccentric and dedi­cated personalities, dizzying currents of patriotic fervor, and not infrequent quirks of fate or an occasional mystery.

Nineteenth century visitors to the burgeoning Dauphin County city frequently com­mented on the artifacts, docu­ments and art embellishing the state capitol buildings. The Commonwealth’s first real effort to gather these objects into some relationship and give them perspective is marked in an eloquent descrip­tion of the new State Admin­istration and Office Building, south of the capitol, by a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter in 1894:

“The museum and flag room is fifty feet square with a twenty-six foot ceiling and will be one of the most attractive points of interest at the Capitol. In this will be placed Rother­mel’s famous painting of the Battle of Gettysburg, the portraits of the Governors of Pennsylvania, which have heretofore hung upon the walls of the reception room at the Executive Depart­ment, the war flags and relics which are now stored in the State arsenal, and the inter­esting collection of birds and animals which are part of Pennsylvania’s exhibit at the World’s Fair. It will also con­tain geological and miner­alogical specimens and other objects of interest. The State has frequently had offers of in­teresting and curious relics which were refused because there was no place to store them, but hereafter, it is safe to say, such tenders will not be rejected.”

The building of collections, even entire institutions, was inspired by society’s fascination with relics and curiosities, many of which were associated with war. The background of the Commonwealth’s exten­sive military collections is generally the best documented because the arms and accou­trements were preserved as war trophies of particular actions, ardent affirmations of zealous patriotism, or as bounty seized for the honor of the Commonwealth. Conse­quently, cryptic mottos, shreds of silk and puzzling devices were worthy of veneration if they constituted one of the colors (flags) which survived battle service with Pennsyl­vania’s soldiers.

A faded green silk flag bearing the device of a hunter spearing a lion was flown at the siege of Boston in March 1776 by Gen. Edward Hand of Lancaster. Long cherished by the family of Lt. Col. Thomas Robinson, an officer of the First Continental Regi­ment which was led by Hand, the color was purchased by the state in 1879 through the good graces of a usually cynical politician, “Boss” Mat­thew Quay. The other im­portant Revolutionary War color in the museum collections belonged to John Proctor’s Bat­talion and is the only sur­viving eighteenth century speci­men emblazoned with the device of a coiled rattlesnake. Proctor’s was among the fifty­-three “Associator” battalions raised in the spring of 1775 before the official militia was authorized by the Pennsyl­vania Constitution of 1776. De­spite its rarity and outstanding historical significance, the color served yeoman duty as a table cover in the family of the battalion’s color bearer before presentation to the Com­monwealth in 1914.

Nineteen fourteen was a landmark year in the creation of the Commonwealth’s color collection. The person who decided that the capitol’s magnificent rotunda would be enhanced by the addition of large cases displaying Civil War colors is unknown, but the project was vigorously pursued. Although many Civil War flags had been cere­moniously surrendered dur­ing a colorful Fourth of July pageant behind Independence Hall in 1866, efforts fifty years later to locate additional col­ors of Pennsylvania units met with such overwhelming suc­cess that several carried dur­ing the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexi­can War were also swept into the Adjutant General’s office.

The colors of the Civil War and the Spanish-American War are still exhibited in the rotunda and a major project for their restoration is now in progress. Earlier colors and other relics originally housed in the flag room-cum-museum were turned over to the State Museum in 1915 and the clerk charged with gathering the colors for transferral even donated his Civil War uni­form, the collection’s first. The Adjutant General received the colors from the Common­wealth’s units of World War I; these were transferred to the museum in December 1946. The State Council of Defense, in World War II, designated the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as the official agency to collect and preserve materials associated with Pennsylvania’s wartime activities.

