A History of Richmond in 50 Objects

RVA 50

This exhibition explores the history of Richmond, Virginia, through a selection of objects from the Valentine Richmond History Center collection.  Paying homage to “A History of the World in 100 Objects,” the ground-breaking partnership of the British Museum and BBC Radio 4 in 2010 that focused on world history, our contribution continues the dialogue in a way that is uniquely Richmond.

Richmond’s history is one of settlement, progress, setback, and rebirth across four centuries.  What was Richmond before there was contact between the native peoples of the region and the English?  What was the impact of slavery, civil war, and reconstruction on the lives of our citizens, and how do these events continue to shape our city today?  How do objects convey meaning, and why do we collect and pass down these silent witnesses of our past and present?

Our aim is not simply to showcase our museum collection but to enter into an on-going discussion of how history is interconnected with our daily lives.  A history told through objects allows for those who do not leave texts to have a voice and to be included as well as to celebrate heroes, achievements, and to commemorate losses.

The telling of history through things is at the core of what museums do.

Virginia, Discovered and Discribed by Captain John Smith, John Smith, 1580/1631, From the collection of: The Valentine
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1. John Smith Map of Virginia

Based on an exploratory survey by boat in 1608 under the direction of Captain John Smith, this map is the earliest published of the entire Chesapeake region. It not only shows the location of Jamestown, the first English settlement in the New World, but also the location of numerous Indian villages. The map is oriented with west at the top, drawing attention to the approaching ships from England at the base.

To the right of the illustration of Chief Powhatan, “The Falls” of the James River are shown together with the hills, upon which the city of Richmond was later built. This is the earliest known engraving attempting a pictorial representation of the site of Richmond.

John Smith's “Virginia” remained the most influential map of Virginia until the last quarter of the 17th century, and many of the place names used by Smith remain in use today.

Lottery Ticket No. 5099, Issued by William Byrd III, 1768, From the collection of: The Valentine
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2. William Byrd Lottery Ticket

William Byrd III was born September 6, 1728 and raised at “Westover” in Charles City County, Virginia. In 1744, young Byrd went to London to study law. It is probable that his life-long addiction to gambling began at this time.

Byrd would not live within his income, and in 1768, he attempted a lottery. An example of one of the original printed tickets can be seen here. The lottery prizes were to come from his property at the falls of the James River, the current site of the city of Richmond.

Byrd’s later life was difficult, and he was unable to retire his debt as the lottery was largely a failure. On January 1st or 2nd, 1777, William Byrd III took his own life

Dressing Table, Unidentified Cabinetmaker, 1760, From the collection of: The Valentine
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3. Low Boy Dressing Table

Dating from the mid to late 18th century, this dressing table, commonly called a “lowboy” by early Richmonders and other colonists, was made for the Tayloe family of Virginia.  Originally used at the Tayloe plantation “Mt. Airy” in Richmond County, Virginia, the piece is representative of the preferred taste of the gentry consumer with minimal carving and embellishment.  

A small dressing table with several drawers for storage, the lowboy was often made to match a tall chest of drawers or “highboy” and developed out of a 17th century British form.  The tobacco-based economy of 18th century Virginia saw leaf turned into consumer goods as hard currency was in short supply in the colonies and in the young United States of America.  Richmond area planter aristocrats used their cash crop funds to commission such pieces for their city residences as well as their plantation houses in the neighboring counties.

Storebook, Volume 1, Patrick Henry, 1760/1762, From the collection of: The Valentine
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4. Patrick Henry's Storebook

Known as “The Voice of the American Revolution,” Patrick Henry spent much of his life and career in Hanover County, Virginia, located outside of Richmond.  Henry kept this storebook while a shopkeeper during the 1760’s.

In March of 1775, more than 100 men from Virginia’s colonial elite chose to meet in Richmond rather than Williamsburg, the colonial capital, in hopes of avoiding Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s ire.  Richmond, unlike Williamsburg, was still a modest town, and St. John’s Church was found to be the only structure suitable to host the group. The church thus became the site of Patrick Henry’s speech crying out to “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!”  Henry’s rallying words led to the narrow passing of the delegate’s resolutions to support open rebellion in the 13 colonies. The first shots of the American Revolution rang out in April 1775 hundreds of miles to the north of city in the towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.

James Armistead Lafayette, John B. Martin, 1824, From the collection of: The Valentine
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5. James Armistead Lafayette Portrait

James Armistead was born into slavery in 1748 in New Kent County, Virginia.  During the American Revolution, his owner granted him permission to volunteer with the patriot forces under the command of the French officer, the Marquis de La Fayette.  Despite his low status, James Armistead’s intelligence and dedicated work ethic came to the attention of the French commander, who sent Armistead into the British camps as a spy.

 James Armistead was able to infiltrate the camp of General Cornwallis, becoming a trusted servant – so trusted that Cornwallis sent him back to the Americans as a spy for the British.  Bringing valuable information to the French and American allies, Armistead’s assistance led to the successful Franco-American victory at Yorktown in 1781. 

James Armistead went on to buy his freedom using money granted to him by the Virginia Legislature in Richmond where his owner was one of the delegates.  He adopted the surname Lafayette and farmed 40 acres in New Kent County, Virginia, until his death in 1830.

