Boston time capsule: Sealed box buried in 1795 by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere finally reveals its treasures
by Adam Withnall, Jan 7th 2015, for the Independent here.
Historians have opened up America’s oldest time capsule – buried more than 200 years ago by some of the US’s most iconic Revolutionary figures – and they had every right to be excited.
“This is the stuff of history,” said Boston museum director Michael Comeau as the contents of the box were painstakingly removed on Tuesday.
The capsule was placed in the cornerstone of the “New” Massachusetts Statehouse when its construction began in 1795.
According to a plaque, it was buried by renowned figures of American history including the early industrialist Paul Revere and the then-Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams.
Museum officials had believed that the contents were shifted to a copper box in 1855 before being replaced in the building foundations. On Tuesday, that box was discovered to in fact be brass.
Inside, conservators counted out five tightly-folded newspapers, a medal depicting George Washington, the elaborate silver plaque, the historic seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and 24 coins – including one dating to 1655, making it more ancient than the oldest building still standing in Boston.
The process of simply taking the items out of the box was “like brain surgery”, Boston Museum of Fine Arts director Malcolm Rogers told CNN. “Could we actually go through the whole box, or would things prove too fragile to take out?”
Pam Hatchfield, the head of objects conservation at the Massachusetts Archives and Commonwealth Museum and the woman tasked with removing the items with apparatus including her grandfathers’ dentists’ tools, said the papers in particular were in “amazingly good condition”.
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Archives, Michael Comeau, and MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield open up the time capsule While conservators didn’t try to unfold them, the newspapers were stored in such a way that the names were partially visible – one might have been a copy of the Boston Evening Traveller — a newspaper operation that was eventually absorbed into the current Boston Herald.
A portion of one of the papers that was visible showed a listing of the arrivals of whaling ships from various ports to Boston.
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, generally used as ship masts.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (L) and Hatchfield look at artefacts removed from the capsule 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 andSamuel Adams, the value would likely be much higher.
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.
Galvin said he didn’t know if modern items might be added to the foundation.