Of course, colors are not the only pieces in the Common­wealth’s military collections; in fact, most people probably think first of weapons – guns, swords, shells, cannon – when they consider war. Enjoying the longest pedigree as war weaponry are four brass cannon brought to this country in the fleet of Count d’Estaing and presented to the Con­tinental Army by the Marquis de Lafayette. Following the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the cannon were conveyed to the Common­wealth and used by the Penn­sylvania Militia. In 1824, they rendered salute to Lafayette when he visited Harrisburg during his much-heralded and triumphant return to Amer­ica. These handsome examples of early French-American ties are currently exhibited at the Brandywine Battlefield, the Fort Pitt Museum, the Penn­sylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg and the William Penn Memorial Museum. The provenance of another can­non, surcharged ‘US’ to indicate American service during the Revolutionary War, is obscure. Originally made for Ger­many’s Frederick the Great in 1745, it somehow found its way into the State Arsenal and was among the historic weap­ons transferred to the State Museum. In 1982, this cannon was loaned for a General von Steuben exhibit hosted in Europe by the American and German governments.

Cannon of more recent vintage, but of no less impor­tance, are four iron Griffins cast in 1861 in Phoenixville, a Montgomery County com­munity better known for its popular majolica ware, a tin­-glazed pottery. The cannon were purchased by the Phila­delphia Committee of Safety for possible defense against Confederate forces following the Battle of Antietam.

Such dark moments were put behind at the close of the war when proud and buoy­ant Yankees chose to cele­brate their successful cam­paigns. Governor John White Geary appointed a commit­tee to properly commemorate the significance of the one great Civil War battle waged on Pennsylvania soil. In 1866 the committee commissioned a native Pennsylvanian, Peter Frederick Rothermel, to exe­cute a series of five paintings depicting the three-day struggle at Gettysburg. The artist visited many of the veterans who had taken part in the epic battle, sketching portraits of the principal characters, and learning the landscape and positioning of the forces. When finally completed six years later, the size of Rother­mel’s work surpassed the Commonwealth’s ability to house the main canvas; Pickett’s Charge measured sixteen by thirty-two feet! Not until 1894, twenty-two years after its completion, was the canvas placed in the building which later housed the original state museum. The painting was mounted in a specially created space when the William Penn Memorial Museum was com­pleted in 1964 and the four supporting views are also part of the new Military History Gallery installation.

Although the flag room and museum enjoyed public acclaim at the dose of the nine­teenth century, the devel­opment of the military collec­tions for the most part pre-dated and was independent of the official State Museum. The General Assembly did not, until 1905, authorize the trustees of the State Library to “extend the scope of that institution, so as to include a museum for the preservation of objects illustrating the flora and fauna of the state, and its miner­alogy, geology, archaeology, arts, and history.” By 1917, the library’s annual report was able to declare with pride: “It is doubtful whether there is a museum in the country outside of Washington which attracts more people than this one in Harrisburg.”

The appointment of taxi­dermist Boyd Rothrock as the museum’s first curator in 1907 resulted in a great empha­sis on natural history in the early years of the institution. In that year alone, Rothrock collected 550 specimens of Pennsylvania’s mammals. One of the most expensive early museum purchases was that of the extinct passenger pigeon for one hundred dollars. Most exhibit specimens from those early years have disinte­grated, but more than 45,000 items now comprise the natural science collections, from 1,170 seed pearls to a full-sized bison. But not all of the Com­mission’s animals are inani­mate: live cows, guinea fowl, pigs, sheep, horses and pea­cocks roam the meadows and fields at Pennsbury Manor, Bucks County, the Daniel Boone Homestead near Reading and the Pennsylvania Farm Museum, Lancaster.

Although less lively, another animal in the collections is, perhaps, more captivating, not only for what it is but for how it came to the museum. While gifts and purchases continue to be major sources for artifacts, many have been yielded by field collecting and site excavations. In 1968, John Leap, a dragline peat miner near Marshalls Creek in the Poconos, pulled up what he believed to be a “stump,” but a curious co-worker discov­ered that the stump was, actu­ally, bone. The find was relayed to the museum’s earth science curator, and resulted in the discovery of the eight­eenth skeleton of a mastodon in Pennsylvania. The bones were under two feet of water and covered by five to six feet of sediment; nevertheless, ninety per cent of the huge animal’s skeleton was extracted. Only the tusks are missing, possibly due to the illness of the animal. Both the skeleton and a re-creation of what the towering nine-foot-high animal must have looked like are exhibited in the Hall of Geology.

