WBUR News

State House Time Capsule Dating To 1795 Included Coins, Newspapers

State and museum officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick and Secretary of State William Galvin, watch as Pam Hatchfield, the MFA's head of objects conservation, holds up a silver engraving found in the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)closemore
State and museum officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick and Secretary of State William Galvin, watch as Pam Hatchfield, the MFA's head of objects conservation, holds up a silver engraving found in the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Early residents of Boston valued a robust press as much as their history and currency if the contents of a time capsule dating back to the years just after the Revolutionary War are any guide.

When conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston gingerly removed items from the box Tuesday, they found five tightly folded newspapers, a medal depicting George Washington, a silver plaque, two dozen coins, including one dating to 1655, and the seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

While some of the coins appeared corroded, other items were in good condition and fingerprints could be seen on the silver plaque.

Coins and the silver engraving found inside the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Coins and the silver engraving found inside the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The capsule was embedded in a cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House when construction began in 1795. It was placed there by Revolutionary era luminaries including Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, governor of Massachusetts at the time.

The contents were shifted to what was believed to be a copper box in 1855 and placed back into the foundation of State House. The box remained there until it was rediscovered last year during an ongoing water filtration project at the building. The box was actually brass, according to conservators.

The time capsule before it was opened. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The time capsule before it was opened. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The oldest coin in the box was a 1652 "Pine Tree Schilling," made at a time when the colony didn't have royal authority to create its own currency. Pine trees were a valuable commodity at the time. The trees were used as ship masts.

Michael Comeau, executive director of the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum, said he has seen the coins offered for as much at $75,000, although given the context of this particular coin and the association with Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, the value would likely be much higher.

The newspapers were folded in such a way that the names of the publications weren't always visible, but one might have been a copy of the Boston Evening Traveller - a newspaper operation that was eventually absorbed into the current Boston Herald.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A portion of one of the papers that was visible showed a listing of the arrivals of whalers from various ports to Boston. Conservators didn't try to unfold the papers.

Pam Hatchfield, the head of objects conservation for the museum, removed each item using a slew of tools including her grandfather's dental tool. Hatchfield said the paper in the box was in "amazingly good condition."

Massachusetts state Secretary William Galvin said he expects the items will be on display at the museum for a period of time, but that eventually they will again be returned to the foundation to be discovered by a future generation of Bay State residents.

Watching the simulcast of the capsule opening in the Shapiro Family Courtyard, attendees react as the MFA's Pam Hatchfield lifts the first newspaper from the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Watching the simulcast of the capsule opening in the Shapiro Family Courtyard, attendees react as the MFA's Pam Hatchfield lifts the first newspaper from the time capsule. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Galvin said he didn't know if modern items might be added to the foundation.

Comeau said the objects in the box are a bridge back in time.

"This is the stuff of history," he said.

Earlier:

+Join the Discussion
Please help keep our community civil. All comments must follow the WBUR Community rules.
Share

Support the news

Next Up

Where to now?

More WBUR News or Explore Audio.