Gentleman’s Suit, 1980, From the collection of: The Valentine
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6. Dr. John Peter LeMayeur Suit

The new “Americans,” a term that had been pejorative until the 1781 Franco-American victory at Yorktown, lacked a strong national economy and banking system in the early years of Richmond’s development.  The old system of relying on European currency continued into the 19th century, and Richmond’s economy was still strongly rooted in tobacco.  Consumers exchanged this crop for essentials as well as luxury goods, such as fine European silk cloth like that used in this gentleman’s suit and waistcoat (V.52.52.10).  The war made many Americans continue their boycott of British goods and increase their trade with France, Britain’s traditional enemy.

This particular suit was worn by Dr. John Peter LeMayeur, a French émigré to the new United States.  Dr. LeMayeur was a dentist who treated George Washington.

General George Washington, William James Hubard, 1850, From the collection of: The Valentine
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7. General George Washington Portrait

In 1791, the canal company in Richmond, Virginia, elected General George Washington as its honorary president.  Originally known as the James River Canal, the James River and Kanawha Canal is credited with being the first operating canal system with locks in the new United States of America. Opened in 1789, the canal system was created to move goods and passengers by water between the western counties of the Commonwealth and the ports on the east coast. 

The canal project was expensive and suffered several set-backs.  The introduction of the railroad in the 1830’s permanently halted the extension and completion of the canal.  In the end, the canal’s right-of-way was purchased by the railways, which laid tracks on the former tow path of the canal. 

Today, much of the engineered canal system can still be traced and forms an important part of Richmond’s modern city landscape.

“View of Richmond, Virginia”, Artist unknown, 1835, From the collection of: The Valentine
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8. View of Richmond Painting

The tradition of depicting towns and cities in paintings is one that dates back many centuries before the founding of Richmond, Virginia.  This object illustrates an unknown Richmonder’s commission to capture the new government seat as it replaced Virginia’s earlier capital cities of Jamestown and Williamsburg. 

The classical state capitol building, designed and fostered by Thomas Jefferson, remains the city’s core landmark more than two centuries later.  In the foreground of the painting, another important feature is Mayo’s bridge, completed in 1788 by John Mayo Jr., the grandson of the man who first laid out Richmond's grid pattern (the current bridge dates to 1913).

"Thomas Jefferson" "Thomas Jefferson", Edward Virginius Valentine, 1895, From the collection of: The Valentine
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9. Thomas Jefferson Statue

The role of the multi-talented Thomas Jefferson of Albemarle County, Virginia, in the development of the state capitol has entered local legend and tradition.  From his diplomatic work representing American interests in Paris and in London, Jefferson was committed to creating new buildings in the ancient classical architectural styles that were the reigning design influences in Europe during the 18th and early 19th centuries. 

As the first democratic representational form of government since ancient time, Jefferson believed that a neo-classical city was the most appropriate way to design the new city of Richmond, Virginia. 

This 19th century full-length sculptural portrait by Edward Virginius Valentine was said to be an exact likeness by several of Jefferson’s grandchildren who viewed the piece and well remembered his visage.

“Death or Liberty”, Mark Weakley, 1993, From the collection of: The Valentine
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10. Gabriel Prosser Scratchboard

Owned by the Prosser family of Richmond, Virginia, Gabriel was an enslaved, literate blacksmith.  As a skilled artisan, Gabriel had many advantages over his enslaved brethren and was often hired out by his owners, allowing him a greater freedom of movement in the region.  The failure of the American Revolution to free enslaved Africans, along with recent slave uprisings in the French colonies, created an environment in Richmond that was ripe for Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800.

Very little evidence survives but from what can be pieced together, Gabriel and a small group of other enslaved individuals formulated the conspiracy.  They expected about 1,000 slaves and poor white men to rise up against the powerful elite leaders in Richmond in a rebellion that would march under a banner of “Death or Liberty” on August 30, 1800.  A betrayal and heavy rains resulted in the plot’s collapse. Gabriel and his cohorts paid the ultimate price for their disloyalty – death by public execution.  Reactionaries soon undertook reprisals against the enslaved population throughout Richmond and beyond.

"Richmond Virginia. Where Men and Women are Bought and Sold Like Cattle" by J.J. Nevins, J.J. Nevins, 1866, From the collection of: The Valentine
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11. Richmond Virginia Print

Look closely and notice the caption on this artist’s work, “Richmond Virginia. Where Men and Women are Sold like Cattle.”  The enslavement of Africans in America began in Virginia with the first group of captives brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.  Over time the system of permanent bondage developed eventually spreading throughout the original colonies and ultimately into the new United States of America after 1781.

By the mid 19th century, the national debate on the question of slavery was a heated one.  During the American Revolution, many enslaved Africans contributed to both sides with the hope of obtaining personal liberty from the victors. Sadly, most were disappointed. 

As Americans began to settle further west in new lands, the moral and legal question of slavery followed them.  By the time of the outbreak of Civil War in 1861, the issue was swept into the larger debate of federal versus state governance.

