See 400 years of American History - in one place, in one afternoon. The New-York Historical Society is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the country. It combines timely and substantive special exhibitions with unparalleled museum and library collections for the study of New York and early U.S. history.
The collections span the nation's history from the Revolutionary War to the present, with 40,000 objects ranging from George Washington's camp bed at Valley Forge to the world's largest collection of Tiffany lamps, and manuscripts by U.S. Presidents.
At the New-York Historical Society, we believe that knowing where we came from helps us understand who we are now.
What are the Current Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society?
Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion
Through April 19, 2015
Behind every face is a story -- and this is a story that is central to us all. This exhibition examines the long, complex, and often troubled relationship between China and the US and raises the question, "What does it mean to be an American?" The show is peopled with extraordinary individuals who were influenced by domestic and world events.
Within the exhibition, rich in media and artifacts, will be little-known stories relating to China, such as the voyage of the Empress of China, which set sail from New York in the late eighteenth century; how young Chinese boys were sent by their government to study at elite New England schools during the nineteenth century, one of whom went on to graduate from Yale University; the unprecedented immigration legislation known as the Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred most Chinese from entering the United States; the nineteenth-century newspaper, called Chinese American, and its founder Wong Ching Foo; and the Chinese American activists who used the American justice system to try to overturn the Exclusion Act.
Marching to Freedom: Selma/Montgomery
Through April 19, 2015
This exhibit features the stunning and historic photographs of Stephen
Somerstein, documenting the Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March in
January 1965. Somerstein was a student in City College of New York's
night school and Picture Editor of his student newspaper when he
traveled to Alabama to document the March.
He joined the marchers and gained unfettered access to everyone from
Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin.
"I had five cameras slung around my neck," he recalled. Over the
five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein took about four hundred photographs
including poignant images of hopeful blacks lining the rural roads as
they cheered on the marchers walking past their front porches and whites
crowded on city sidewalks, some looking on silently-others jeering as
the activists walked to the Alabama capital. Somerstein sold a few
photographs to the New York Times Magazine, Public Television and
photography collectors, but none were exhibited until 2010, when he
participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art
Rather than choosing photography as a career, Somerstein became a
physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical
Observatory and at Lockhead Martin Company. It was only after his
retirement in 2008 that he returned to his photography remarking that he
wanted "to have exhibitions of my work and that I realized that I had
numerous iconic as well as historic photographs." Among those
photographs were his moving photographs of that memorable march to
Montgomery in 1965.
New York Story
You know the city -- now be enthralled by the stories. Witness New York's rise from remote outpost to city at the center of the world in this 18-minute panoramic film experience shown on a 75-foot screen in surround-sound.
We were absolutely blown away by the film which manages to convey more about New York and its history than one could ever imagine being crammed into 18 minutes.
- Carol Leimas NYC
United States 1933 Double Eagle
On display is one of the most famous and storied coins in the world—the
1933 Double Eagle. The Double Eagle will be on display in The Robert H.
& Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History starting August
9. Designed by the renowned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the coin
features the figure of Liberty striding before the Capitol Building on
its face and an eagle in flight on the reverse.
In 1933 the United States struck almost a half million twenty-dollar
gold coins, commonly known as Double Eagles. At virtually the same time,
in one of his first acts as President, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an
Executive Order banning the payout of gold, weaning the country off the
gold standard. The 1933 Double Eagles, although legally made, became
illegal to own and were never circulated. In 1934, two were sent to the
Smithsonian Institution for posterity, and in February 1937 the rest
were melted into gold bars and sent to Fort Knox—or so it seemed.
In 1944, a 1933 Double Eagle appeared in a New York auction, and the
United States Secret Service determined that a U.S. Mint employee had
stolen a number of the coins in 1937, and identified ten 1933 Double
Eagles that had escaped destruction, of which nine were surrendered or
seized. One was beyond reach, as it had been purchased by King Farouk of
Egypt, and after 1954 it disappeared. In 1996 a British coin dealer was
arrested while trying to sell a 1933 Double Eagle, which he swore had
formerly belonged to King Farouk.
In 2002, the coin was sold at auction for $7,590,020, nearly doubling
the previous world record. That very coin—the only 1933 Double Eagle
which may be legally owned by an individual—will be on display at
New-York Historical, on temporary loan from an anonymous private
collection. objects that are talismans of past lives.Toy Trains!
