Museum archives: secrets of four museum collections

Learn cool facts about four museum archives, including the Museum of the City of New York.

 (Photograph: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical Society)
Photograph: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Historical SocietyBureau of Sewer records at the Brooklyn Historical Society
 (Photograph: David Heald)
Photograph: David HealdSolomon R. Guggenheim Museum
 (Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)
Photograph: Courtesy Museum of the City of New YorkThe Museum of the City of New York
 (Photograph: Courtesy the New-York Historical Society)
Photograph: Courtesy the New-York Historical SocietyHalf-model of the USS Monitor at the New-York Historical Society

Most museum archives are incredibly vast with thousands of holdings—and just as many interesting secrets. Learn about four of these museum archives, including trivia about items in the collections of the Museum of the City of New York and the Guggenheim.

RECOMMENDED: Museums in New York

Brooklyn Historical Society

This Brooklyn Heights institution’s library is filled with upwards of 2,000 maps and 60,000 photographs. More than 100 boxes are devoted to records from the Bureau of Sewers: In addition to getting effluvia off the streets, the sewage system also makes it possible to track family histories based on the new taxes residents paid for new sewers.

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Brooklyn Heights

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

There are about 8,000 pieces in the Gugg’s permanent collection, including Peggy Guggenheim’s quirky earrings: a small pair of fully functioning mobiles designed by sculptor Alexander Calder, and two tiny paintings by French artist Yves Tanguy. At the 1942 opening of the Art of This Century gallery—which Guggenheim created to showcase artists like Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky—she wore one earring from each pair to show her support for both abstractionism and Surrealism.

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Upper East Side

Museum of the City of New York

This institution, which documents Gotham’s history, has hundreds of thousands of items in its collection, including vintage furniture, costumes, textiles and photographs. Among the miscellany kept in storage is a pair of fake eyelashes worn by Joan Crawford. The falsies were originally part of a group of more than 80 pairs, which were sold at auction after her death in 1977.

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East Harlem

New-York Historical Society

The city’s oldest museum has a seemingly endless archive of more than 1.6 million pieces of art, including Hudson River School paintings and the entire collection of John James Audubon’s Birds of America watercolors, as well as roughly 3 million books, maps, sheetmusic, photographs, newspapers and more in its Patricia D. Klingenstein Library. The museum is also well-known for its Civil War materials; one such piece is a half-hull model of the USS Monitor. The warship was designed and built at the old Continental Iron Works in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it was the first ironclad with a revolving gun turret. (You can get a peek at the model now—it’s on view as part of the museum’s “The Civil War in 50 Objects” installation.)

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Upper West Side