Thomas Callendine Boushall, David Silvette, 1947, From the collection of: The Valentine
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12. Thomas Callendine Boushall Portrait

In 1804 the First Bank of Virginia was founded in Richmond, Virginia, beginning a long history of successful banks in the city.  With a founding capital of $1,500,000.00, this Virginia institution was in step with Southern state banks in the antebellum period.  It was not until the organization of a national banking system in the mid 1860’s that Virginia embraced independent or unit banking.

Thomas C. Boushall was an executive officer and early historian of the Bank of Virginia. In 1963, he authored The Story of the Bank of Virginia.  The Bank of Virginia was founded in 1922 as a Morris Plan Bank, banks that specialized in making small consumer loans as originated by Arthur J. Morris. The Bank of Virginia remained a pioneer in consumer banking, including introducing one of the first credit cards in 1953.  Boushall was active in the community and wrote on a wide-range of topics, including banking, health care, health insurance, and the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal.

Mrs. Joseph Marx, Attributed to John Wesley Jarvis, 1825, From the collection of: The Valentine
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13. Mrs. Joseph Marx Portrait

Isaiah Isaacs is thought to have been the first Jewish settler in Richmond, Virginia, arriving in the area in 1769.  Like the subject’s father, Isaacs was a silversmith, but in 18th century tradition he branched out into other fields.  Mr. Isaacs established a partnership with Jacob Cohen, and they operated one of, if not the, first Richmond city taverns, the Bird-in-Hand.

Richea Myers Marx (1769-1838) was the daughter of the silversmith Myer Myers of New York.  She married Joseph Marx, a German-born merchant who settled here in the 1790s. They resided in Richmond at 6th and Cary Streets.  The Marx family belonged to Beth Shalome Congregation and was prominent in the thriving Jewish community that has flourished in Richmond since the 18th century.

Richmond Theatre Fire Needlework Sampler, Sally Washington Clark, 1812, From the collection of: The Valentine
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14. Richmond Theatre Fire Sampler

One of this city’s most tragic events was a fire that destroyed the Richmond Theatre on December 26, 1811.  On that night patrons had purchased 518 dollar tickets and 80 child tickets, with 50 additional people seated in the galleries of the theatre.  When the stage caught fire, the patrons had to fight their way through the building’s one door.  More than 10 percent of the attendees lost their lives that night, including the newly-appointed Governor of Virginia, George W. Smith.  This tragedy marked this early generation of citizens and civic leaders, who decided to build Monumental Church (1814) as a lasting memorial on the exact location of the theatre.  

The design and the verse for this needlework piece were both taken from a printed broadside published in Richmond, Virginia, just after the fire.

One evening in December last,

The sixth and twentieth day,

The people that with joyful taste,

Did go to see a play.

While in the midst of joy and mirth

The house it caught on fire.

Hundreds enveloped in flames

And many did expire.

May theatres be done away

From off this earthly shore.

The houses put to better use

An Plays be seen no more.

John Wickham, C.B. Julian Fevret de St. Memin, 1808/1839, From the collection of: The Valentine
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15. John Wickham Portrait

Who was John Wickham?  Wickham was a Richmond lawyer who rose to national prominence as one of the defense attorneys for politician Aaron Burr during his 1807 trial for treason.  The city of Richmond was selected by the federal government as the site of the trial based on an earlier ruling by Supreme Court Justice John Marshall regarding Burr’s actions at Blennerhassett Island.  The Burr trial was the biggest trial in American history at that time and drew approximately 5,000 spectators doubling the population.  Boarding houses, private homes, and the few hotels all filled to overflow and many resorted to camping in tent cities along the James River.

This miniature profile portrait by the French émigré artist St. Memin captures an accurate likeness of John Wickham, who in 1812 developed his town lots in Court End with the construction of a neoclassical home that would eventually become the Valentine Museum.

Tall-Case Clock, circa 1810, William McCabe, 1810, From the collection of: The Valentine
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16. Tall-Case Clock

This early 19th century-style Georgian tall-case clock is inscribed “William McCabe, Richmond.”  William McCabe is believed to have been active as a clockmaker and retailer of New England clocks and timepieces around 1790-1820.  The emerging city of Richmond was a vital center of production and industry as well as commerce for all manner of goods and services in the early 1800s.  Richmond products were nationally and globally exported as part of a large and lucrative trade network. 

A tall-case clock, also known as a long-case or “grandfather” clock, is a free-standing, weight-driven pendulum clock with the pendulum held inside the tower, or waist, of the case.  William Clement of Great Britain is credited with inventing the form around 1670.

"The Noble James: Past-Present-Future" exhibition Black and White Photo Print, Bobby Jones, photographer, 1968, From the collection of: The Valentine
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17. The Noble James Photograph

The first regular steamboat service on the James River serving the city of Richmond began around 1815.  A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. Steamboat traffic, including passenger and freight business, grew exponentially in the decades before the American Civil War. So too did the economic and human losses inflicted by shoals, boiler explosions, and human error.

In the late 1960’s, the Valentine Museum mounted an exhibition that discussed the role of steamboats in the city’s history.  Called “The Noble James:  Past-Present-Future,” this exhibition is captured in a series of black and white press photographs, one of which is feature here.