The State Museum’s larg­est collection numerically was garnered primarily by exca­vation, and archaeological hold­ings are estimated at 850,000 pieces, though each pot sherd and bead has not been in­dividually counted. Twenty-five hundred stone tools donated by J.A. Stober in 1906 au­spiciously inaugurated the col­lection, and gifts and pur­chases continued as primary sources for archaeological acquisitions until 1916, at which time the museum began benefitting from field expe­ditions sponsored by the Penn­sylvania Historical Commis­sion, forerunner of the present agency.

The Safe Harbor expedi­tion, begun in 1930 under the direction of the first State Archaeologist, Donald A. Cad­zow, brought the Commis­sion’s archaeological field work national attention. The com­pletion of the new Safe Harbor Dam, near the junction of the Conestoga Creek with the Susquehanna River, would sub­merge many important Indian sites. Work started by making plaster casts of the ancient Indian rock carvings, or petro­glyphs, discovered on several islands in the river. Sixty-eight of the best petroglyphs were then cut from bedrock with a pneumatic drill. More than ten tons of rock were wrestled onto row boats for transport to the shore and later to the State Museum. Excavation of eight nearby Lan­caster County archaeological sites yielded more than 25,000 artifacts, plus tens of thou­sands of glass trade beads from Susquehannock and Shenks Ferry Indian villages.

Good guesses are important in collecting. In 1957, an amateur archaeologist boating on the Susquehanna River speculated that a rock shelter favored by scouts, picnickers and sheep might also have been attractive to Indians. By digging a preliminary test hole, John Miller discovered the important dry deposits of the Huntingdon County Sheep Rock Shelter. Until 1959 Miller, with advice from State Anthropologist John Witthoft, excavated the 300-by 30-foot site himself, over­coming problems of locating the land’s owner and trans­portation difficulties of a site best reached by water. Partly due to fear of destructive pot hunters, Miller then turned the excavations over to the State Museum under the direc­tion of Witthoft and State Archaeologist Fred Kinsey III. During the Commission’s excavations and later field work by the Pennsylvania State University, the dry deposits, unusual in the humid climate of Pennsylvania, relinquished many unique and well-pre­served organic objects. The re­trieved moccasin fragments, seeds, plant remains, bark bas­ket and feathers convey an exceptionally graphic picture of the area’s natural resources and their use by man since before the sixteenth century; the site has been submerged since the completion of the Raystown Dam. However, the Pennsylvania Archaeological Survey, with information on more than 12,000 sites throughout the state, indicates bountiful grounds for further archaeological excavations.

Not only specimens, but people are part of the Common­wealth collections’ fascinat­ing story. One of the most in­triguing characters in the museum’s early history was collector and dealer Henry K. Deisher, who sold the museum many archaeological and historical objects. In 1917, the Deisher collection of In­dian implements, described as “one of the most beautiful collections of such mate­rial as can be found in any museum,” was purchased with a special legislative appro­priation of $4,000.

Fortunately, Deisher and a few others, including the Landis brothers (whose collec­tion eventually spawned the Pennsylvania Farm Museum), recognized that objects re­lating to everyday life in Penn­sylvania were important to the heritage of the state. Ex­amples of Deisher’s first sales to the museum in 1909 are a rye-straw beehive for $6, a 1751 stoveplate for $25, a 1780 powder horn for $1 and a glaz­ing grinder “with history” for $15. Ten years later Deisher observed that the type of arti­facts he was collecting would soon not be available, and responded to the assertion that he had “an uncanny way of finding things,” by replying, “No, it is hard work.” Of his penchant for collecting, he said: “I have often decided not to buy another relic, but it seems inborn and inbred and it has been impossible to cast it off.”

Deisher declared it “no trouble to sell at better prices, but I am for the State Museum first and all the time.” By “1928, he calculated that he had supplied sixty-three percent of the State Museum collec­tions. In that year he was hired as an assistant curator of archaeology and antiques at a salary of $2,040 a year. With WPA help, Deisher inau­gurated the first formal catalog of antiquities in the mu­seum’s collections. Although he concentrated on the his­tory rather than on the descrip­tion of the artifacts listed, numbers were written on the objects and keyed to a record system for the first time. It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this catalog; without it many objects could not now be reconciled with existing records, and their his­tories irrevocably lost.

