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Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opens 'oldest' United States time capsule from 1795
A silver plaque inscribed by Paul Revere, found in a 1795 time capsule, is displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts on January 6, 2015, in Boston, Massachusetts. The contents of the 1795 time capsule,which was removed from the Massachusetts State House on December 11, 2014, were unveiled and displayed at the Museum of Fine Arts. The capsule was placed under the State House cornerstone in 1795 by Governor Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Colonel William Scollay. Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images/AFP.

BOSTON.- This evening, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, opened a time capsule removed last month from below the Massachusetts State House. Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, and Malcolm Rogers, the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Director, watched as the contents of the time capsule, originally placed under the State House cornerstone by Governor Samuel Adams, patriot Paul Revere and Colonel William Scollay in 1795, were revealed. The Commonwealth was aware of historic accounts referring to the time capsule’s existence, which was confirmed by engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH) during a water infiltration project in summer 2014 under the management of the State’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM). The time capsule had been previously unearthed in 1855, when its contents were documented and cleaned, and additional objects believed to be added. It was then placed in a brass container and returned to the State House where it was mortared into the underside of a massive granite cornerstone. Last summer, SGH identified its presence using ground penetrating radar before contacting the MFA in September to discuss its removal and conservation. Walsh Brothers Construction assisted in the removal of the capsule. The time capsule—weighing 10 pounds and measuring 5-1/2 x 7-1/2 x 1-1/2 inches––was thought to contain:

•Silver and copper coins—dating from 1652 to 1855
•Silver plaque inscribed by Paul Revere
•Copper medal depicting George Washington
•Seal of the Commonwealth
•Calling or business cards
•Title page from the Massachusetts Colony Records

On December 11, 2014, MFA conservator Pam Hatchfield (Robert P. and Carol T. Henderson Head of Objects Conservation) spent seven hours excavating the capsule, using a variety of tools for the delicate process. Tools included chisels and hammers similar to those that would have been used to shape the granite cornerstone, as well as modern instruments, including metal probes and a flexible shaft drill with a small circular saw blade and drill bits. Five silver 19th-century coins, ceremonially inserted during the setting of the plaster in 1855, were carefully removed during the process. After excavation, the capsule was transported to the Museum where a team of conservators and engineers began an examination of the box in the MFA’s laboratories. Hatchfield and fellow Museum conservator Gerri Strickler first x-rayed the capsule, revealing coins, a silver plaque and paper inside. MFA researcher Michele Derrick (Schorr Family Associate Research Scientist) performed x-ray fluorescence on the box, determining that it, as well as its eight screws, were brass. Hatchfield then removed additional bulk plaster from the surface of the box before excavating corrosion and plaster from around the screw heads that held the capsule shut. She and MFA Collections Engineer Dante Vallance carefully loosened the screws with a drill press and drops of solvent. Hatchfield later reduced corroded lead solder from around the edges using a fine chisel and hammer. After the time capsule was opened this evening, Hatchfield and Annette Manick, the MFA’s Head of Paper Conservation, will oversee the conservation treatment of the objects—which are planned to go on view for the general public at the MFA at a future date.

Today's News

January 7, 2015

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston opens 'oldest' United States time capsule from 1795

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