Here’s What’s Inside the State House Time Capsule from the 1700s

The opening of the 10-pound box from the era of Paul Revere and Samuel Adams took place at the Museum of Fine Arts on Tuesday night.

time capsule

Michael Comeau and Pam Hatchfield just after extracting the time capsule’s contents.
Photo by Bryanna Cappadona.

Just three months after historians from the Bostonian Society revealed the contents inside a time capsule found in the lion statue atop the Old State House, preservations at the Museum of Fine Arts successfully removed a second time capsule from the base of the State House. And now, the contents inside what is said to be the oldest time capsule in the nation have finally been revealed.

In an event held Tuesday night at the MFA, the media and a number of guests watched as Pam Hatchfield, the museum’s head of objects conservation, and Michael Comeau, executive director of the Massachusetts archives, worked together to extract the objects in the capsule. Hatchfield, who assisted in removing the box from the cornerstone, and Comeau were careful when approaching the extraction process to avoid causing any damage. “The care and preservation of these materials are very important to us,” Comeau said. “[These materials] have been entitled to us by generations past to protect and preserve.”

This time capsule was first placed inside the building in 1795 by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay. About a century later, when the capsule was found during a restoration project in 1855, more items were added to the box, and it was replaced back into the massive granite cornerstone.

Just before going into the box, Hatchfield explained that she loosened its screws prior to this event, and also went around the top of the box with a fine chisel to loosen the top. “Or else you’d be sitting here watching me do this for three days,” she joked.

The small box was packed tightly, which was visible as soon as Hatchfield took of the box’s cap. A newspaper sat on top, which was carefully folded. Underneath was a collection of 24 coins in various denominations dating from the 1650s to the 1850s. More newspapers were folded inside and appeared to be in very good condition, according to Hatchfield. Dates and subjects of the newspapers, however, were not possible to read. Also in the box was a copper medal of George Washington, a Seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and a silver plaque inscribed by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.

Malcolm Rogers, director of the MFA, says the capsule’s contents will remain in conservation, but hopes to put the items on display at the museum at some point this year. Hatchfield also says she’s not sure if it’s important that the papers ever be unfolded. Thanks to archives dating back centuries, she says, “they’re not presumably unique.”

So will officials decide to carry the tradition by adding new items and placing the box back in the cornerstone? William Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth, said, “The governor has wisely suggested we might. So we’ll think about it.”

“This is the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on,” Hatchfield said, who revealed she’s been to places like Egypt and has extracted objects some 4,000 years old. “This is what we as conservators live for.”

Below, see the collection of the time capsule’s contents.