Deisher’s service to the State Museum was not with­out its trials. Henry Mercer, operator of the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doyles­town, had purchased objects from Deisher for his famed col­lection, now in the care of the Bucks County Historical Society. In 1929 Mercer coun­seled his old friend against activities which might be con­strued as private collecting or dealing while a public ser­vant:

“As I make out you have mortgaged your own private salary for over two hun­dred dollars to get things which might escape into the museum. The State ought to pay for these things out of the museum funds, not you out of your private resources. The State will never thank you for this and might very eas­ily under certain circum­stances misunderstand it. What do politicians care? My advice is never, never, never to do it again.”

Evidently Deisher did not heed the advice. He blamed his dismissal in May 1936 on politics. He insisted that he had donated items valued at $700, plus personal time, car fares, stationery, postage, and reference books and magazines “because the state would not supply,” and rather bitterly wrote that to make ends meet he had “to patron­ize cheap restaurants.” Despite this accounting, he main­tained he had “unconsciously built up the Museum, more as hobby than [for] profit.”

No collections records exist from May until Deisher was rehired in December, an indi­cation of chaos in his absence. Although he apparently retired about 1940, his interest in the museum continued. He was somewhat defensive in a letter dated January 1948 in which he offered several items to the museum: “Don’t say Deisher does not get old­ – he is down and out at 81 [though] in my mind about 50.”

In addition to museum staff, notable scholars, dedicated collectors and the man off the street have all contributed to the collections. Samuel G. Gordon, intrepid curator of minerals at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, unwittingly contributed to the State Museum inasmuch as he supplied specimens to John S. Frankenfield, whose mineral collection was pur­chased in 1973. On one of his expeditions Gordon fought both greedy African miners and angry German supervisors to secure a spectacular find of azurite crystals, a sample of which the museum eventu­ally obtained. The two great­est American paleobotanists, Leo Lesquereux and David White, cataloged the museum’s important Isaac James fossil plant collection relating to the anthracite region. By good luck or good judgment, em­ployees of Bethlehem Mines collected excellent samples of the now-exhausted rock and ore bodies at Cornwall, which are valuable both for the exhibits at that iron furnace and the reference collections at the State Museum.

The inter-relationships of various museum collections are demonstrated by the fact that the primary object in the collections from the first geo­logical survey conducted in the years 1836-1842 is not a specimen (most of those found their way to Harvard Univer­sity when the state was unable to pay for the work of the survey teams) but a painting. George Lehman, draftsman for a Somerset County expe­dition in 1840, sketched one of the campsites which William van Starkenborgh later worked into an oil painting now in the fine arts collection. How­ever, more than 16,000 rocks and minerals gathered during the second Pennsylvania geological survey (1874-1889) now contribute their weight to the earth science collections – and storage problems.

An elaborate silver service is yet another excellent ex­ample of how collections can relate to one another. John Fritz was so successful as gen­eral superintendent of the Cambria Iron Works that upon his departure in 1860 his em­ployees presented him with ten elegant pieces of sterling silver made by R. & W. Wilson, Philadelphia silversmiths. Besides the fact that industry (although probably accidentally) thus supported fine hand craftsmanship, the tray acquired for the tea and coffee service is engraved with the machine Fritz invented to produce iron rail. A collection of Fritz’s rail sections, now featured in the exhibits of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, was also given by the inventor’s descendants.

