The Society’s collection over 15,000 database records identifying a range of artifacts and documents focused on Hingham’s deep and remarkable history—as well as at least half again as many that have not yet been input into PastPerfect, our collections database program.
Fine and Decorative Arts:
The most exceptional thing about the Society’s fine and decorative arts holdings is that almost all of them belonged to Hingham families and graced Hingham homes and businesses. These objects reflect both the unassuming, workaday Yankee character of the town’s early centuries (simple wooden furniture, buckets, boxes, tools, and household items), as well as the higher aspirations of Hingham’s wealthier residents in several fine 18thcentury furnishings, locally made Wilder and Tower clocks, an early square piano (imported from London for a Lincoln daughter), oil portraits of some of the Town’s leading citizens, and much silver, china, and glass. Some of Hingham’s forays into industries other than woodenware are documented and represented, including the cordage company, the Victorian era silk tassel factory, Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard, and an umbrella factory that operated on South Street from 1818 through 1842.
Costume and textiles:
The Society’s costume and textiles collection was largely amassed in the 1970s and 1980s when an active group of Old Ordinary volunteers made costume and textiles a priority. Objects range from a strand of silk from Hingham’s brief foray into sericulture to a 1950s Boy Scout shirt that was donated recently along with the owner’s full collection of scarf ties. Many of the costumes have an identifiable local provenance, and even those that do not are useful in educational programs and exhibits that help to bring to life the day to day aspects of life in early New England.
Our sampler and needlework collection includes about 30 samplers made by Hingham schoolgirls; some are the only known records of the girls who attended Derby Academy in its first years. Our quilt collection is relatively small but important. Seven quilts of our quilts were exhibited at the New England Quilt Museum in 2010. Of particular note is a small quilt produced by Mary Hersey, an avid abolitionist who populated the quilt with fabric scraps inscribed in pen with favorite quotes from the Abolitionist cause. She donated the quilt to a fundraiser held in Boston in 1840. The quilt was purchased and subsequently returned to her, presumably so she could donate it again to another emancipation gathering. Recent donations to the costume collection have included a workers apron from the Kimball lumber yard, a battle dress uniform from the late Ebenezer Gay who served with distinction in the European theater during WWII, 19thcentury nightgowns worn by Emma Burr of Center Hingham, and a pair of shoes that had been placed behind a Hingham chimney (for good luck!) in the mid-18thcentury.
Manuscripts and ephemera:
Our archival collection is perhaps our largest and arguably the most valuable. Great strides have been taken to describe, catalog, and appropriately house the manuscripts, printed matter, and ephemera in the archives—and a great deal of work remains to be done.
Diaries and letters found in the family papers of many Hingham families provide intimate insights into the day to day life of Hingham’s citizens, notable and obscure, and the records of an astounding number of clubs and societies (such as the Friendly Book Club, the Jefferson Debating Society, the Hingham Croquet Club, and the Wompatuck Club) and a an almost endless stream of amateur theatricals show us how busy and involved we were before television and the Internet. One significant holding is the journals kept by author and horticulturalist Fearing Burr, Jr., in 15 leather-bound volumes covering the years 1840 through 1897.
Other notable items in the archives include several ledger books from local businesses, including bucket makers, dry goods merchants, hatchet makers, and farmers, and the the workpapers of several authors of published histories of Hingham, including Francis R. and Lorena Laing Hart, Michael J. Shilhan, and George Lincoln. The archives also collects a wide array of ephemeral items such as wartime ration cards, girl scout scrap books, posters advertising Melville Garden and the annual Agricultural Fair, and school records suggest the outlines of public and social life from the 1850s through the 1950s
The jewel in the crown of the Hingham Historical Society’s collection is the Loring notebook collection. Painstakingly assembled by historian Julian Loring in the mid-2th century the 150+ notebooks document the history of nearly every historic house in Hingham. The histories contain handwritten transcriptions of the genealogies, tax records, real estate records, newspaper gossip pages and other primary sources that tell researchers who lived in Hingham’s historic homes, when they lived there, who their neighbors were, who their servants were, how wealthy they were.
In 2012, the Town of Hingham and the Historical Society joined forces to acquire a large set of materials from the Estate of John P. Richardson. The John P. Richardson Collection includes several hundred three-ring binders holding 25,000 pages of archival material, several dozen boxes worth of other material, and a number of architectural elements from old Hingham structures that were either renovated or taken down.
Taken as a whole, the archives of the Hingham Historical Society are fertile resources for the Society’s staff, volunteers and researchers to help our residents explore American history from a local perspective. Sadly, they are our least accessible assets at this point, given the time and expense needed to describe, catalogue, image, and appropriately houses them.
Books and Printed Material:
The Archives Library includes a large collection of Civil War-related books and printed material, which formerly belonged to Gen. Wilmon W. Blackmar; many 19th century children’s books, and a variety of useful secondary resources on Hingham history.
We have recently finished cataloguing a set of 400 religious pamphlets, including published sermons, tracts, and devotional literature. They date from the late 18thcentury through the 19thattests to the heated cultural, moral and political debates that roiled Hingham and the nation before the industrial age shifted our frame of reference to a more secular perspective.
We are working on making our library catalog accessible on-line. Look for it here on the TinyCat platform, and check back often to see the catalog grow as we add records.
Close to 7,000 images of people, places, buildings and events from at the 1850s through the 1970s have been catalogued, scanned, and rehoused by a dedicated group of volunteers over the past 10 years. The photograph collection spans a range of media from tin types, glass plate negatives, and cartes de visite to Polaroids, digital images, and video, including many photographs from the John P. Richardson Collection, the Society’s own institutional images and video, and donations by Hingham residents of photograph of Hingham neighborhoods, homes, and people dating from the 1860s to the current day. Our video collection includes personal oral histories of longtime Hingham citizens. See a small on-line gallery of our photographs on Flickr.
Research at the HHS Archives
The Hingham Historical Society Archives, located on the third floor of Old Derby Academy, collects and preserves archival materials and media of historical significance relating to the history of Hingham and Hingham families. The archives serve as an educational resource to the community and the Historical Society encourages the use of its collection by those engaged in historical and genealogical research.
The HHS Archives is open to researchers by appointment. If you wish to schedule time in the Archives for research, email our Registrar. If you cannot make it to the Archives or would prefer to have research done for you, download this form and return it as instructed, or call 781-749-7721. If calling, be prepared to provide a detailed description of what you want to know and leave both an email address and telephone number.