The South Street Seaport Museum’s collections include paintings; drawings and prints and photographs; manuscripts and ephemera; ship models; scrimshaw; navigational instruments and shipwright tools; and many historical objects related to trade from the Seaport itself, including those from the Fulton Fish Market, the coffee and tea industry, historic preservation of buildings and ships, and letterpress printing and advertising industry, which supported the growth of New York as a financial powerhouse.
The Museum’s collection of architectural elements and building components includes bricks, doors and windows, samples of wallpaper, cast iron and terracotta ornaments, structural ironworks, and more. The objects are examples of the changing physical fabric of New York City, and particularly of the South Street Seaport Historic District.
Most of the artifacts belong to different adaptations and style iterations of Schermerhorn Row, a Federal-style counting house built between 1810-1812, and home of the Seaport Museum since the 1970s. The remaining artifacts belong to other significant buildings that are no longer extant, such as the 1882 Fulton Market building and the Edward Laing Stores.
The South Street Seaport Museum houses an outstanding collection of over 6,000 drawings, lithographs and prints that primarily depict New York City scenes, New York Harbor landscapes, ships and shipyards, the American Civil War, and clippings from popular culture such as P.T. Barnum’s American Museum. Items range from preparatory studies and sketches, to finished works of art and published illustrations.
The primary focus of our drawings and prints collection is American wood engravings and drawings produced in the late 19th century and early 20th century; however the Seaport’s holdings include a growing number of 20th century works on paper, along with drawings by European artists.
The manuscripts and ephemera collection augments and complements other elements of the Museum’s collections, spanning the mid 18th century to late 20th century. Everyday paper-based objects such as trade cards, menus, programs, postcards, tickets, broadsides, music sheets, and advertisements illustrate both mercantile and recreational activities of New York City, and the close connection between the bustling port and graphic arts.
Highlights include the Harry Handly Caldwell Collection, the Barkentine Herbert Fuller Document Collection, Cigarette Cards, Trade Card and Clipper Card Collections, Fulton Fish Market and South Street Seaport Business Documents, and the Ocean Liner Museum Collection.
Generations of artisans and carpenters, workmen, riggers, and sailmakers used the South Street waterfront district as a place to craft, market, and export their wares. The South Street Seaport Museum’s collection includes navigational instruments used by sailors to monitor their environment and vessels; thousands of historic and antique tools used for shipyard and port work by workmen and riggers; as well as a wide variety of historic ship components, such as ship bells, capstans, anchors, and small craft.
Highlights include the Ira S. Bushey Collection, Simon Douglas blacksmith tools, and the ship wheel of the ocean liner SS Normandie.
A few artifacts from the South Street Seaport Museum’s collections can be seen throughout the South Street Seaport Historic District. On Water Street, we have the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and two large anchors rescued from the East River in 1973. Along Pier 16, we have the New York Central No. 31 railroad barge pilothouse.
The South Street Seaport Museum’s paintings collection includes a vast variety of works, many by renowned American marine painters of the 19th and 20th century, including Thomas Birch, James Buttersworth, Antonio Jacobsen, and Edward Moran. The paintings depict seascapes, harbor views, ship and merchant portraits. The collection focuses on 19th and 20th century oil paintings that illustrate the importance of international commerce in New York Harbor during the “Golden Age of Sail”.
Recent acquisitions include the portrait of Simon Schermerhorn by Samuel Lovett Waldo, and a Robert Back portrait of the Museum’s ship Wavertree.
The Seaport Museum collects visually striking photographs depicting New York City waterfront, spanning from the late 19th century to the present day. This collection contains thousands of negatives and glass plates, lanterns and slides, stereoscopic cards, and vintage prints.
Highlights include the Thomas W. Kennedy Collection, Beken of Cowes and Stuart Bale Photographs, Fairchild Aerial Surveys of New York Harbor, and the Barbara Mensch Collection.
The printing history collection is built around a working fleet of printing presses, as well as a vast holding of printing equipment, printing types, photo-engravings, and hand cut wood blocks. This collection preserves the tradition of small batch job printing in the 19th century, while keeping open and active dialogue with contemporary practices of Printmaking and Graphic Design communities.
Highlights include the Frederic Nelson Phillips “Tri-Arts” Collection which consists of decorative foundry type, for a total of 986 wooden boxes, containing 1200 fonts, ca. 1810-1910.
Scrimshaw is the art of carving on marine mammal ivory. Scrimshaw, carvings on whale teeth and marine ivory were primarily made by 19th-century whalers while at sea. These objects include purely decorative engravings and sculptures, as well as functioning tools used by sailors themselves.
The Seaport Museum holds a remarkable collection of scrimshaw from the mid 19th century and early 20th century, including engraving and natural whale teeth and tusks, swifts, busks, pie crimpers, canes, clothespins, ditty boxes, and needles.
The models we house represent vessels dating back to New Amsterdam. Most were made after the 18th century, and includes models of merchant and fishing vessels, working vessels, ocean liners, warships, and other crafts of all sorts and sizes, as well as ship half models, and ships-in-a-bottle.
Among the 2,400 models at the Seaport Museum are Napoleonic-era Prisoner-of-War ship models, builder’s models of ocean liners, and waterline models by renowned builder Charles K. Van Ryper.
The special collections at the Seaport Museum illustrate the history of many topics related to American history, science, and the arts. The Seaport Museum’s special collections contain more than 15,000 ship plans and a few rare and unique objects. Access to these collections is restricted to secure items, but could granted on a case-by-case basis.
Highlights include: The Alan Govenar and Kaleta Doolin Tattoo Collection, and the W. & A. Fletcher Co. ship plans collection.
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