South Street Seaport Museum’s collections consist of over 26,500 objects documenting the rise of New York as a port city, and its role in the development of the economy and business of the United States through the social and architectural landscapes. The collections include paintings; drawings, 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, and letterpress printing and advertisement industry, which supported the growth of New York as a financial powerhouse.
Drawings, Prints, and Photographs
The South Street Seaport Museum houses an outstanding collection of over 6,000 drawings, prints and photographs depicting primarily New York City scenery, New York Harbor, ships and vessels, and marine landscapes, dating from the mid-18th century through the 20th century.
Highlights include the Thomas Kennedy Collection, the Roger and William Asadorian Collection, and the Barbara Mensch Collection.
Manuscripts and Ephemera
The Manuscripts and Ephemera Collection increases and complements other elements of the Museum collections, spanning the mid-18th century to mid-20th century. Materials include family and personal papers, business and ship documents, music sheets, advertisements, ephemera and postcards.
Highlights include the Hoyer-Rubbage Collection, Harry Handly Caldwell Collection, and the Ocean Liner Museum Collection.
Navigational Instruments and Shipwright Tools
Generations of artisans and manual workers-shipwrights, carpenters, 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 hundreds of historic and antique tools used in maritime and port work.
Objects Around the Neighborhood
A few artifacts from the South Street Seaport Museum collections can be seen throughout the Seaport district. On Water Street, the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse and two large anchors rescued from the East River in 1973. On Pier 16, 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”.
Printing Presses and Types
This collection is built around a working fleet of letterpress printing presses, as well as a vast holding of lead and wood printing type, photo-engravings, and hand cut wood blocks. The collection preserves the tradition of small batch job printing in the 19th century while keeping open and active dialogue with the contemporary practices of the Printmaking and Graphic Design communities.
The Scrimshaw and Whaling Collection is predominantly composed of 19th century and early 20th century folk art carved ivory decorative arts and accessories, and other encountered tools and instruments tightened to the whaling industry.
The South Street Seaport Museum’s Ship Model Collection hold detailed models primarily depicting 19th and 20th centuries merchant and naval vessels associated with New York Harbor, and its commerce. Included among the 2,400 models there are Napoleonic era Prisoner-of-War ship models, builder’s models of ocean liners, and waterline models by noted builder Charles K. Van Ryper.