Preview the Massachusetts State House Time Capsule Exhibition at the MFA

The contents will be on view March 11 through April 22.

state house time capsule exhibit

Photo by Bryanna Cappadona

The opening of Massachusetts State House time capsule took place more than two months ago, and now, after a speedy process of conserving and cleaning, the time capsule and its contents are ready for the public to see for the first time.

Beginning on Wednesday, March 11, the Museum of Fine Arts will launch their exhibition Inside the Box: Massachusetts State House Time Capsule Revealed, which will display all 35 objects in the capsule including newspapers, historical coins, and the silver plaque believed to be engraved by Paul Revere. The small brass box containing the objects is also part of the exhibition at the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing, the same part of the museum that holds Thomas Sully’s monumental painting The Passage of Delaware and the Sons of Liberty Bowl.

The capsule was originally placed in the State House cornerstone by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Colonel William Scollay in 1795, and was unearthed for the first time in 1855. The contents were documented and cleaned, and additional objects were added before it was rediscovered again in December 2014. The capsule was opened back in January during a live press conference among the media along with Governor Deval Patrick, MFA director Malcolm Rogers, and Secretary William Galvin.

“The process of cleaning and conserving the pieces was quick for the MFA,” exhibition curator Nonie Gadsden said. About 25 to 30 people, she estimated, were involved in the process of creating the exhibit, from lighting experts to conservators.

Gadsden, along with executive director of the Massachusetts archives Michael Comeau, led a brief guide through the exhibition, explaining the significance of each artifact. The coin collection in particular is extraordinary, containing very rare pieces that impressively remain in superb condition.

The coins were “selected to tell a story,” Comeau and Gadsden explained. The exhibition presents the coins in the chronological order in which they were made, including a “shilling” from 1652, a half penny from about 1729-39, and a three-cent coin called a “trine.”

The time capsule is a way of “cataloging, creating a record when going forward,” Comeau said. Ultimately, he’ll be the person choosing what the new plaque will read, one similar to Paul Revere’s that will be replicated to be placed back inside the capsule. Comeau said the redeposit of the box, with its old contents plus new ones, is tentatively slated for June or July.

Below, check out a glimpse at what visitors will see at the time capsule exhibit. Inside the Box will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts through April 22.