The Railroad Museum un­doubtedly displays the most spectacular group of vehicles in the Commission’s collec­tions, but the State Museum houses everything from a late nineteenth-century bicycle to an airplane. The wheeled collection even includes fire­fighting apparatus and charm­ing wood and wicker car­riages designed to give baby an ostentatious dose of fresh air in all weathers. The major­ity of the vehicles are horse­drawn, from dashing light­weight recreational sleighs to the bow-bellied Conestoga wagons which lumbered across both state and nation. One of the most handsome and his­toric carriages displayed at the State Museum is the gleam­ing black Berlin which be­longed to Simon Cameron. Lincoln’s secretary of war. Per­sonal transportation of the motorized era was also ele­gant, as is demonstrated by the 1912 Delaunay-Belleville­-Brewster town car. a vehicle once owned by Philadelphia financier Edward T. Stotesbury and one of eight donated by the family of A. Atwater Kent, Jr., an early Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commissioner. Less attrac­tive, but certainly as important in telling Pennsylvania’s transportation history, are business or industrial vehicles, such as a battery-charged electric truck which hauled ice around Lancaster from 1910 to 1948, or the ten-and-a-half­-ton 1917 Cyclone mobile drilling rig mounted on a 1927 GMC truck at Drake Well Museum.

Transportation, significant in Pennsylvania’s history, is just one of the themes depicted on the magnificent 162 piece silver service made for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in 1903 by the J.E. Caldwell Com­pany of Philadelphia. Other vignettes engraved on the major serving pieces show the oil, anthracite and lumbering indus­tries, as well as significant military endeavors and historic buildings. The battleship’s silver service not only relates to military history, but, be­cause it was commissioned by the General Assembly, is one of the many items of state for which the museum is now the repository.

The gushing description of the capitol buildings included in Morgan’s 1858 Annals of Harrisburg noted that portraits of Columbus and Americus Vespucius, as well as a small marble eagle in the Senate chambers, had been given by a Commodore Elliott. (All three objects are now in the Penn­sylvania Collection of Fine Arts of the State Museum.) Al­though the reasons for Ellicott’s gift were not explained, the commodore did report that the eagle was carved out of a bit of pillar from the ruins of Alexandria, Egypt, by a common sailor who “was a most excellent seaman, but strongly addicted to intemperance when on shore.”

A recent donation to the fine arts collection is a full­-length portrait of George Wash­ington, painted at the com­mand of the Senate to decorate its chamber about 1827. The capitol was destroyed by fire in 1897 and documents, fur­nishings and art objects were briskly evacuated from the burning structure. William Reeder’s painting depicting the Indians burning John Harris, founder of the capital city, was among the items rescued by the state and it is now displayed at the Governor’s Home with other artworks and furnishings from the Com­mission’s collections. Other items were hurriedly carried into surrounding homes for protection and never re­claimed. One can only hope that the companion portrait to Washington’s likeness of founder William Penn was also “adopted” and may yet return to the Commonwealth as have other items. The back room of a fire company which had helped to fight the blaze just recently yielded several benches from the old capitol; several are now being used in the refurbishing of the building.

Several items from the capitol had been diverted from state ownership prior to the fire. The 1852 volume, The Pic­torial Sketch Book of Pennsyl­vania, illustrated and described the chair of the Speaker of the House, the very one John Hancock used while president of the Continental Congress: “It is a plain, but withal a very elegant chair. The wood, if we remember correctly, is black walnut. It is still in a toler­ably good state of preser­vation, but time and constant use are beginning to attack its points.” Nevertheless, it continued to serve in the House until scholars working on the restoration of Inde­pendence Hall prior to the Centennial made a foray to Harris­burg and took away the chair, the silver inkwell used in the ceremonial signing of the Declaration of Independence and an original desk. These furnishings are now safe­guarded by the National Park Service at Independence Park.

Whether items of state or of everyday life, objects do tell stories and each has its own history. An interesting ex­ample is the head of a 24-point deer (the largest known killed in Pennsylvania) which was deposited in the museum for safekeeping by the hunter before he left for Korea in 1949. The man never returned to claim his prized trophy and the head is now on loan to the State Game Commission head­quarters. In similar seem­ingly random fashion – for rea­sons often obscure to those who follow-certain pieces are chosen for protection by their owners, or simply sur­vive having reached the quiet safety of an attic corner or closet shelf. Some have been faithfully preserved, even when their guardians did not know exactly what they were protecting. “Grandmother’s bed cover,” when fully opened, was handsomely worked with a version of the Pennsylvania State Seal, signed and dated by the donor’s grandmother’s grandmother. A pair of “sad­dlebags,” given together with a wedding dress of 1850, proved to be elaborately needle­-worked pockets from an ear­lier date.

