Collection Highlights

133 Objects, 133 Years

The Milwaukee Public Museum curatorial staff have selected 133 of the most important, unique, or interesting objects and collections to highlight during our 133rd anniversary year. These items reflect the broad scope of the over 4 million-plus objects in the Museum's collections. Many of the items featured below are not on exhibit due to their fragile nature. One of the Museum's primary goals is to preserve objects for generations to come. As a virtual exhibit, we can share with people around the world our most rare and intriguing items without harm to them.

Hebior Mammoth
1.) Hebior Mammoth

The Hebior Mammoth is the most complete mammoth ever found in North America with 85% of the bones recovered. Excavated in Kenosha County in the mid 1990s on the farm of John Hebior, the mammoth found with stone tools and butchering marks, has been radiocarbon dated to about 14,500 years ago. The Hebior Mammoth is one of the earliest pieces of evidence of human occupation in North America, predating the Clovis culture by more than a thousand years. The Milwaukee Public Museum purchased the mammoth skeleton thanks to the generous support of local donors John Brander and Christine Rundblad. See a cast of the mammoth skeleton in the Museum's concourse.

Apache Playing Cards
2.) Apache Playing Cards

These playing cards are from the Apache, an American Indian tribe living in Arizona. Apache playing cards are thought to be influenced by the Spanish, however, the cards' decorations are distinctly of the traditional Apache artistic style. Made of rawhide and decorated with a variety of pictorial designs, the cards represent numbers or face card values. Playing cards had widespread use by the Apache during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and were even traded for by non-Apache groups. There are not many complete card sets, such as this one, that exist today. These cards a part of a larger collection donated by G. E. Copeland of Milwaukee in 1922.

Bing and Grondahl Christmas Plate Collection
3.) Bing and Grondahl Christmas Plate Collection

The Danish firm of Bing and Grondahl manufactured their first Christmas plate in 1895. The Christmas plates are intricately designed to reflect an old Danish tradition. Hundreds of years ago, Danish masters would give their servants well designed Christmas plates and servants would have a competition to try and determine whose master had awarded them with the best plate. Today, Bing and Grondahl have kept the Christmas Plate tradition alive by producing a collectible ceramic plate each year at Christmas. The complete Milwaukee Public Museum collection includes every B&G Christmas plate, the first from 1895, "Behind the Frozen Window," which features the skyline of Copenhagen, to the most recent "Christmas in the Woods," from 2009.

Deakin's Lilliputian Comic Opera Items
4.) Deakin's Lilliputian Comic Opera Items

This collection is comprised of a scrapbook and a complete female little person's outfit associated with Deakin's Lilliputian Comic Opera Company (DLCOC ). These artifacts date to the early 1880s during the company's production of Jack the Giant Killer, a play that featured little people as regular sized people, and a tall man as a giant. The show was quite successful with high society and toured through the United States and Canada. DLCOC performed in dime theatres in the Milwaukee area. The clothing is an example of a small size middle class woman's everyday outfit of the 1880s, and includes a dress, corset, camisole, bloomers, shoes and gloves. The scrapbook features pictures of the company of actors (almost all of the known little people actors of the era) in their costumes. The museum acquired the clothing and scrapbook in 1987.

The DeFlores Disney Collection
5.) The DeFlores Disney Collection

With 1500 pieces, the DeFlores Disney collection is one of the largest in a U.S. museum. The objects were collected by Lupe DeFlores and her son Cesar over a 25 year period from 1965 to the late 1980s, and include rare Disney memorabilia that shows the evolution of many of the best-known characters like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. The collection includes a range of items such as plates, figurines, games, lunch boxes, pails, Christmas ornaments, mugs, cookie jars, and watches. In 1981, the museum displayed the Mickey and Friends exhibit, highlighting items loaned from the DeFlores collection. The DeFlores family was so pleased with the museum's exhibit, they decided to donate the entire collection to the museum in 1991 upon Mrs. DeFlores's death.

Birdwing Butterflies
6.) Birdwing Butterflies

Birdwing butterflies, genus Ornithoptera, are named "Birdwing" for their tremendous wingspan and body size. Native to the Indo-Australian region, there are about a dozen currently recognized species plus many subspecies and forms. The museum acquired a number of representative specimens through a donation from James R. Neidhoefer and his wife, Elaine, who amassed a large collection of worldwide Lepidoptera mostly through purchases and exchanges.

The very rare Birdwing specimen shown here, Ornithoptera allottei (Rothschild), was purchased by the Neidhoefers at the auction of the G. Rousseau-Decelle collection in Paris, France on October 24, 1966. It was one of only three specimens known in the world at that time. This butterfly is now recognized to be a hybrid of O. urvilliana x victoriae rather than a separate species. In recent times steep declines in Birdwing populations have occurred due to loss of habitats and over-collecting. These butterflies are now under legal protection, and some efforts are being made to increase their numbers through local butterfly farming practices.

I.A. Dinerstein Enamels Collection
7.) I.A. Dinerstein Enamels Collection

These enamels were a bequest to the Milwaukee Public Museum from Isadore A. Dinerstein, a local Russian immigrant, upon his death. The collection includes many decorative art pieces, and most notably 70 enameled objects. The enamels range in date from the 16th through 20th centuries, and come from France, Belgium, Russia, Turkey, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Japan, and America. All the enamels show vibrant colors, intricate designs, and incredible detail.

Japanese Friendship Doll
8.) Japanese Friendship Doll

In 1926, Dr. Sidney Gullick, a missionary and educator who had lived and worked in Japan since the 1890s, created an exchange program between the United States and Japan to promote peace, friendship and understanding. Children in almost every state raised money to send American dolls to many schools in Japan. Once the Japanese children received the dolls, they in turn raised money and sent dolls back to the United States. Kasumi Tsukuba, or Miss Ibaraki (the prefecture where she is from), was the doll sent to Wisconsin in 1927 and is now a part of Milwaukee Public Museum's permanent history collection. She arrived in the state with a chest of clothes and a parasol, along with roughly 50 other accessories. In 2006, Miss Ibaraki was flown back to Japan and returned to the company that made her in 1927, the Yoshitoku Company, where she underwent restoration.

Works Progress Administration Handicraft Collection
9.) Works Progress Administration Handicraft Collection

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was a part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal that lasted from 1935-1942. In Milwaukee, the WPA had a division that provided work for women and African Americans. This was an integrated project, a rarity at the time. Workers began with simple handicrafts, like scrapbooks, but as their skills developed, they began to make more complex crafts such as dolls (like the Honey Chile doll depicted here), rugs and furniture. At any one time, the Milwaukee WPA had 250-1,000 people working for them and some of the women went on to start their own craft shops. The pieces at the Milwaukee Public Museum comprise the highest quality collection to come from the Works Progress Administration handicrafts era in Milwaukee. Learn more about this collection at

Peter Glass Marquetry Table
10.) Peter Glass Marquetry Table

A German immigrant, Peter Glass, crafted wooden tables with extremely intricate wooden veneer designs, which led him to win two major awards, one at the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association exhibit in 1850 and one from the American Institute of New York in 1856. Shortly thereafter, Glass moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin and began one of his greatest feats: a table containing nearly 20,000 pieces of wood. This design depicted faces of military and political heroes, with floral motifs. Today, very few Peter Glass Marquetry tables survive. Similar tables crafted by Glass are located at the Smithsonian Institution and the Illinois Governor's Mansion. The table depicted here is on display in The Streets of Old Milwaukee exhibit but remains covered to protect it from the damaging effects of the lights.