What are Upcoming Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society
Audubon’s Aviary: The Final Flight (Part III of The Complete Flock)
March 6, 2015-May 10, 2015
III of the highly acclaimed tripartite series Audubon’s Aviary: The
Complete Flock will continue showcasing masterpieces from the New-York
Historical Society collection of John James Audubon’s preparatory
watercolors for the sumptuous double-elephant-folio print edition of The
Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr. Part III of
The Complete Flock will highlight Audubon’s watercolor models for Havell
plates 306–435 (fascicles 62–87). At this time he was rushing to
complete his great work and, therefore, represented the outliers and
western species to bookend the North American continent.
To See Jerusalem Before I Die: Abraham Lincoln and the Jews
March 20, 2015-June 07, 2015
the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War and Lincoln’s
assassination, this exhibition focuses on the significant, and hitherto
unknown, relationships and interactions between Abraham Lincoln and his
Jewish friends and associates. At a time when Jews comprised less than
one-half of one percent of the American population, and with the country
rampant with prejudice, Lincoln’s positive and meaningful personal
relationships with Jewish individuals not only arguably changed him but
also had an important and lasting impact on the status of American Jews.
Lincoln stood up to his anti-Semitic generals even as he depended upon
them to win the war, and became an advocate for Jewish equality and
Through never-before displayed original documents,
artifacts, photographs, Lincoln's own writings, and first person
accounts primarily from the Shapell Manuscript Collection, the
exhibition will trace events in Lincoln’s life through the lens of his
Jewish contemporaries, such as Abraham Jonas, who became Lincoln’s
political strategist and “most valued friend,” and Issachar Zacharie,
his enigmatic confidant. Furthermore, the exhibition will explore
Lincoln’s profound interest in and connection to the Old Testament, as
exemplified in his wish to see Jerusalem before he died.
The Triumphal Return of Taddeo Gaddi's Maestà Conserved
March 27, 2015 - October 4, 2015
After a two-year absence for conservation at the J. Paul Getty Museum,
the New-York Historical Society's Virgin and Child Enthroned with Ten
Saints: Maesta returns. Painted ca. 1334 by Taddeo Gaddi, the major
disciple of Giotto, the jewel-like panel will take pride of place in a
small focus exhibition highlighting its conservation treatment. Thomas
Jefferson Bryan, an early connoisseur of Italian "primitives," i.e.,
painters before Raphael, bequeathed the Gaddi panel to New-York
Historical in 1867, along with his entire collection. As New York City's
first museum, New-York Historical wrote an early chapter in preserving
the culture of the City, and Bryan played a pioneering role in its
collecting history, amassing works by both European and American
artists. Fittingly, Gaddi's painting will be displayed with a several
other fourteenth- and early-fifteenth-century Italian panels from the
With its lavish gold leaf background, Gaddi's panel was an expensive
commission for a private Florentine palazzo and for its time was
cutting-edge art. Originally the central section of a folding triptych
consisting of three panels, it will be exhibited with two wings
(sportelli) from a private collection that recently have been linked to
it. Their similar dates, measurements, traces of hinges, and related
iconographies suggest that the trio may once have been part of the same
triptych. At the very least, seen together they help us to envision and
reconstruct how the Maestà appeared in its original glory. It was
recently shown at both the Getty and the Art Gallery of Ontario,
Toronto, in the major exhibition Florence at the Dawn of the
Renaissance: Painting and Illumination, 1300-1350.
What are Ongoing Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society?
The Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History
Explore the story of New York and America in the newly designed Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History. Highlights include:
Collection Highlights and New York and the American Experience
Mounted on the building's original 1904 columns are grand digital screens displaying a continuous, thematically co-ordinated slide show of treasures from the New-York Historical Society's collections. The west face of the columns features individual stations, incorporating interactive touch screens and museum artifacts, presenting six themes in American history which are found interwoven with the history of New York. Currently, the columns display a series of portraits featuring the model Editta Sherman, which were part of Bill Cunningham's Facades project. The series was shown here at the New-York Historical Society in 1976, in an exhibit entitled Fashions and Façades, under the guidance of curator Mary Black. Projected on dramatic flat screens affixed to six structural columns, the array of objects and images functions as visual signage that demonstrates to our visitors the depth of New-York Historical's collections. Visitors can access images and information about our App.
Liberty/Liberté by Fred Wilson
Upon entering the New-York Historical Society, the visitor encounters Fred Wilson's Liberty/ Liberté, an installation that offers the viewer access to the multiple layers of interpretation of the history and historical figures of the Age of Revolution.
New York Rising
The showpiece of the space occupies a forty-two-foot wall facing Central Park West, and illustrates New York's critical contribution to the founding of the United States. Covering the period from the American Revolution through to the New-York Historical Society's 1804 founding, a contemporary interpretation of a nineteenth-century salon-style display uses some of New-York Historical's most treasured objects and cutting-edge technology to convey the historical narrative.
