The Museum collects objects that support our mission to tell the uniquely American stories of immigrants, migrants and refugees explored in our two preserved tenement buildings, 97 Orchard Street and 103 Orchard Street.
What We Collect
The Tenement Museum’s collection includes objects related to the buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard Street and to its inhabitants, including residents, shopkeepers, landlords, and neighbors. Additionally, our collection includes items used to interpret the Museum’s stories and present educational programs.
We use our collections to help connect past and present and to illustrate the lives of 19th and 20th Century immigrants and migrants. The collections help us understand how the experiences of earlier immigrants and migrants compare and contrast with those of newcomers today.
The permanent collection contains original building materials, clothing, household accessories, document fragments, food containers, furniture, photographs, textiles, and toilet articles. To be included, objects for the permanent collection must have primary historical significance relating to 97 Orchard Street or 103 Orchard Street and/or the building’s former residents, shopkeepers, and owners, as well as their descendants.
Building archaeology, preservation and restoration projects in the historic tenements at 97 and 103 Orchard Street have brought to light more than 5,000 artifacts, ranging from utilitarian objects to animal bones. These finds now form part of our permanent collections and inform ongoing research into building histories and family stories.
The Tenement Museum has also been very fortunate to receive donations of artifacts from descendants of family members who once lived and/or worked in our buildings. Where appropriate, a number of our donations can be viewed on select tours in the interpreted apartment.
Study and Teaching Collections
Objects selected for the Museum’s interpreted apartments and education programs form the basis of our study collection. Though period-appropriate, they do not have primary historical significance to 97 and 103 Orchard Street or the Lower East Side, but instead were selected to illustrate and interpret the narratives presented during tours or educational programs. We search estate sales, antique stores, flea markets and even in online auctions to carefully select items that bring vivid detail to the restored apartments, helping to recreate tenement life.
The Museum holds a collection of over 1,400 photographs, featuring images of 97 and 103 Orchard Streets, both as a residence and a Museum, as well as portraits and snapshots of former residents and their families. The photograph collection includes a focused selection of neighborhood photos, including a series taken during the 1930s by Arnold Eagle and a series taken in the 1970s by Lower East Side resident Edmund Gillion.
The photograph collection is available and searchable online from our website or at https://tenement.pastperfectonline.com/.
Periodically, the Museum acquires objects for its collections via donation, purchase, exchange, or transfers. Potential acquisitions are carefully considered in light of the nature of our exhibitions and limited storage space. Objects are selected for acquisition based on the potential for use in displays as well as our ability to care for and benefit from the object(s) to support the Museum’s mission.
If you have an item that you would like us to consider as a potential donation, please contact the Museum’s Collections Manager at [email protected] or 646-518-3016. If possible, please include images of the proposed donation object(s); this will help the Curatorial Department determine whether the item(s) are suitable for our collections. Unsolicited objects, either mailed to Museum offices or in person, will not be accepted.
Rights & Reproductions
- Reproduction, public display, or distribution of an image from the Museum’s collection from any copy format (digital or print) via any medium requires the permission of the Museum.
- The Museum determines and collects a permission fee for such uses.
- Fees vary depending on the specifics of each request, including print run, and are subject to change.
- Uses in advertisements, film, digital formats, newspapers, magazines, calendars and other high exposure or technologically advanced media are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.
- Uses deemed “personal” by the Museum do not require the payment of a permission fee.
- Detailed instructions for requesting reproductions can be found on the photograph database website.
The Museum maintains an institutional archive containing records created by staff that primarily document the formation of the Museum, development activities, research projects and exhibitions, and interpretive content including biographical material about former residents. The Museum also holds a collection of audio and visual material, including oral histories, documenting the stories of former residents, shopkeepers, and other people associated with 97/103 Orchard Street or the Lower East Side and their descendants. The Museum’s archival holdings may be most useful to researchers interested in the history of the Tenement Museum, as well as those interested in the the historic tenements that it interprets today.
Our historical document collection focuses on archival materials collected to research and contextualize the residents of 97 and 103 Orchard Street. We primarily collect copies of primary sources obtained from archives and libraries, including ship manifests, census records, city directories and newspapers, as well as personal documents like report cards.
The Museum’s archives are available for research by appointment in advance only. Generally, appointments are available Monday – Friday between 10am and 5pm, and must be confirmed two weeks in advance of the requested date. Further instructions for accessing the archives are listed below:
- All requests to conduct research at the Tenement Museum must be made in writing to the Collections Manager at [email protected].
- When inquiring about a research appointment, please include a brief summary of the research topic and the general materials you wish to access.
- The Collections Manager will forward a Researcher Application that must be completed before an appointment will be confirmed.
- Queries are answered in the order in which they are received. It may take two weeks before you receive a response to your initial inquiry and we ask that you keep this in mind when requesting specific appointment dates.
Anyone requesting to access Museum collections must agree to comply with the following provisions:
- The Museum’s decision to allow access may depend upon the condition of the materials and availability of space and supervisory staff.
- All non-staff visitors must be accompanied at all times by authorized staff when working with original Museum materials.
- Smoking, drinking, and eating are prohibited in collections storage areas and when working with collections.
- Briefcases, suitcases, overcoats, plants, and animals (except for service animals) are not allowed in collections storage and study areas.
- Researchers must use pencils and paper and/or a portable computer to take notes. Ink pens are not permitted.
Researchers must agree to abide by any copyright restrictions, privacy agreements, and publicity legislation as well as duplication, publication, and citation policies.