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.

Jeweled Ivory Elephant
31.) Jeweled Ivory Elephant

This rare carved ivory elephant was decorated with 428 precious stones set in gold trappings and dates to the late 18th century. It originated in India and is believed to be a gift to a raja. The piece was donated to the museum in 1964 from a couple in Chicago who found it a beautiful piece of art. It is currently on exhibit in the museum's India area.

Connecticut Cherry Highboy
32.) Connecticut Cherry Highboy

In the history of American cabinetmaking, highboys are particularly valuable and important because they show advanced craftsmanship and artistry. This Connecticut highboy, dating back to the 18th century, is cherry wood with a double block front with bonnet top. The top has spiral (flame) finials and the highboy is supported by ball and claw feet. This particular highboy was once owned by a governor of Connecticut.

Napoleon and Josephine portraits
33.) Napoleon and Josephine portraits

These ivory miniatures are the work of Jacques Louis David, a French neoclassic painter. The Josephine miniature contains an ivory oval signed by David in 1816, the year after Napoleon's last defeat at Waterloo. The Napoleon miniature is set in a brass frame that is decorated with fleur de lis and scrolls. These items are a contribution of I.A. Dinerstein, a Milwaukee lawyer and avid collector of art and decorative art.

Cobb Decoy Canada Goose
34.) Cobb Decoy Canada Goose

This decoy, obtained in 1967, was carved and painted to resemble a Canada Goose in a feeding position. Decoys are designed to attract birds from the sky and are often the products of expert craftsmen who are able to carve realistic ducks and geese from wood. This goose decoy is the work of Nathan Cobb Jr., a well-known artist in decoy carving from Virginia.

Marklin Armored Toy Train
35.) Marklin Armored Toy Train

This toy train, modeled after an engine car, is equipped with a key wind top, 4 wheels, and the removable top is painted gray with black trim. The Marklin Company, founded in Germany in 1859, once specialized in doll house design, but is now recognized for its toy train craftsmanship. In the late 1800s when Marklin began producing trains, the company created international standards for different gauges and scales for model trains that are still used today. In 1891, Marklin produced the first system railroad toy; this consisted of wind up trains capable of towing cars, and a new and unique track system. Marklin trains began to be powered by electricity in the 1920s. This train, however, is unique because it still operates by a key wind.

Tiffany Lamp
36.) Tiffany Lamp

This lamp from "Tiffany Studios New York" dates back to the early 1900s. The four-light lamp contains a glass shade decorated with a grapevine pattern and an antiqued wisteria bronze base. Tiffany lamps were first created in the late 1800s from the design of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Tiffany originally created stained glass for windows, and then transitioned to staining glass for lamps. Tiffany glass lamps are traditionally made by hand, not mass produced by machinery, making them an exceptional and unique piece of glass art.

Blaschka Glass Works
37.) Blaschka Glass Works

Known for their precise detail and distinguishing color, the Blaschka glass models are accurate representations of biological specimens. Leopold Blaschka and his son Rudolph, Blaschkas were Bohemian, or Czech, by birth but worked in Germany. The MPM purchased 70 invertebrate glass models which were offered for sale through Ward's Natural Science Establishment, Inc.

The models are known for their representative accuracy and have been accredited by the scientific community for their representative quality. Used as biological models, the glass works have been great contributions to the scientific community in providing scientists with models to teach and educate plant and marine anatomy.

One of the most famous Blaschka collections, the Ware Collection of Glass Models of Plants, contains almost 4,000 plants and flowers and is held at the Harvard Museum of Natural History at Harvard University. The Blaschka work also extended to marine invertebrates like the one shown here. Most of this collection is housed at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. Leopold Blaschka died in 1895 and his son in 1939, but their work lives on and continues to awe and inspire artists, biologists and lay people alike.

T'ang Horse
38.) T'ang Horse

This horse is made of pinkish buff clay and with a painted white slip. Its "cold pigment" colors include rust, orange, pinkish and traces of black. The horse dates to the T'ang dynasty in China which lasted from 618-907 A.D. The horse was extensively restored before it came to the Museum.

Museum Street Clock
39.) Museum Street Clock

It wasn't long ago that clocks decorated the streets of Milwaukee. As the city grew, buildings became modernized and development continued; the street clocks were greatly reduced in number. Most clocks were removed as they were an obstruction to urban development. Milwaukee mayor, Sherman M. Becker, known as the "Boy Mayor," found the clocks to be particularly bothersome and took matters into his own hands by ordering their destruction. One morning in 1907, he and a team of firemen destroyed most of the city street clocks. In 1976 Milwaukee had only one remaining, located on the corner of South 16th and Washington Streets outside of Jensen Jewelry. Upon his retirement in 1972, Jensen donated the clock to the museum. Thomas J. Bliffert, president of Granville Lumber and Fuel Company, donated the funds for the clock to be restored. After hard work by the museum staff, the clock now stands outside the museum entrance on Wells Street.

40.) Netsuke

Netsuke are artistic toggles that originated in Japan in the 17th century. These little figures of people and animals became a Japanese import to the states as early as the 1860s. They were made of many different materials such as ivory, wood, iron, or gold. Easily imported because of their small size, this factor contributed to their status as a very collectible object in America. In Japan, people used them to hang on the ends of their medicine boxes or on their kimonos. The Milwaukee Public Museum's extensive carved ivory collection includes over 300 netsuke, many of them on display in the Asian exhibit.