Museum of the City of New York Announces Completion of Illuminating New York City History Through Material Culture

Banquet of the New York Board of Trade and Transportation. 1902. Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.78A

NEH Grant Allows Museum to Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse  Extensive Ephemera Collections

(New York, NY) The Museum of the City of New York is pleased to announce the completion of Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture, the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project to process, catalog, digitize, and rehouse the Ephemera Collections. The Museum received a grant of $125,000 in March of 2014 to complete the three-year project with the goal of increasing public access to the collection.

The Museum’s ephemera collection contains thousands of utilitarian objects – transportation tickets and schedules, advertisements, restaurant menus, invitations, political pins, and brochures – that are invaluable for the insight they provide into New Yorkers’ everyday lives and engagement with the city. 6,183 objects were digitized through the project, and 13,345 associated images are now available to the public through the Museum’s online collections portal. Digitized materials include over 100 speakeasy membership cards and bootleggers price lists, approximately 800 New York City restaurant menus, nearly 1,200 advertising trade cards, and numerous invitations, programs, and menus commemorating groundbreakings, celebrations, and visits of distinguished guests. Materials range from the late 18th century to the early 21st century, and documents the evolution of one of the world’s greatest metropolises.

Processing the ephemera collection created 17 smaller, subject-based collections: Advertising, AIDS and Public Health, Civic Events, Clubs and Societies, Culture and Entertainment, Dining and Hospitality, Education and Religion, Formal Dining Events, Infrastructure, Politics, Prohibition, Ships and Shipping, Social Events, Sports, United States Civil War, War (World War I and II), and the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Repeal. Finding aids for these collections are available on the Museum’s Catablog.

The Museum is extremely grateful to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), whose support has made this project possible. As stated in their mission, “democracy demands wisdom,” and this project is among many funded by the NEH to advance knowledge by increasing access to primary source documents related to history, the arts, and humanities for any person, at anytime, anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Not only does this project provide free, online personal access to the ephemera collection, and makes its stories accessible to far more people than are able to visit the Museum in person, it also supports job growth in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The Museum relies on grant funding for many collections projects, and we appreciate the support of the NEH and other government agencies that support the arts and humanities, such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), as well as all of our private and corporate funders.

About the Museum of the City of New York

Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation. The Museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City, and serves the people of the city as well as visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. To connect with the Museum on social media, follow us on Instagram and Twitter and visit us on Facebook. For more information, please visit

About the Museum’s Manuscripts and Ephemera Collection

The Manuscripts and Ephemera Collection documents the day-to-day life of New Yorkers over the past 300 years. The collection spans the mid-17th century to the present, and is strongest in the mid to late-19th century to the early 20th century. The ephemera comprise a variety of formats, including print materials such as menus, invitations, pamphlets, and handbills; textiles such as pennants, sashes, and scarves; and three-dimensional artifacts such as badges, buttons, and promotional items. The manuscript collection includes papers of influential New Yorkers and their families, letters, and documents related to real estate, commerce, and citizenship.  The Manuscripts and Ephemera collection also includes the Museum’s map collection, which is geographically centered on New York City and the surrounding area, and dates from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The maps range in variety from street and transit maps, maps of city parks, land auction maps, and topographical maps.

The materials touch on nearly every aspect of life in New York, from education, industry, and entertainment to politics and activism. The collections are particularly strong in the following areas: New York City infrastructure such as roads, tunnels, and bridges, rail and subway transportation, parks, and public health; civic events and celebrations, including parades, dedications, openings, and anniversaries; social life, such as night life and New York’s numerous clubs and societies; and commerce, including a collection of trade cards and advertisements, and ephemera related to ships and shipping.

Media Contacts

Jacob Tugendrajch  917.492.3480  |

Lisa Sherman Cohen  646.603.6869  |

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