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collections up close Blog

Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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Death From Above: Minnesota Paratroopers in World War II

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | May 28, 2010
Paratroopers jumped into danger during the D-Day invasion of Normandy and in campaigns across the globe during World War II. To mark Memorial Day and the anniversary of D-Day, curator Matt Anderson introduces a few of Minnesota's own airborne soldiers while looking at their personal artifacts found within the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.


New Sculptures from the Collection

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | May 10, 2010
Art Curator Brian Szott shows three new additions to the Minnesota Historical Society's Art Collection, including two modernist sculptures of Mother and Child.

Guitar purchased from W.J. Dyer & Bro., St. Paul

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | May 7, 2010
Martin 1-21 GuitarThis circa 1893 guitar is wonderful in its own right, but it's also a connection to what was once one of St. Paul's most venerable institutions: the musical instrument retailer W.J. Dyer & Bro.

William John Dyer was born in London, England, in 1841, and made his way to Faribault, Minnesota, in 1869. After a brief stint as a music teacher, Dyer and his brother, C.E., opened a music store. Two years later, the brothers moved to St. Paul.

The Dyer store grew quickly, opening a Minneapolis location in 1880, and advertising the sale of everything from pianos and organs, to guitars and mandolins, to band instruments and music books. By 1891, Dyer was said to be the largest music store west of Chicago. The firm even branded its own line of instruments, though they were built by other companies. All told, Dyer catered to Minnesotans' musical needs for more than 70 years.
W.J. Dyer & Bro., St. Paul
As for this particular instrument, it's a Size 1-21 parlor guitar made by C.F. Martin & Company of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The guitar features a Brazilian rosewood body with a spruce top, and is decorated with an ornate herringbone pattern in the rosette around the soundhole. At 37 1/2 inches long by 12 3/4 inches wide, the guitar is small by today's standards. (The modern Martin D-28 measures 40 3/4 inches long by 15 3/4 inches wide.) As the "parlor" name implies, this instrument was meant for quiet playing at home, and did not need the volume that comes with a larger body. The guitar probably sold for around $40.00, and came complete with a wooden case - also in our collection.

RosetteThough W.J. Dyer & Bro. may be a memory, C.F. Martin remains in business, having just celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2008. The company's guitars continue to be some of the most respected in the industry.

Matt Anderson, Picker and Objects Curator


By: admin | Our Favorite Things | April 14, 2010

Mairs screen

A curator’s favorite piece in the collection is often the most recent addition. A perfect example of this is this newly-arrived folding screen created by the influential and enigmatic St. Paul art couple Clara Mairs (1878 – 1963) and Clement Haupers (1900 – 1982). Painted in 1937 and signed only by Mairs, the four-panel screen depicts several species of waterfowl from hooded mergansers and mallards to wood ducks and a loon. It was a gift from Clara and Clem to her brother, Samuel Mairs, an avid hunter and outdoorsman who hunted regularly on Lake Christina near Alexandria, Minnesota.

A gift to the Historical Society from Clara’s nephew Thomas Mairs and his children, it is an especially welcomed addition to the collection—a unique and functional work of art!

Brian Szott, Curator of Art

Five year fireman's certificate

By: admin | What's New | April 14, 2010
Minneapolis Firemen's Certificate

According to legislation passed in 1873, Minneapolis firemen who had served five years as active firefighters were entitled to be exempt from jury duty and from paying the poll tax (a requirement for voting).  This fancy certificate testified that Patrick Daly had served his five years and therefore was exempt from these obligations.  Patrick Daly had been born in Ireland in April 1836, had lived in Australia and New Zealand, and emigrated to Minneapolis in 1870.  In addition to his stint as a firefighter, he served as a liquor dealer and a policeman, attaining the rank of Captain.  He died in April 1887 and is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Minneapolis.

The Society has an existing collection of Patrick Daly papers to which this new item will be added.

Duane Swanson, Curator of Manuscripts

Stillwater Prison Industries

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | April 1, 2010
Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist, takes a look at Stillwater Prison Industries. Since the 1890s, inmates have manufactured everything from twine to office furniture. The Society's collections include records, reports, photographs, and sample products that illuminate this unique enterprise.


Images from the Walter F. Mondale Papers

By: admin | What's New | April 1, 2010
Walter Mondale in Office

KSTP-TV photo editor Skip Nelson shoots from an unusual angle in the office of Senator Walter Mondale in Washington, D.C. while filming the Channel 5 documentary "Mondale of Minnesota."

What’s New?  We’re thrilled to feature hundreds of never-before-seen photographs from the Walter F. Mondale Papers now available online.  Walter Frederick (“Fritz”) Mondale, a native Minnesotan, spent most of his life in public service, at the state, national, and international levels. This selection of images from his papers offers exciting new looks at his life and political career.  Included are the work, travels, people, places, and events that shaped his experience and that of the country during the latter twentieth century.

