Independence National Historical Park Museum Collection
For questions about the park's museum collection, please contact:
Karie Diethorn, Chief Curator, 215-597-9373
See also Photographs and Reproduction Services.
Independence National Historical Park's museum collection contains approximately 2.2 million historic artifacts associated with the events, people, places, and ideas relevant to the park's preservation and interpretive mission. These artifacts include books, manuscripts and documents, personal items, militariana, architectural fragments, fine and decorative arts, park-related memorabilia, and archeological material excavated from sites within the park's boundaries. These artifacts range in date from the 17th through the 21st centuries.
Among the artifacts are such diverse items as the Liberty Bell, the furnishings used by Congress during its Philadelphia tenure, and life portraits of many prominent participants in the Revolutionary and Federal era. The archeological artifacts are predominantly Euro-American, but some African and Native American materials are represented in the collection. The park's museum collection provides a broad picture of everyday life in that era, particularly for those Philadelphians who may otherwise have left little of no record of how they lived.
The museum collection contains special focus areas:
Objects from Independence Square Buildings: These objects are directly related to the events, people, and buildings associated with the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and branches of federal government (legislative, judicial, executive) during the 1790s. Also included are materials relevant to the ongoing significance of Independence Hall as an international symbol of popularly determined government.
Historical portraits: Begun in the early 1780s, Charles Willson Peale's Philadelphia Museum contained a wide range of objects including portraits of the artist's contemporaries. In 1854, the City of Philadelphia bought many of Peale's Museum portraits as the cornerstone of a museum of the Revolution in Independence Hall. This collection increased during the Centennial era with the City's purchase of many pastel portraits by members of the Sharples family who traveled in America during the mid 1790s and first decade of the 19th century. Since 1950, the National Park Service has added other portraits contemporary with those collected by the City of Philadelphia to form a unique view of the prominent actors in the events that founded the American republic.
Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution: The evolution of these founding documents is represented by associated manuscripts and printed materials relevant to both the ideology upon which these documents are based and how this ideology was shaped into a uniquely American vision of democratic government. Different versions and forms of each document from the 18th through the 21st centuries represent the history of their development as agents of change.
Decorative Arts and Americana: The park's restored historic structures contain furnished installations as a means of providing context for the historic era (1750 to 1840) upon which the park's mission focuses. Some of these furnishings are original to the structures in which they are exhibited; others are contemporary with the era to which the buildings are restored. The furnishings reflect both mainstream (i.e. Anglo European) and associated (e.g. Atlantic, Native American) cultures of 18th- and early-19th century America, particularly as they were represented in Philadelphia. Economic, social, religious, and political life in its various forms is communicated through the collections.
Architectural Salvage: This collection contains building components documented to Delaware Valley (especially Philadelphia) structures erected between 1730 and 1850. The collection represents the technical and social aspects of architecture in the era of the park's focus as a means of exploring aesthetics, taste, class, and innovation among a variety of societal groups.
Books and Documents: This collection provides context to 18th-century American events in the form of ideas and their dissemination. Subjects range through Anglo European politics, religion, economics, natural history, philosophy, medicine, technology, history, and the arts. Particular emphasis is paid to popular forms of publishing (e.g. broadsides, cartoons, newspapers). Legal texts are also well represented in the collection as they are relevant to the Assembly Library in Independence Hall, the Bishop White House and the Todd House libraries.
Independence Square Ephemera: Objects produced by commemorative events held within the Independence Square buildings from the 18th century through the present represent the ongoing cultural relevance of these structures.
Liberty Bell: These include relics of the Bell itself and ephemera related to the Bell's evolving historical meaning. Included are objects of consumerism (e.g. advertisements), humor (cartoons), and commemoration (souvenirs).
Photographs and Prints: This collection represents the pictorial history of Philadelphia and particularly the areas now within the park. Various formats (e.g. stereographs, postcards) and subjects document the changing appearance of the park's structures and landscapes.
Benjamin Franklin-Related Materials: These objects, owned or created by Franklin, illustrate his many interests and achievements (civic, provincial, national, and international, political, cultural and scientific).