Massachusetts State House Time Capsule Opened at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

BOSTON, MA (January 7, 2015)—Last night, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), opened a time capsule removed last month from below the Massachusetts State House. Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, and Malcolm Rogers, the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Director, watched as the contents of the time capsule, originally placed under the State House cornerstone by Governor Samuel Adams, patriot Paul Revere and Colonel William Scollay in 1795, were revealed. The Commonwealth was aware of historic accounts referring to the time capsule’s existence, which was confirmed by engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) during a water infiltration project in summer 2014 under the management of the State’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). The time capsule had been previously unearthed in 1855, when its contents were documented and cleaned, and additional objects were added. It was then placed in a brass container and returned to the State House where it was mortared into the underside of a massive granite cornerstone. Last summer, SGH identified its presence using ground penetrating radar before contacting the MFA in September to discuss its removal and conservation. Walsh Brothers Construction assisted in the removal of the capsule. The time capsule—weighing 10 pounds and measuring 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 1-1/2 inchescontained: 

  • Silver and copper coins—dating from 1652 to 1855
  • Silver plaque thought to be engraved by Paul Revere
  • Copper medal depicting George Washington
  • Newspapers
  • Paper impression of the Seal of the Commonwealth
  • Calling or business cards
  • Title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records

On December 11, 2014, MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield (Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson Head of Objects Conservation) spent seven hours excavating the capsule, using a variety of tools for the delicate process. Tools included chisels and hammers similar to those that would have been used to shape the granite cornerstone, as well as modern instruments, including metal probes and a flexible shaft drill with a small circular saw blade and drill bits. Five silver 19th-century coins, ceremonially inserted during the setting of the plaster in 1855, were carefully removed during the process. After excavation, the capsule was transported to the Museum where a team of conservators and engineers began an examination of the box in the MFA’s laboratories. Hatchfield and fellow Museum conservator Gerri Strickler first x-rayed the capsule, revealing coins, a silver plaque and paper inside. MFA researcher Michele Derrick (Schorr Family Associate Research Scientist) performed x-ray fluorescence on the box, determining that it, as well as its eight screws, were brass. Hatchfield then removed additional bulk plaster from the surface of the box before excavating corrosion and plaster from around the screw heads that held the capsule shut. She and MFA Collections Engineer Dante Vallance carefully loosened the screws with a drill press and drops of solvent. Hatchfield later reduced corroded lead solder from around the edges using a fine chisel and hammer. Hatchfield and Annette Manick, the MFA’s Head of Paper Conservation, are overseeing the conservation treatment of the objects—which will go on view for the general public at the MFA at a future date before eventually being re-buried at the State House.

Division of Capital Asset and Management and Maintenance

The Division of Capital Asset and Management Maintenance (DCAMM) is the state agency responsible for the design and construction of major public buildings in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. DCAMM was created by the Legislature in 1980 to ensure the quality of the construction of public buildings. DCAMM is the steward of the state’s capital facilities promoting quality and integrity in management. Through innovated and cost effective maintenance and management strategies, DCAMM’s buildings have achieved some of the highest energy and efficiency ratings in the nation. The agency also manages millions of dollars in annual capital for construction projects, and more than 500 active leases resulting in 7 million square feet of privately-owned lease space housing state offices. For more information, visit www.mass.gov/dcam.

Conservation at the MFA

The MFA’s Department of Conservation consists of 34 conservators and scientists who examine and treat thousands of objects each year—including paintings, sculpture, furniture, works on paper, textiles and coins. In addition to their conservation of works, they develop and implement methods ensuring the safety, stability and longevity of objects. Their efforts can be seen across the Museum, including the monumental Thomas Sully painting, The Passage of the Delaware (1819), which underwent a year-long restoration in order to restore its splendor.   

Art of the Americas at the MFA

Since the Museum’s founding in 1870, the MFA has been committed to collecting art from North, Central and South America from all time periods. Its diverse holdings rank among the most significant of the Americas and feature works ranging from masterpieces of the Ancient Americas to one of the finest collections of art of the United States from colonial times through the early 20th century and beyond. More than 5,000 works from the Museum’s collection are on view in the 53 galleries of the Art of the Americas Wing. First floor galleries feature paintings, furniture, silver, textiles and prints from colonial Boston and other regions, as well as art created in the decades after the American Revolution. On view in the Wing are some of the earliest colonial currency (coins), and works related to the Founding Fathers such as John Singleton Copley’s portraits of Samuel Adams (about 1772) and Paul Revere (1768), and the Sons of Liberty Bowl (1768) made by silversmith Paul Revere.

William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth

Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin directs the Massachusetts Archives which ensures the preservation and accessibility of the Commonwealth’s records. The Archives Building at Columbia Point is the repository of nearly four centuries of Massachusetts history. Its treasures include the royal charters establishing the Massachusetts Bay Colony, original copies of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, and the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which are on permanent display in the Commonwealth Museum there.

Secretary Galvin is also Chairman of the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the state historic preservation office which identities, evaluates and protects the Commonwealth’s important historic and archaeological resources. The MHC nominates properties for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Place and decides on locations to be included in the Massachusetts Register of Historic Places.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–4:45 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–9:45 pm. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 pm, weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays. Wednesdays after 4 pm admission, is by voluntary contribution. MFA Members receive free admission. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit mfa.org or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

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