These newly cataloged photographs are part of a larger project to process the Walter F. Mondale Papers.  The project was funded in part with a two-year grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

A valuable component of the Society’s extensive public affairs collections, the Walter F. Mondale papers document Mondale's service as United States Senator from Minnesota (1964-1976), Vice President of the United States (1977-1981), presidential candidate (1984), Ambassador to Japan (1993-1996), and Special Envoy to Indonesia (1998). Along with his official records as state Attorney General (1960-1964, also held here in the Minnesota State Archives), the papers cover Mondale’s six-decade career, including all of his public offices, campaigns, and Democratic Party and other non-official activities. In addition to the breadth they add to the Society’s public affairs collections, the Walter F. Mondale Papers now enrich the Society’s photograph collection. By highlighting almost 500 images from the more than 7,000 contained in his papers, we deepened the political and governmental content of our Photo & Art Database and provided you greater access to the story of this important Minnesotan.

Walter Mondale’s wife Joan is also an integral part of the story.  An artist and craftswoman with many ties to the arts community, Joan Mondale was appointed ambassador for the arts during the Carter administration. She carried out numerous functions aimed at raising the public profile of art and artists and served as honorary chair of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities--the first time a vice presidential spouse was given a specific role and duties. We feature several photographs of her activities as well.

What else can be seen in these newly visible images?  Not surprisingly, there are insights to Walter Mondale’s work with a variety of constituents across the country, key political leaders through the decades, international initiatives, local communities, and national events.  We also catch a glimpse of celebrities, holidays, family and leisure activities. We encourage you to explore the selection, reminisce, gain new insights and enjoy!

Diane Adams-Graf, Curator

Mondale Family, 1965

Mondales, Walter, William, Joan, Eleanor and Ted

Camp Fire Centennial Display

By: admin | What's New | March 31, 2010

Keep faith with youth - Camp Fire Girls

Camp Fire celebrates 100 years of building caring, confident youth and future leaders this year.  Started in 1910 by Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick and his wife, Charlotte Vetter Gulick, Camp Fire has grown from a small camp for girls to a national organization welcoming and empowering all children and youth. Today, Camp Fire USA Minnesota Council connects children and youth with nature and helps them learn and grow in their own communities. To learn more about Camp Fire in Minnesota, visit their website at:

Materials from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collections, in addition to pieces from Camp Fire’s own historic collection, allow visitors to see many aspects of Camp Fire life. It is a great opportunity to revisit some of these wonderful pieces; it is fun to see what has changed over time and what has stayed the same.

This display in the Library Lobby will be up through June 16, 2010.

Secretary of State Record Book, Volume I

By: admin | What's New | March 23, 2010
MN Secretary of State Record Book, Volume 1Interior Minnesota Secretary of State Record Book

Recently received from the Secretary of State’s office is a particularly valuable record book dating back to the early days of Minnesota statehood.  In many ways the Secretary of State is the “official record keeper” for the State of Minnesota, and this record book reflects that important function.  The record book, entitled “Official Letters, Communications and Railroad Liens”, is dated from May 1858 to June 1879, and contains copies of important documents received for filing, or sent by the Secretary of State’s office.

Noteworthy documents and topics include articles of incorporations of Minnesota companies;  commitments of individuals to the Iowa Insane Asylum in Mt. Pleasant;  memorials such as the establishment of mail service;  donation of lands and money to aid in railroad construction; removal of Winnebago Indians; compensation for losses by Indian depredations; a commission to investigate the management of Indian affairs; the extension of the pension Law of 1861-1862 to the “sufferers of the Sioux Raid” ;  adoption of the State Seal;  joint resolutions endorsing Andrew Johnson’s impeachment; appointments and resignations of officials; and notices of elections.  The record book is indexed, and is Volume 1 of a set of volumes that date through 1942.

Charles Rodgers, Government Records Specialist

Minnesota Secretary of State Record Book

People, Places, Things: Selections from the Permanent Collection

By: admin | What's New | March 12, 2010
red wing

On view at the Hill House Gallery through September, 2010

This exhibition is an opportunity to showcase fine work from the Society’s vast collection of art by and about Minnesota. Focusing on our strengths in portraiture and landscapes the show features portraits of such notable Minnesotans as Alexander Ramsey and artist Stanford Fenelle as well as such iconic locations Minnehaha Falls, Swede Hollow and Red Wing, Minnesota. The exhibition also highlights our small, yet exquisite, collection of still life paintings. Well known Minnesota artists such as Cameron Booth, Mike Lynch, Paul Kramer and Clara Mairs are included in People, Places, Things.