The fact that a brown satin vest is pinned with a hand­written note relating that it was worn at a reception for Gen­eral Washington during the Whiskey Rebellion does not make it a better vest, but is a tangible record of the impor­tance the participants attached to the event. The locks of George Washington’s hair, splinters from Penn’s pulpit, or a nail from Thomas Jeffer­son’s beloved Monticello may seem slightly ridiculous as artifacts, but they do reveal a real desire of people to “touch” history through the venera­tion of objects bearing associa­tional values. Donors give those things to museums both for personal satisfaction and in the belief that they con­tribute to a better understand­ing by future generations.

While all Americans have been touched by history, some literally “touched” his­tory in the form of its material remnants, and the objects did not survive long enough to receive museum care. The 1905 Army and Navy Register reports that of two Revolu­tionary colors presented to the state, one was supposed to have been made by Betsy Ross and the other captured from the Hessians: “For many years the two flags stood side by side, and while the American flag was unharmed, the other was carried away in bits by relic hunters until nothing was left but the staff.” The Ross flag was placed in the protection of a glass case, an unfortunate testimony to the necessary museum pol­icy of encasing most objects in its care. Later presented by Gov. Andrew Curtin to the Pennsylvania Daughters of the American Revolution, the flag’s subsequent fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

The State Museum con­tinues to collect and protect historical, archaeological and natural science objects related to the Commonwealth. Since 1945 the museum has been ad­ministered by the Pennsyl­vania Historical and Museum Commission, which is em­powered to purchase or “to receive for and on behalf of the Commonwealth, gifts or bequests of relics and other articles of historical interest.” Donations have always been a major source of artifacts and are now the primarily means by which the collections grow. Possible additions, whether by purchase or gift, are care­fully reviewed for their docu­mentation, condition, pos­sible duplication of present holdings and relevance to Penn­sylvania. Many apparently common items have interesting histories and are as signifi­cant for exhibits and interpre­tation as the rare and obscure.

Of particular importance to today’s curators is the ex­pansion of the holdings of twentieth century objects to accurately tell the story of our present to yet unborn citi­zens of the Commonwealth. By collecting, our penchants, interests, desires, our idio­syncrasies and our quirks will someday be exposed to fu­ture generations of museum­goers through the stacked shelves of objects mirroring our tastes and our times. The challenge of past generations to collect and preserve mate­rials for reference and exhibit is regarded as an unbroken chain, to be handed through the present staff from our predecessors to our successors. Although our present selec­tive acquisitioning may amuse, perplex or mystify those who follow and seek a key to the past through the objects and artifacts spanning several centuries, hopefully the cau­tious accessioning, the ardent care and the diligent docu­mentation of the canvases, the silver, the swords and arms will be justified and appreciated.


For Further Reading

Alexander, Edward P. Museums in Motion. Nashville: Ameri­can Association for State and Local History, 1979.

Bazin, Germain. The Museum Age. New York: Universe, 1967.

Bell, Whitfield J., Jr. and others. A Cabinet of Curiosities: Five Episodes in the Evolution of American Museums. Char­lottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967.

Coleman, Laurence Vail. The Museum in America: A Critical Study. 1970. Reprint. Wash­ington, D. C.: American Associa­tion of Museums, 1939.

Sellers, Charles Coleman. Mr. Peale’s Museum: Charles Will­son Peale and the First Pop­ular Museum of Natural Science and Art. New York: Norton & Co., 1980.


Cathryn J. McElroy, curator of decorative arts at the William Penn Memorial Museum in Har­risburg since 1976, received her M.A. as a Fellow in the Win­terthur Program of Early Ameri­can Art and Culture through the University of Delaware. The author, also chairman of the WPMM’s Museum Services Divi­sion, wishes to acknowledge the assistance of all the State Mu­seum curators in the preparation of this article, with special thanks to Bruce S. Bazelon, Commis­sion registrar.