"Richmond City Hall" Diorama, Artist Unidentified, Federal Arts Project, 1934, From the collection of: The Valentine
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18. Richmond City Hall Diorama

How many city halls has Richmond had? Before “Old City Hall” was old, it was new and replaced a classical structure completed in the same location in 1818 and demolished in 1874.  This diorama created by Valentine Museum staff during the 1930s shows the first city hall facing Capital Square between 10th and 11th streets.

Prior to the completion of the 1818 structure, city business was conducted in rented quarters or in a meeting room in the downtown market building.  Begun by noted architect Robert Mills (1781-1855) in 1816, construction of the first city hall was suspended by the Common Council, and Maximilian Godefroy (1765–circa 1838) was contracted to take over the project and “correct the errors.”  

Following the collapse of a courtroom floor in the state capitol in 1870, Richmond officials feared the stability of the city’s public buildings. On February 20th 1874 city council ordered the demolition of the city hall, although it was later found to have been in sound condition.

Bench, Tredegar Iron Works, 1910, From the collection of: The Valentine
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19. Tredegar Iron Works Bench

Edward Wilson Cooper, the paymaster of Tredegar Iron Works, commissioned this bench from the Richmond foundry following the death of young John Butler Cooper.  The bench was a gift for his grieving wife so that she would have somewhere to sit when visiting their son’s grave.  The bench remained in their family plot at Riverview Cemetery until their daughter Kathleen Cooper Hill donated the piece to the Valentine Museum to ensure its preservation.

The bench was cast by the ironworkers at Tredegar in late 1909 or early 1910 and is representative of the type of ornamental ironwork produced and exported from the city by ship and by rail.  Opened in 1837, Tredegar was ranked the third largest iron manufacturer in the United States by the outbreak of the American Civil War.  The company continued to prosper through the mid-20th century, which is attested to by the prevalence of decorative architectural ironwork through out the city.

“Charles Dickens In Richmond”, 1842, From the collection of: The Valentine
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20. Charles Dickens Travel Map

English author Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was one of the most celebrated writers of the 19th century.  His works were originally published in a weekly serial format, which created an avid following throughout the English-speaking world and beyond.

This Harper’s Weekly illustration enhanced by hand in pencil to illustrate the stage and railroad lines of Dickens’s 1842 journey from Aquia, north of Fredericksburg, into the city of Richmond.   From his notes and from the letters he sent to friends and family, Charles Dickens wrote American Notes. This travelogue offended his Richmond followers due to his outspoken criticism of the institution of slavery and the use of tobacco in the America.

Plate, 1938, From the collection of: The Valentine
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21. Medical College of Virginia Commemorative Plate

One of the enduring landmark buildings in the city, the Medical College of Virginia’s Egyptian Building was constructed in 1838.  Less than a year before on December 1, 1837, the president and trustees of Hampden-Sydney College created a medical department to be located at Richmond.  

The college opened on November 5, 1838 in the Union Hotel located at 19th and Main streets.  There were 46 students, all men, enrolled in the first class, and they paid $20 to the professors for each of the six courses.  In 1854 the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College received an independent charter from the General Assembly and became the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). 

This English ceramic transferware plate manufactured by the Wedgwood factory in Staffordshire, England, was based on an original sketch by Dugald Stewart Walker (1883-1937), a native of Richmond who achieved fame as an illustrator in the early 20th century.

“Ordinances of the Corporation of the City of Richmond", John Warrock, printer, 1831, From the collection of: The Valentine
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22. City of Richmond Ordinances Book

Inscribed by hand “Mann S. Valentine / March 10th 1831” and belonging to the personal gentleman’s library of the Valentine Museum founder’s father, this book contains the Acts of the Assembly relating to the city of Richmond from 1742 to 1829.  The expense of bound books in the antebellum period led to the founding of circulating private and then public libraries in 18th and 19th century America.  

The Library Society of Richmond was chartered in 1806 and is among the earliest of such institutions in the United States.  Prior to such public-minded institutions, access to books and periodicals was limited to the wealthy.  Richmonders ordered books and subscribed to periodical publications, often sharing them among friends – hence inscriptions of ownership like Mann Valentine’s.

Despite war, destruction of the city, Reconstruction, and generations of poverty, the Richmond library system survived and continues the aims of the founders.  With the changing age what is the future of the books in the 21st century?

Martha Crane Heath and Jennie Wilson Heath, Unidentified Artist, 1850, From the collection of: The Valentine
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23. Martha Crane Heath & Jennie Wilson Heath Portrait

Martha Crane Heath and Jennie Wilson Heath of Newark, New Jersey, are depicted in their double portrait in an Arcadian landscape.  The elder child, in pink, married Samuel Horace Hawes, a coal dealer and spent the remainder of her days as a Richmond matron.

Arcadia is a mountainous region in Greece. Due to its inaccessibility, Arcadia was isolated in the ancient classical period, and its people lived a pastoral life. Western European Classicism in the 17th century revived this love of nature and the simple life, which continued to be celebrated in mid 19th century America where young cities like Richmond were viewed as “a new Arcadia.”

