Collections Overview

Even if you cannot touch any objects in the collection (this is a museum, after all), there is a good chance that the objects in the Philadelphia History Museum will touch you. The Museum is rooted in the shared daily experiences of its people—and its objects spur vivid memories and discussion.     

With more than 100,000 objects, dating from the 1680s to present day, the collections of the Philadelphia History Museum include original prints, paintings, photographs, and other items that detail the lives of Philadelphians.

Special Collections

The Philadelphia History Museum houses several special collections. Together, they provide a broad perspective of three centuries of culture and life in the city. 

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP)

Through an agreement signed in 1999, the Philadelphia-based Historical Society of Pennsylvania transferred stewardship of 10,500 objects and 800 paintings to the Philadelphia History Museum. Among the paintings are works of art by such renowned Philadelphia artists as Charles Wilson Peale and his sons, including portraits of local and national leaders William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, and John Quincy Adams.

Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies
Rocking Horse

Obtained in 2006 from the Balch Institute of Ethnic Studies, objects in this collection document the diverse cultures and peoples of Philadelphia. Among the items are a “Union of Polish Women in America” ribbon; a Quinceañera gown, crown, and cape from a 1990s fifteenth-birthday Latina celebration in Philadelphia; a banner from the Chinese Christian Church and Center that celebrates the 300th anniversary of Philadelphia’s founding; and a Hmong story cloth embroidered by a Laotian craftswoman here in the city.


More than 400 objects, etchings, lithographs, and engravings from the Insurance Company of North America — CIGNA. Highlights include a 1947 plan, drawn for the Philadelphia Shrines Commission, that supported the lobbying effort to create Independence National Historical Park; pre–Civil War prints of some of Philadelphia’s most distinguished buildings and institutions—among them, President Washington’s residence on High Street (c. 1828), the Second Bank of the United States (1839), and the University of Pennsylvania (c. 1838); and firefighting material, such as 19th-century models of firefighting equipment, painted engine panels (c. 1837), a fire warden's parade staff (1800), and various images of volunteer companies.

Neil Benson
A game of stickball circa 1976. Photograph by Neil Benson.

Neil Benson, a professional photojournalist who worked in Philadelphia from 1970 to 2000, donated to the Museum thousands of negatives, contact sheet prints, full prints of selected photographs, and tear sheets from publications in which photographs appeared.

Friends Historical Association

The 1,700 items in this collection were used or owned by members of the Religious Society of Friends who lived within the boundaries of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting from the mid-18th century to about 1925. Objects include Quaker clothing, hand-woven linen sheets, dolls, and textiles and artifacts from the anti-slavery “Free Labor Cotton” movement.

Jane and Richard Loeliger Centennial
Agricultural Hall

Philadelphia’s 1876 exposition commemorating the centennial of the United States was one of the great fairs of the 19th century, attracting millions of visitors and the attention of the world. This collection of 750 objects related to the exposition includes lantern slides and stereograph images, souvenirs, and items brought by participating countries.

African American History Collection Presented by PHMC

History tells us who we are. It is the collective story of what it means to be a Philadelphian. To live here. To work here. The African American history collection online seeks to give visitors a snapshot of the complex history of African Americans in Philadelphia. The Museum is proud to present its first online exhibition, a compilation of 200 diverse objects spanning five centuries that illustrate the broad experience of African Americans in Philadelphia, at work and at play, dealing with struggles and celebrating successes.

Research Center

The collection is stored at a newly renovated Collections Research Center. Created in 2009 following the transformation of a former clothing factory into 10,000 square feet of climate-controlled, museum-quality storage, the Center consolidated a premier collection of objects and items related to the history of Philadelphia, which was previously spread over five locations.

Recent Acquisitions

Eliza Otto

Donate to the Collection

The Philadelphia History Museum is the steward of thousands of historical objects and works of art relating to the history of Philadelphia and its people. We would be happy to talk to you if you have collections or individual items that you feel would be appropriate for the Philadelphia History Museum collections.

Please email our Collections department or call 215.843.1713.

Rights & Reproductions

Items from the Philadelphia History Museum collections are available for reproduction in a variety of media. Certain restrictions apply. For more information and a schedule of fees, email Collection Rights & Reproductions or call 215.843.1713.