Uncover New York's past: Check out the city's oldest relics

From a billion-year-old meteorite to a 16th-century bonnet, city institutions share the most ancient items found in New York.

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We admit that New York City is relatively young, especially compared with London and Paris, but that doesn't mean we aren't still steeped in history. We asked institutions from around Gotham to show us the oldest items in their permanent collections that hail from the area. The results, which you can check out in our slide show, provide peeks at the city's evolution from Native American settlement to 16th-century colony to an emerging world-class metropolis.


  • Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

    Francis Guy (1760–1820), who emigrated to America from Britain in 1795, painted Winter Scene in Brooklyn between 1819 and 1820. The landscape, which hangs in the Brooklyn Museum, was one of the institution's first acquisitions, when in 1846 it became part of collection of the Brooklyn Institute (which eventually became the museum).

  • Photograph: Courtsy Greater Astoria Historical Society

    This door in the Greater Astoria Historical Society's collection was originally part of the late-17th/early-18th century Blackwell House built in Ravenswood, NJ. (The building was demolished in 1901 and eventually made it's way into the society's collection in 2008). The brass knocker dates from even earlier.

  • Photograph: Henry Hargreaves

    The City Reliquary displays this in its "Geology of New York" exhibition. The museum's resident geologist Nik Sokol discovered the tool near the Croton Aquaduct System by our  and tunneling engineer. Though it's exact date is unknown, it's displayed under the label "A Very Old Shovel."

  • Photograph: Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York

    This 17th Century Dutch cap was passed down through generation before it came into the possetion of Mary Frances Tennant, who donated it to the museum in 2008. The family suspects the garment came from the time of their ancestor Barent Jacobson Kool, who came to New Amsterdam in the 1620s as an agent of the Dutch West India Company.

  • Photograph: Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection spans millenia, but its oldest local relic is this stained-glass window by Evert Duyckinck from the mid-17th century. The item is installed in the institution's New York Dutch room.

  • Photograph: Trish Mayo

    This detail comes from the Morris Jumel Mansion's oldest item in its collection: the Octagonal Drawing Room. Colonel Roger Morris spared no expense on the space, which was used for parties, when he built the house in 1765.

     

  • Photograph: Walter Larrimore

    These bird stones, in the collection of the National Museum of the American Indian, date from 6,000 to 1,000 BC. Hunters most likely used them as weights attached to a spear-throwing devise. They were discovered in Schenectady, New York.

  • Photograph: Courtesy New-York Historical Society

    When the Dutch settler Peter Stuyvesant arrived in the New World in the first half of the 17th century, he brought along a pear tree sapling, which was planted on the colonist's estate near what is now the northeast corner of Third Ave and 13th Street. The tree was knocked down in 1867, but a piece of its wood remains in the New-York Historical Society's collection.

  • Photograph: Courtesy outh Street Seaport Museum Foundation

    This escritoire box in the South Street Seaport Museum's collection, tells the story of Captain Archibald Taylor of the privateer ship Paul Jones. The captain and his crew were captured during the War of 1812  and held in Dartmoor Prison in England, a map of which is depicted under the lid. Curators believe a crew member made the artifact to pass his time while in confinement, using straw from the prisoners' beds and vegetable ink from their meals.

     

     

  • Photograph: Courtesy Fraunces Tavern Museum

    This beaded string, discovered in the early 20th century, is white and purple wampum. Now in the Fraunces Tavern Museum, Native Americans and colonialist would have used such artifacts as currency from 1600 through 1800.

  • Photograph: J. Beckett/AMNH

    This 4.567 billion old rock is a relative newcomer to the New York scene. It's auspicious entry came on Oct 9, 1992, in a brilliant fireball over Peeksill New York. The meteorite, the size of a bowling ball, had crashed through the trunk of a Chevy Malibu and created a crater in the driveway underneath. 

  • Photograph: Courtesy New-York Historical Society

    Reginal P. Bolton, an consulting engineer for NYC, excavated this Native American arrowhead between 181st and 182nd Street from what were Revolutionary War barracks. It is now on display at the New-York Historical Society

Photograph: Courtesy Brooklyn Museum

Francis Guy (1760–1820), who emigrated to America from Britain in 1795, painted Winter Scene in Brooklyn between 1819 and 1820. The landscape, which hangs in the Brooklyn Museum, was one of the institution's first acquisitions, when in 1846 it became part of collection of the Brooklyn Institute (which eventually became the museum).

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