“Aunt Betsy”, Francis Blackwell Mayer, 1857, From the collection of: The Valentine
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24. Aunt Betsy Portrait

An enslaved woman known as “Aunt Betsy” served as nursemaid for four of Williams Carter Wickham’s children at his plantation, “Hickory Hill,” Hanover County, Virginia. Francis Blackwell Mayer, a Maryland artist and family friend, painted this portrait of Betsy as a gift to the two eldest children.

Frank Mayer was a noted American genre painter primarily known for his watercolors and oil paintings.  His personal relationship with the Wickham family resulted in a very personal depiction of one of the Wickham enslaved servants.

Posed portraits of enslaved African Americans were rare during the antebellum period. Surviving Wickham family papers indicate that “Aunt Betsy” died in the autumn of 1865 as a free woman.  Very little is known of her life and what her opinion was of her portrait.

Flogger, 1855, From the collection of: The Valentine
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25. Flogger

What is this?  Found in an antebellum Richmond commercial building, this flogger is a reminder of one of the harsher chapters in the city’s history. 

As a shipping port and an expanding railroad city, Richmond was an active participant in the slave trade.  The movement of enslaved Africans being sold or hired out created opportunities for escape as well as fear in the Americans began to question the legal and moral ramifications of slavery in the United States. 

This leather flogger or paddle was used as an object of intimidation and correction in the 1853 warehouse of the Turpin and Yarborough Tobacco Company, located at 2411 E. Franklin Street.  A surviving document indicates that the company purchased 71 enslaved persons between the years 1851 and 1860.

Sword, Unmarked, 1861, From the collection of: The Valentine
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26. Confederate Sword

What type of military sword is this?  The weapon appears to be a small light-weight version of the United States Army Model 1850 Foot Officer’s Sword. 

Many Richmonders readily re-embraced the city’s Confederate history during the American Civil War centennial commemorations of the 1960’s, which may have been a deciding factor in the donation of this well-preserved example of militaria. The sword illustrates how many of the Confederate officers had previously served in the United States military and adapted their training to their new government.  The name and the fate of the foot officer who carried this sword during the early 1860’s are unknown to us today.

Abraham Lincoln Bust, Jo Davidson, 1943, From the collection of: The Valentine
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27. Abraham Lincoln Bust

United States president Abraham Lincoln entered American iconography with his assassination in the spring of 1865.  National celebrations in 1905 marked the slain president’s death as well as the 50th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War.  

This mid-20th century portrait bust, taken as a study from a larger work completed in marble or bronze, is one artist’s conception of the man and the icon based on life portraits of Lincoln.

For many years after the defeat of the Confederacy, Richmonders were loathed to portray Abraham Lincoln in their public spaces or their homes, though this began to change for a few with the passing of the war generation and a new national patriotism in the late 1890’s and into the early decades of the 20th century.  By 2012, the city was in a frenzy of excitement over the local filming of the major motion picture Lincoln.

Mourning Dress Mourning Dress, 1863, From the collection of: The Valentine
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28. Mourning Gown

Beginning in the spring of 1861, Richmond, like many other communities learned first hand the price of war. The outbreak of fighting in early American Civil War conflicts like the artillery bombardment of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Philippi and the First Battle of Bull Run (or First Manassas) saw the first casualties.  Richmonders buried their dead, and the survivors went into mourning dress. Some never returned to wearing anything but black. 

Mrs. Benjamin Rose and her family moved from Richmond to the safety of Orange, Virginia, for the duration of the Civil War. Among the surviving Civil War era clothing in the Rose donation, this black silk gown indicates that Mrs. Rose assumed mourning in memory of a death in 1863.  Following the surrender of the Confederacy, the Roses, like many other families, returned to Richmond and began the process of rebuilding their lives.

"The Richmond Calamity", 1870, From the collection of: The Valentine
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29. Richmond Calamity Print

For Richmond, a city still demoralized and physically scarred by the American Civil War, 1870 became known as the “Year of Disasters.” In addition to several deadly fires, a drought, a record flood and the death of General Robert E. Lee, one of the saddest events was the collapse of a courtroom floor in the Virginia State Capitol building on Wednesday, April 27th.  More than 50 individuals were killed instantly, and more than 100 people were wounded, some eventually dying from their injuries.

This Harper’s Weekly illustration is after an original sketch by   Richmond artist William L. Sheppard (1833-1912).  Sheppard was a popular artist of his day and is now best remembered for his oil portraits of prominent citizens.  He, along with John Adams Elder, William James Hubard, and the Valentine brothers, Edward and Mann, were all part of an artistic community that thrived in nineteenth century in Richmond.

On the day following the disaster, many of the dead were buried, and the day was devoted by the city to mourning and prayer.

“Views of Richmond & Vicinity", Anderson Gallery, photographer, 1870, From the collection of: The Valentine
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30. Old City Hall Stereograph

Have you ever seen a stereograph?  Stereographs or stereoscopic views are cards with a pair of photographs which give a 3-dimensional image when looked at through a viewer. These were popularly mass produced enjoying their greatest popularity from 1870-1920.  This card records the ruins of City Hall prior to the clearing of the site for a new building. 

George S. Cook (1819-1902), born in Stratford, Connecticut, settled in South Carolina, where he became one of the foremost Confederate photographers recording the devastation of Fort Sumter and the city of Charleston. In 1880 he relocated to Richmond and set up a studio.