Out of the ashes of the British occupation of New York and Evacuation Day in November 1783 at the American Revolution's end, New York emerged as the first capital of the United States. It was where George Washington was inaugurated the first president; where the Northwest Ordinance, mandating westward expansion, was debated and signed in 1787; where the essays comprising the Federalist Papers advocating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution were written (by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay); where the First Congress sat in 1789; and where the Bill of Rights was introduced. As the place where Hamilton conceived of an American financial system, New York also became the American business capital of the country. Against the philosophical and intellectual framework of the Enlightenment, the New Yorkers who participated in the country's founding were immersed in an often-fractious atmosphere of debate, intellectual discourse, and political experimentation. In 1804, as this historical moment was passing, the New-York Historical Society was founded, motivated by an expressed need to collect items pertaining to the history of the state and of the nation, as well as the mission to capture and interpret not only the revolutionary and Federal eras, but the years to come. In so doing, New-York Historical deliberately participated in the creation of a self-consciously American culture.
Leah and Michael Weisberg Monumental Treasures Wall
A 10-foot-high display case in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History showcases large-scale maps, architectural drawings, documents and other works on paper that previously could not be exhibited because of their size and light sensitivity.
History Under Your Feet
Under visitors' feet, the Smith Gallery also features nine porthole-like floorcases displaying objects found by avocational archaeologists and other professionals seeking history below the ground of New York City. Objects include arrowheads, military buttons, bullets and a colossal oyster shell excavated at an extant nineteenth-century tavern.
here is new york
New-York Historical also displays a rotating selection from the approximately 6,200 photographs comprising the powerful here is new york collection of images taken in New York on and in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The collection echoes the Founding New Yorkers theme of resilience, renewal and transformation emerging from the ashes of catastrophic events. Accompanying the photography installation will be a large fragment of a fire truck destroyed during the 9/11 attack.
Pop Shop Ceiling by Keith Haring
A ceiling mural by Keith Haring hangs above the admissions desk. The work is taken from the interior of the Pop Shop, which Haring opened in SoHo in 1986 to sell shirts, posters, and other merchandise reproducing his artwork. He painted the shop's entire interior in black-and-white. The mural was a gift from the Keith Haring Foundation upon the store's closing in 2005.
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture
The Henry Luce III Center for the Study of American Culture on the fourth floor provides public access to nearly 40,000 objects from the New-York Historical Society's permanent collection. In the Luce Center, visitors can see art and artifacts spanning four centuries, ranging from masterworks of American painting, to the nation's premiere collection of Tiffany lamps, to historical touchstones such as the draft wheel that played a role in one of the worst urban riots in United States history.
The Luce Center houses collections formerly kept in offsite storage. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at a working museum collection. In addition to a rich array of objects, small focus exhibitions highlight specific strengths of the collection and offer a historical context for current cultural, economic, political and social issues. Free handheld guides and cell phone tours allow visitors to hear the stories behind the objects on view.
Statues of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass
The life-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) that stand at either entrance to the New-York Historical Society bring to life the story of freedom that is deeply embedded in American history and is a primary focus of New-York Historical's programs. Throughout his candidacy and presidency, Lincoln emphasized a new birth of freedom for the United States and identified slavery as a moral and political issue that threatened the nation's survival. Although Lincoln's home state was Illinois, it was New York politicians, journalists, and imagemakers who engineered his rise to the top of the Republican ticket in the 1860 election. His assassination in 1865 united New Yorkers, who turned out en masse to file by the casket lying in state at City Hall and participate in the funeral procession.
Portraits of the City
A group of approximately twenty paintings and two small sculptures offer visitors a chronological journey through highlights of the New-York Historical Society's rich collection of New York views, including historical images of the metropolis and richly allusive images of its inhabitants and their lives. The installation includes a selection of city views, beginning and ending with two monumental cityscapes, A Southeast Prospect of the City of New York from ca. 1756-1761 and Jacquette's From World Trade Center, 1998. It features portraits of political and cultural figures such as DeWitt Clinton, who oversaw the development of the Erie Canal, and Katharine Cornell, the first lady of the American theater in the 1920s and 1930s. It also illuminates the everyday lives of city dwellers through such works as Thain's Italian Block Party, 1922, and Blauvelt's images of New Yorkers at work in the 1850s.
Treasures of Shearith Israel
Objects and documents from the incomparable collection of Congregation Shearith Israel (established 1654), including manuscripts, maps, liturgical treasures and historical artifacts, are featured in the Henry Luce III Center for American Culture.
