Descriptions of Our Collections

The Massachusetts Historical Society primarily collects manuscripts—the letters, diaries, and other personal papers of individuals and families. The Society holds many famous documents such as Paul Revere's own account of his famous ride and manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence by both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.  However, the true strength of the collection lies in how millions of pages of documents weave together as primary sources for the study of American history.

In addition to manuscripts, the Society holds large collections of books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, and photographs, as well as works of art and historical artifacts that support research in the library collections. 

Manuscripts

The Manuscript Collection consists of more than 3,600 separate collections of personal and family papers and, to a lesser extent, institutional and early business records that date from the beginning of European settlement to the present.

Photographs

The Photograph Collection consists of approximately 120,000 images that span the development of photographic technology, including hundreds of daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, glass-plate negatives, and carte-de-visite portraits of individuals and family groups.

Books and Pamphlets

Books and pamphlets printed through 1821, including a large number of 17th-century Massachusetts imprints and many early foreign publications, and broadsides and newspapers, comprise the Early Imprint Collection.  The collection also includes modern reference materials, biographies, and pamphlets.

Broadsides

The Society holds more than 10,000 broadsides--single sheets of paper printed on one side that served as the primary tool for public announcements.

Maps

The Map Collection consists of approximately 2,500 maps and charts that illustrate the history and development of the United States.

Graphics

The Society's collection of graphics consists of approximately 4,000 portrait prints and drawings, 230 silhouettes, and 2,000 images of historical events.

Newspapers

The Newspaper Collection contains 300 titles, ranging from single issues of American and foreign newspapers to extensive runs of early Boston papers.

Works of Art

The MHS Art Collection includes 380 portrait paintings, 67 city- and landscapes, 165 miniature portraits, and 52 sculptures.

Artifacts

The Historical Artifact Collection, including more than 7,000 numismatics (coins, medals, and paper currency) are available to researchers as part of the library collection. 


Upcoming Events

Author Talk; Politics of Taste

Tea Sets and Tyranny: The Politics of Politeness in Early America

29Mar 6:00PM 2017
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30pm.

Even as eighteenth-century thinkers from John Locke to Thomas Jefferson struggled to find effective means to restrain power, contemporary discussions of society gave ...

MHS Tour

The History and Collections of the MHS

1Apr 10:00AM 2017

The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, ...

Early American History Seminar

Promotional Literature and Identity in Colonial Massachusetts

4Apr 5:15PM 2017

This essay will examine the institutional and cultural factors behind promotional literature, the body of colonial sources written for metropolitan audiences. All share ...

From our Blog

They’re Comin’ Out, They Want the World to Know: Boston’s ...

Elizabeth Elliot Mixter was born in Boston on 24 January 1913. She was the oldest child and only daughter of renowned neurosurgeon William Jason Mixter and his wife Dorothy (Fay) Mixter. Like other ...

This Week @ MHS

Even though March is on its way out, it seems bent on imposing its will. Escape the late-winter bluster in the week ahead with some history: - Monday, 27 March, 6:00PM : First up this week is a ...

Read more from our blog

Have you seen?