In addition to his active studio, Cook bought the negatives and businesses of other Richmond photographers which he added to his inventory of marketable images.  The Anderson Gallery was located at 913 Main Street, Richmond.

“Old Chief Smokum,” a late 19th century cigar store advertising figure was displayed in a downtown Richmond tobacconist shop. The American-made “Cigar-Store Indian” figures rarely resembled any particular American Indian but were merely designed to capture the attention of potential tobacco customers in an age when the average cigar smoker couldn't read the words “Tobacconist Shop.”

Tobacco was one of the gifts from the native people to the first European colonists in the New World.  Taken back to the courts of Europe, the habit of “drinking tobacco,” as smoking was then called, quickly spread.  King James I of England was so disgusted by the rise of smoking in his domains that he published a treatise condemning it in 1604.

The importance of tobacco to Richmond’s economic well-being rebounded after the American Civil War, creating factory jobs for many of the former enslaved workers.  “Old Chief Smokum” was a gift to the donor from the president of the Congress Tobacco Company of Chicago.

"Address to the People of Richmond", Broadside, 1889, From the collection of: The Valentine
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32. Readjusters Broadside

In the late 1870s the politics of Virginia was sharply divided over the issue of the state’s pre Civil War debt.  Out of this fracas political environment rose the Readjuster Party – a biracial coalition formed in the post Reconstruction period.

The party was led by Harrison Riddleberger, an attorney from the Valley of Virginia, and by former Confederate General William Mahone.  This broadside is an open letter to the people of Richmond signed by four politicians attempting to encourage support for the Readjuster Party platform.

The Readjusters lost effective control of state government in 1883 when they lost majority control in the state legislature.  The election of Fitzhugh Lee in 1885 led to the collapse of the party and ushered in the era of “Jim Crow” – the racial laws, customs, and etiquette that arose following the end of Reconstruction and that stayed in effect until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Hand Fan, 1985, From the collection of: The Valentine
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33. Maggie Walker Historic Site Fan

The child of an African-American servant and a Confederate soldier, Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) overcame racial and gender barriers in Richmond, Virginia, during the Jim Crow era (1876-1965).

Mrs. Walker’s charismatic leadership within Richmond’s black business community and her dedication to such national advocacy groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) and the Urban League secured her legacy as one of America’s civil rights pioneers. As Right Worthy Grand Secretary Treasurer of the Independent Order of Saint Luke (IOSL), Walker assisted in chartering a bank and establishing a newspaper and a general mercantile store in the first decade of the 20th century.

This fixed fan commemorates the grand opening of the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site as a museum in 1985.

Vase Vase, Glasfabrik Johann Loetz Witwe, Austria, 1902, From the collection of: The Valentine
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34. Loetz Vase

The glass factory, originally founded in 1836 by Johann Baptist Eisner, was taken over by Susanna Loetz who re-named the company “Glasfabrik Johann Loetz Witwe”.  In the early 20th century Loetz reached the pinnacle of its artistic skills. There was great response to its highly sophisticated glass and it was exported world-wide. Loetz was awarded the Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris World Exhibition.

This example of Loetz glass was a gift to Miss Mary Alice Larcombe of Richmond at the time of her marriage to Blair Burwell Stringfellow in 1902.  In the Art Nouveau style, this piece illustrates the global influence of this European art movement as it reached Richmond in the opening years of the 20th century.

Suffrage Bandolier Suffrage Bandolier, 1913, From the collection of: The Valentine
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35. Lila Meade Valentine Suffrage Bandolier

Lila Meade was born in Richmond on February 4, 1865, the daughter of Richard Hardaway Meade and Kate Fontaine Meade. At the age of twenty-one, she married Benjamin Batchelder Valentine, a prosperous businessman who supported his wife’s reform efforts in the areas of healthcare, education, race relations and women’s rights.  Mrs. Valentine lived to see women’s suffrage amended to the United States Constitution in 1920.

A bandolier is a pocketed belt issued to soldiers for holding ammunition and is worn slung across the chest. Mrs. Valentine wore this bandolier in support of women’s suffrage. No doubt it was meant to invoke a militant stance on the eve of the First World War.  White, gray and purple were the suffrage movement’s colors.

John Murchie, John Durand, 1780, From the collection of: The Valentine
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36. John Murchie Portrait

Manchester, originally called Manastoh and then Rocky Ridge, is located on the south bank of the James River. Manchester was incorporated as a town in 1769 and a city in 1874. It had an active port that shipped out tobacco, coal, and enslaved persons. Manchester was also a milling and manufacturing community and railway hub.  By 1870, Manchester was politically important as the county seat of Chesterfield County but it failed to grow. In 1910 Manchester consolidated with the city of Richmond.

One of the founding fathers of Manchester was John Murchie (1750-1831), a native of Scotland who immigrated to Virginia in 1768, the year he won Manchester lots in William Byrd III’s lottery.  He was one of the four trustees of the town of Rocky Ridge and a trustee of the Manchester Academy formed in 1807.