The history of New York's Jewish presence began in 1654 with the arrival of twenty-three refugees of Sephardic ancestry from Recife, Brazil. Soon after their arrival the group established a congregation, the first in North America. This foundation was the beginning of a rich legacy that has culminated in the growth of what is now one of the largest Jewish communities in the world, and, importantly, set the stage for the religious and ethnic diversity for which our city and nation are known. Since its early inception, members of Congregation Shearith Israel have participated in the political, economic, and cultural life of New York and the United States, and have included colonial shipping merchants and master artisans, Revolutionary War patriots and loyalists, founders of the New York Stock Exchange, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Barnard College, numerous public officials, national educators, activists and poets.
The Games We Played: American Board and Table Games from the Liman Collection Gift
The Games We Played presents a rotating selection of board and table games from the Liman Collection, an extraordinary collection of more than 500 examples donated to New-York Historical by Ellen Liman in 2000. These games, which entertained families from the 1840s to the 1920s, offer a fascinating window on the values, beliefs and aspirations of middle-class Americans. During the period, families embraced leisure pursuits in the home and encouraged their children to play games that would develop skills and provide moral instruction. At the same time, advances in chromolithography allowed board game manufacturers, like New York City-based McLoughlin Brothers, to produce sumptuous, eye-catching games at affordable prices.
Works from the Permanent Collection
Christian Köhler's Germania ( in the Year 1848), 1849 (1882.154) is installed on the second to third floor stairwell. It was first exhibited in New York in 1850 and was immediately recognized as one of the most important paintings in the United States. An allegory of the German people's struggle for democracy, it was thought to have a safer resting place in New York than in Germany after the failed revolutions of 1848.
The work entered the New-York Historical Society's collections in 1882 and hung in the stairwell of New-York Historical's Second Avenue home. It had been on long-term loan to the Deutsches Historisches Museum since 1998, where it is the centerpiece of the 1848 section of the museum's permanent exhibition. The work finds particular resonance with Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware in the Met's American Wing. The Leutze's monumental, newly reconstructed frame is based on Mathew Brady photographs in New-York Historical's collection. Leutze's iconic work, begun in 1849, was seen by contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic as not only connecting the revolutions of 1776 and 1848, but also, like the Köhler, as a rallying cry for the cause of democracy. The third-floor landing features Tiffany Studios' five stained glass panels, Christ and the Good Shepherd of 1909 (N84.135, N84.136 and long-term loans from the Neustadt Collection of Tiffany Glass), from the chapel of the Stony Wold Sanatorium in Lake Kushaqua, New York. The Sanatorium was founded to provide treatment for tuberculosis for working women and children from New York City—it provided a "wilderness cure" in the open air.
Martorell's From Here To There
Created by Antonio Martorell and friends, this mixed media installation in the New-York Historical Society's Luce Center reflects on the theme of Puerto Rican migration to New York which reached its heights in the 1940s and 1950s. Curving walls and rows of seats evoke the interior of a mid-century airplane cabin.
From Here to There is inspired by an essay titled "La guagua aerea," or "The Air Bus," by Luis Rafael Sánchez. Like Sánchez's essay, Martorell uses air travel to describe migration, leaving ambiguous which destination is "there" and which is "here" to emphasize that the movement of people and ideas is not all one way. The installation also serves as a theater for the projection of a documentary by Ric Burns. The seats are dressed as immigrants so visitors can sit on their laps, literally placing themselves in their position. Martorell created this installation for the Nueva York (1613-1945) exhibition, a collaboration between the New-York Historical Society and El Museo del Barrio in 2010 which explored New York's long connection with the Spanish-speaking world.
"Liberty and King George" Interactive Video Wall
Bring art to life! This video animation by the Small Design Firm of Cambridge, Massachusetts reproduces a Johannes Adam Oertel work, depicting the destruction of the statue of King George III in 1776 by patriots on ten high-definition flat screens. Triggered by visitors' movements, various elements of the painting come to life using sound and animation.
Around 1852, Johannes Adam Oertel depicted an incident that had occurred over seventy-five years earlier: the destruction of the statue of King George III by patriots on July 9, 1776, at Bowling Green in New York City. The American Revolution would inspire other democratic uprisings around the world, including the unsuccessful 1848 revolution in Oertel's native Germany, which sent progressives like Oertel fleeing to the United States. This painting illustrates the Bowling Green riot precipitated by the reading of the Declaration of Independence, though the work takes historical liberties by adding American Indians, an African-American, women, and children to the scene. These figures represent groups who were not only affected by the coming revolution, but whose rights were beginning to be redefined at the time of Oertel's composition.
Our consideration of the past can directly reflect our present, as this work illustrates. This video animation invites visitors to contemplate their own places in a lively historical continuum.