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Cambridge Historical Objects, 1775-1924

Identifier: 030

Collection Overview

The Cambridge Historical Objects comprises items in the Library’s possession before 1962. The items are of a colonial and historic nature, including objects from Cambridge-specific locations and buildings such as the Brewster House, Longfellow Park, Henry Vassal House, the Old Magazine, Longfellow’s Spreading Chestnut Tree, the Washington Elm, and the Oliver Wendell Holmes House. The other objects are of an individual or personal nature originating from parties unknown, such as a cartridge pouch, flask, and dirk. There is one small grouping of items within the Collection, three Native American tools and implements that were found in nearby Longfellow Park in 1889. Items related to the city of Cambridge are also included, namely two voter ballot boxes and an old banner used by the Whig Party in 1840.

There are several related objects that have been grouped together into subseries, including the following:

1. Historic Tree Memorabilia, which consists of pieces of two historic Cambridge trees (the Washington Elm and the Spreading Chestnut Tree) and the Brick Meeting House.

2. The Brewster House, which consists of a lantern and two foot warmers.

3. The John Snelling Popkin Estate, which consists of a tobacco jar, small lantern, sabot (wooden shoe), and a chair – all owned from the estate of John Snelling Popkin (1792 – 1852), a professor of Greek at Harvard University. Popkin lived on “North Avenue near the common,” according to the 1852 Cambridge Directory. North Avenue is now Massachusetts Avenue. An article from the April 19, 2012 edition of the Harvard Gazette, titled “Harvard’s Long-ago Student Risings,” briefly profiles Popkin and is located in collection documentation.

There are four oversize objects, Dirk (Box 10), West Cambridge Whig Party Flag (Box 11), City of Cambridge Voter Ballot Boxes (Box 12 and 13). These objects are currently located in Ca2h storage.

This collection was originally called “Cambridge Curios.” There was no particular order or arrangement to the collection, though the majority of the items were identified either with a label or a catalog card describing what the object was and any known information about it, generally totaling two or three sentences. One item described with a catalog card is missing: “the whale oil lamp – 3 wick.” These cards, along with any historical information about the collection and photographs of unboxed objects, are located in collection documentation.


  • 1775-1924


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to research.

Conditions Governing Use

The materials in this collection are believed to be in the public domain. However, it is the responsibility of the researcher to understand and observe copyright law and to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyright. Questions concerning copyright and permission to publish should be directed to the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections.


24.75 Linear feet

10.81 Cubic Feet

31 Items

Language of Materials


Organization of Collection

Items grouped by similar sized objects and by similar subseries (i.e., Historic Tree Memorabilia, The Brewster House, and the John Snelling Popkin Estate).

Custodial History

The Cambridge Historical Objects includes items in the Library’s possession before 1962.

Processing Information

Processed by Rachel Sietz in the Fall of 2012 and Alyssa Pacy in December 2012 and December 2013. Encoded by Gabrielle Womack in May 2017 under the supervision of Alyssa Pacy.
Cambridge Historical Objects, 1775-1924
Rachel Seitz (finding aid author Fall 2012), Alyssa Pacy (finding aid author December 2012 and 2013) and Gabrielle Womack (EAD author May 2017)
December 2013
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Cambridge Room, Cambridge Public Library Archives and Special Collections Repository

Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway
Cambridge MA 02138 USA