Victor-Victrola, Victor Talking Machine Company, 1917, From the collection of: The Valentine
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37. Victor-Victrola

“His Master’s Voice?” was a popular advertising campaign for phonographs in early 20th century America and was known in Richmond.  Manufactured in Camden, New Jersey, this example of a floor model Victor-Victrola was one of the most popular, affordable phonograph players available to middle class Americans at the time of the First World War.

The foundation of the Victor Talking Machine Company (VTMC) dates back to the late 1880’s when Emile Berliner invented the mass-producible flat phonograph record.  This technology led to the founding of VTMC in 1901 by Eldridge Johnson in Camden with a world-wide product distribution. 

The rise of an American middle class during the early 20th century made affordable, at-home entertainment desirable.  The “Ragtime” music craze, begun by African American communities in cities like Richmond, caught the attention of Caucasian audiences. By the 1900’s Richmonders could purchase recordings from popular artists like Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin to play at home.

Radio, Gribsby Grunlow Company, 1930, From the collection of: The Valentine
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38. Cabinet Radio

At 9 pm on November 2, 1925, WRVA sent out its first radio broadcast to the city of Richmond and beyond.  Owned by tobacco manufacturer Larus & Brother Company, WRVA initially operated as a community service without advertising revenue and was limited to two evening broadcasts a week.  WVRA, the “Voice of Virginia,” has grown over the past nine decades and continues to be a presence in the city.

With a stylish “Jacobean Revival” cabinet, Model 92 was a popular radio receiver manufactured by the Gribsby Grunlow Company of Chicago, Illinois, selling for $167.50.  The rail system made the transportation of goods from Midwestern factories to Richmond economically viable, and the public interest in radio programming for entertainment and news began to supplant newspapers and other media in the “Radio Age” of the 1930’s.

“Martha in the Atelier Courtyard”, Adele Goodman Clark, 1931, From the collection of: The Valentine
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39. Martha Denham Portrait

Adele Goodman Clark was an American artist and suffragist.  Born in Montgomery, Alabama, her family settled in Richmond in 1894.  Clark attended the Miss Virginia Randolph Ellett School (now St. Catherine’s) before going to New York on a scholarship in 1906 to study under William Merritt Chase.

In 1909, Clark’s activist career began when she banded together with her partner Nora Houston to establish the Equal Suffrage League of Virginia.  Adele Clark also put her campaign for equal rights into her artistic work, saying, “I’ve always tried to combine my interest in art with my interest in government.”

Martha Denham was Clark’s secretary.  This work was painted in the garden of the artist’s home, called “The Brattery,” at 3614 Chamberlayne Avenue in 1931.

Shirley Temple, Ideal Doll and Toy Company, 1935, From the collection of: The Valentine
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40. Shirley Temple Doll

Shirley Temple (born April 23, 1928) began her film career at the age of three, and in 1934, found international fame in Bright Eyes, a feature film designed specifically for her dancing and singing talents. She received a special Juvenile Academy Award in February 1935.  Assisting her on her path to international stardom was Richmond performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949).

Robinson was born in Richmond, Virginia, and began dancing for a living at five years of age, with his early career devoted to the African-American theatre circuit.  It was not until he was 50 that he danced for white audiences, eventually appearing on Broadway.

Temple was the top box-office draw four years in a row (1935–38) in a Motion Picture Herald poll, and her image was strictly licensed and controlled by her parents and film studio. This Ideal doll was the official endorsed version though there were dozens of “look-alikes”.  Her successful partnership with Bill Robinson in such films as The Little Colonel (1935) advanced both of their film careers while also breaking racial barriers – Robinson was the first African-American male to appear on film dancing with a Caucasian girl.

Television Set, Philco, 1950, From the collection of: The Valentine
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41. Philco Television

On April 22, 1948 WTVR-TV, the south’s first television station, signed on the air.  Located on West Broad Street in Richmond, the station’s broadcasting tower, sitting at 1,049 feet above sea level, soon became a local landmark.  In 1990, the original building was greatly expanded and modernized with larger news rooms, studio, and technology upgrades.

Philco, the Philadelphia Storage Battery Company, was a pioneer in early battery, radio, and television production as well as a former employer of Philo Farnsworth, inventor of the cathode ray tube television. Philco began marketing televisions in 1947 with its first consumer television set, the 1948 table Model 48-1000. This set had a 10 inch screen and sold for $395.

“Welcome to Richmond”, Service Mens' OCD Information Centers, 1940, From the collection of: The Valentine
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42. Welcome to Richmond Poster

What first inspired you to travel? Was it a travel poster viewed in a bus, train, or airport terminal? In a day and age where we can affordably jet around the globe, the romanticism of automobile travel has fallen by the wayside for most American families, but for the post World War II generation, family vacations by car were the norm.

Mid-20th century advances in color printing technology made inexpensive advertising posters such as “Welcome to Richmond” a readily available marketing tool and source of inspiration for an expanding middle class. World War II veterans took to the roads with their families in the 1950’s to seek out American landmarks and stories. Richmond’s relationship to the founding fathers, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War brought tourists from all over the country to the “cradle of our nation.”

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43. Richmond Tourism Film

Filmed by lead cameraman Jack McGowan in and around Richmond, Virginia in the mid 1950’s, this travelogue film celebrates post World War II America’s love of the automobile and the new mobility of the interstate highway system. 

