Behind-the-Scenes in Collections

My name is Ruby Jones Ellison, and I am a degree candidate in the Museum Studies Program at Harvard Extension School. I recently completed an internship here at the Bostonian Society, which has afforded me with the privilege of going behind-the-scenes and accessing the museum’s most prized possessions—6,000 objects of all types dating from all periods of Boston’s history. My internship project consisted of assisting with a comprehensive collections inventory. During this process, I worked with Sira Dooley Fairchild, the Collections Manager, to inventory the entire object collection, assign accession numbers to objects, catalog items, carry out condition reporting, photograph objects, and even researched proper techniques for cleaning silver.

The internship has been an extraordinary journey – not only have I benefited professionally, but I have also been able to put my hands on objects from the founding of our country. Imagine yourself handling Benjamin Franklin’s ca. 1750 English Delft earthenware shaving bowl. It is fascinating to hold centuries-old historical objects in the palms of your hands. Inside this nearly three-hundred-year old circular bowl are beautifully painted blue and white floral patterns. After years of use and handling, it stands to reason that the edges of the bowl are slightly worn, chipped, and rough to the touch. It has a crescent-shaped cut out along the rim to accommodate the neck as you shave. The bowl is said to have come from a barber shop in London, next to the famous pub, “The Cheshire Cheese,” where it may have been used to shave the writer and lexicographer, Dr. Samuel Johnson, noted for his dictionary of the English language. The bowl has survived throughout the years and remains an important part of the Bostonian Society’s permanent collection.

In the Society’s library and archives, which are managed by Elizabeth Roscio, I was able to view the original Coroner’s Report of Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. Because of his death at the Boston Massacre, Attucks is one of the most well-known African American individuals from the 18th century. As a result, during the 19th century he would go on to become an icon during another crucial historical time in history—the anti-slavery movement. Little is known about his life, but his death is well documented and it is an amazing experience to stand in the same room as the original document which records his death at the hands of the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre.  Click here to learn more about Crispus Attucks and the Coroner's Report.

The Bostonian Society aims to engage, educate, and preserve objects and documents relevant to its mission. The museum holds many important items that must be conserved and protected from exposure to environmental elements, and working with these artifacts during my internship in the Collections Department has been a gratifying and a rewarding experience.