Hundreds of unusual objects, ranging from a Fijian war club to a little girl's needlework sampler from the early 1800s to "gold" Santa Claus coins handed out by the former Johnson's Bookstore, are on view at the Springfield Science Museum until January 6 in the exhibition 150 Years of Giving: Collectors and their Contributions.
Assembled in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Springfield Museums, the exhibition pays tribute to the generosity of many people in the community who, through the years, have donated their priceless treasures and rare "curiosities" to help to build the collections of the four museums. The earliest museum collections were comprised of donations of "curious or instructive objects" that were housed in a room in the old City Hall and later in a museum and library building. As more and more people donated things, the four separate museum buildings were constructed around the Quadrangle, beginning with the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in 1896 and followed by the Springfield Science Museum in 1899, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in 1927, and the Museum of Fine Arts in 1933. Over the years, through the generosity of hundreds of donors and benefactors, the Museums have assembled an outstanding assortment of artistic, scientific and historical treasures. The objects in 150 Years of Giving are grouped in display cases designed to look like windows. One window looks into a 19th-century scientist's study. On the scientist's desk, among fossils and mounted birds, is a plant specimen collected on Mount Washington by Henry David Thoreau in 1858. Another window displays cultural artifacts from around the world that were brought back by explorers and travelers and donated to the Science Museum. Three windows showcase items donated to the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. A selection of antique toys and examples of handwork are displayed in a window that offers a glimpse into early domestic life in Springfield. The city's industrial past is illustrated with objects made in Springfield, including a 1920s Westinghouse fan and a pair of Peerless brand handcuffs which were manufactured by Smith & Wesson. Among the many unusual objects donated by George Walter Vincent Smith are a huge tankard created from an elephant tusk and a helmet from a medieval suit of armor. Also on view is a beautifully framed, hand-painted proclamation from the city that was presented to Mr. and Mrs. Smith in 1922 in appreciation of their donation of "the rare and costly treasures of the world's art known as the George Walter Vincent Smith Collections." Works of art received by the Museum of Fine Arts include art glass perfume bottles, a Chinese temple vase, a portrait by Renoir, bronze sculptures, Brother Thomas pottery, early American silver, Currier & Ives prints, and many other artistic treasures.