How do you define a city? Is it its buildings, its people, its history? In the upcoming exhibition A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects, the New-York Historical Society attempts to make sense of the city’s past through its objects. So, what objects define us?
Due to the importance of the area’s beaver trade, it would make sense that New Amsterdam’s coat of arms would feature them. However, this draft for a coat of arms for New Amsterdam, presented to the Dutch West India Company, was not approved. Inscribed in ink below the coat of arms in mid 17th century script, in Dutch: “Nota dit waepe(n) was ee(n) concept doch niet goet gevonden” Translation: “Note: this coat of arms was a draft and was not approved.” We still have beavers in the city seal to this day, and they speak to the importance of trading pelts in building our early business economy. This is also one of the oldest drawings in our collection.
This surveyor’s monument stood at the corner of Fourth Avenue and East 26th Street, where it had been placed under direction of the Commissioners appointed by the New York Legislature in 1807 to lay out streets in Manhattan north of Houston Street. It was dug up in 1890 during excavations for the old Madison Square Garden. It’s carved with “26” on one face and “4” on the other, presumably marking the address.
In March of 1987, ACT UP was formed in New York City by a group of people as a diverse, nonpartisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS Crisis. They meet with government and health officials; they support research and distribute the latest medical information as well as holding public protests and demonstrations. These stickers display their motto, an important reminder that many in New York’s history have had to fight for rights and recognition.
Much of lower Manhattan was covered with layers of dust generated by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Urban historian Andrew Davis observed a vehicle covered in a layer of dust four inches thick, and filled a small plastic bag with the thick, gray dust on September 12th. Shortly after the bag of contaminated dust, sprinkled with particles of paper and building materials, was given to the New-York Historical Society, conservators carefully transferred the contents to a glass specimen jar, so that it could safely be studied and preserved.