This collection encompasses over 2 million prehistoric and historic specimens from nearly 100 years of excavation and over 2,000 ethnographic objects. Archaeology specimens are recognized as the definitive systematic research collection for the study of New Jersey prehistory and one of the most important collections for regional study of northeastern North America.
Developed overwhelmingly through professional excavations by Museum staff and archaeologists from universities and consulting agencies, the collections provide data on the entire span of human occupation of New Jersey from prehistoric to historic 19th century.
The Museum's archaeology collection is the preferred repository for collections excavated within New Jersey by state and federal projects. The ethnographic collection consists of items brought back to New Jersey by residents who traveled as diplomats, military officers, missionaries, and enthusiastic tourists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most specimens represent the Delaware and other North American Indian groups.
The collection is particularly rich in examples of Native American textiles, bead, and hide work. It includes a small number of West African specimens, collected to interpret the New Jersey African-American past, and a small selection of Asian objects collected by New Jersey donors on business or pleasure trips during the late 1800s through the 1950s. The ethnographic collection also includes a significant collection of Alaskan Eskimo specimens.
The New Jersey State Museum collects, preserves and interprets objects that document the lives of people who lived in New Jersey from the 17th century to the present. The Cultural History Collection includes over 13,000 artifacts documenting New Jersey's cultural, economic, military, political, and social history, as well as aspects of its decorative arts.
Ranging from ceramics produced by Trenton potteries to flags carried into battle by New Jersey Civil War regiments to utilitarian artifacts reflecting the rich maritime and agricultural heritage of the Garden State, the Cultural History Collection is one of the largest material culture collections dealing with New Jersey history. Textiles, trade tools, furniture, and an array of artifacts documenting craft, work, play, community and family life are also represented in the collection.
Pretty Big Things: Stories of New Jersey History, an exhibition featuring aspects of the Cultural History collection is open in the third floor mezzanine gallery.
The State Museum has collected over 12,000 works of art including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture and photographs, most acquired since 1965 when the Museum's mission was expanded to include fine art.
The collection has an American focus that highlights the work of New Jersey artists within the context of American art history. Also included are works that depict New Jersey scenes and events. The strengths of the Fine Art collection lie in works by the American modernists associated with Alfred Stieglitz, American abstract artists of the 1930s and 1940s, a comprehensive collection of works by 19th and 20th-century African-American artists, contemporary American and New Jersey art, the complete graphic outputs of Ben Shahn and Jacob Landau and works by the New Jersey Fellows associated with the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions/Rutgers University.
American Perspectives: The Fine Art Collection is on view on the second floor. For additional information on this exhibition, visit American Perspectives under the What to See drop down menu on this website.
The Natural History Collection is comprised of approximately 250,000 specimens, which in addition to their scientific significance, also have historic and cultural significance. These collections developed from the holdings of the New Jersey Geological Survey that began systematic surveys of industrial mineralogy and paleontology in 1836. The collections are especially strong in industrial minerals and ores, paleontology (fossils), comparative osteology specimens (bone), modern shells, and a systematic ornithology (bird) study skin component. Additional smaller subcollections include entomology (pinned insects), mammal and reptile study skins, fluid-preserved fauna, a systematic mineral collection, taxidermy mounts and trophies, glass lantern slides, and historic field reports and photographs. Natural History also holds an extraordinary collection from the Ellisdale Dinosaur Site, including the first Cretaceous mammals (75 million years old) to be found in eastern North America.
The Collection is the repository for about 300 Type (earliest documented) specimens of Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils, as well as a huge number of fossils documenting the Paleozoic strata that now form the little known phylum Conulariida and the earliest vertebrates known from the State (Silurian jawless fish). Minerals from the zinc-mining locality of Franklin-Sterling Hill, one of only two known sites in the world (the other is Langborn, Sweden) with the largest number of mineral species exhibiting fluorescent properties are well-represented, as are mine-specific specimens from New Jersey’s industrial iron mining past.
Raw and heat-tested clay samples from pits utilized by the ceramic industry are also well documented as are unconsolidated sand samples utilized by the glass industry. Specimens from beyond New Jersey are used for comparative purposes in exhibitions and educational programming, to augment the systematic collections, and for research purposes.
The Tradition of Field Investigations
From the time of the earliest collections of the State Museum, field investigations have been a strong emphasis, especially in Natural History. Within the past few years, field collecting has taken place throughout New Jersey, and also in comparative sites elsewhere in North America. State Museum paleontologists have also participated in investigations in other parts of the world, including China and Argentina.