Hollywood Television Productions, large scale producers of films for television, created this guided tour of Richmond, scored with such classic southern tunes as “Dixie” and “Swanee.” It takes the viewer to some of the city’s most interesting places – including the Valentine Museum – while making a plug for the upcoming 1957 Jamestown 350th anniversary celebration.

Eleanor Parker Sheppard, Frank S. Rowley, Jr., 1964, From the collection of: The Valentine
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44. Eleanor Parker Sheppard Portrait

Eleanor Parker Sheppard (1907-1991) may have been born in Pelham, Georgia, but her notable achievements happened in Richmond politics.  Voted the first woman mayor of an incorporated city in Virginia, she served from 1962 to 1964.

After moving to Richmond in 1936, Eleanor Sheppard began her political activities as a member of the Ginter Park Parent Teacher Association, in time becoming president of the Richmond Federation of PTA’s.  She was elected to Richmond City Council in 1954 and served until 1968, when she left to run for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. 

Following the collapse of the Equal Rights Amendment, the acronym “ERA” came to mean “Eleanor is Running Again!” for a generation of Richmond voters.

Pantsuit, Kimberly (manufacturer), 1971, From the collection of: The Valentine
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45. Betty Bunnell Bauder Pantsuit

Richmond native Elizabeth Bunnell Bauder (1929-2012) spent 40 years of her working life with Thalhimers department stores and retired as the top-ranking female executive in 1990.  Among her many firsts, she “broke the glass ceiling” by becoming a vice president in 1971.  At that time she also challenged the male-dominated executive mindset of the traditional southern business by wearing this trouser suit or pantsuit to the office, striking a blow for equal rights in the work place. 

The history of the pantsuit can be traced back in American fashion history to the feminist uniform of the mid 19th century developed and sported by Amelia Bloomer.  During the 1920’s fashion designers began to embrace trouser suits for women, but they were not viewed as appropriate for the average American women until the social revolutions of the late 1960’s.

Ella Gordon Valentine Miniature Collection Ella Gordon Valentine Miniature Collection, Cabinet: David M. Tyler, 1985, From the collection of: The Valentine
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46. Ella Gordon Valentine Miniatures Cabinet

Ella Gordon Valentine (1933-1988) was a devoted collector of miniatures – a hobby which grew in popularity in the 1970’s as part of the larger trend of everyday Richmonders collecting. Today, Mrs. Valentine’s 9-room cabinet and contents of scale miniatures, a number of them very likely purchased from Richmond area stores, serves as both a masterfully crafted achievement of the enthusiast’s passion and a peek into late 20th-century collecting trends in our region.

Created on a scale of one inch to one foot, Valentine’s cabinet was inspired by those created in the Georgian period for adults. Containing several hundred small-scale components, this miniature masterpiece is comprised of furnishings that she purchased, engineered, or received as gifts.  The home depicts a distinctly traditional and upper class life through a playful and detail-oriented eye of a late 20th century collector.

Morning Suit, After Six (manufacturer), 1985, From the collection of: The Valentine
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47. L. Douglas Wilder Inaugural Suit

The grandson of enslaved African Americans, L. Douglas Wilder (born January 17, 1931) achieved many firsts during his political career.  A graduate of Virginia Union University and Howard University Law School, Wilder became the first African American since post Civil War Reconstruction to be elected to the Senate of Virginia, the first elected African-American Lieutenant Governor, and in 1990 he became the first elected African-American Governor in United States History.

Governor Wilder wore this morning suit and hat for his inaugurations as Lieutenant Governor and Governor on January 11, 1986 and January 13, 1990, respectively.

La Siesta Sign, 1982, From the collection of: The Valentine
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48. La Siesta Sign

The “Siesta Man” was created in 1982 as part of the signage for La Siesta, Richmond’s first Mexican restaurant. The Spanish word siesta means a midday break and a time where families would gather together for a meal then relax at home before returning to work. 

Richmond’s Zajur family operated multiple La Siesta locations until 2009. Beginning with their earliest businesses, the family actively promoted Latin cultural awareness. For many Richmonders, going to La Siesta was an education as well as an authentic Mexican meal.  The Zajurs continue their outreach to this day and are active supporters of Latino cultural awareness and issues in the greater Richmond community.

Qipao or Cheongsam, 1970, From the collection of: The Valentine
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49. Qi Pao Gown

Qipao or Cheongsam is a formal type of Chinese gown from China’s Manchu Nationality.  The centuries old history of this dress form is legend, and as such may not be true.  What is known is that this type of dress became popular among female members of the Chinese royal family during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

This example made in Hong Kong from dark green velvet with decorative embellishment along the neck opening was brought to Richmond in the late 20th century and was worn by Ms. Julie Laghi of Singapore. Ms. Laghi is a member of The Asian American Society of Central Virginia, which was founded in 1998 to promote awareness and recognition of Asian heritage.

Rainbow Pride Flag Rainbow Pride Flag, 2010, From the collection of: The Valentine
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50. Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Pride Flag

The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond flew this rainbow flag at the request of a group of its employees to recognize gay pride month in June 2011.  One day later the bank’s president received a letter from a Virginia politician and opponent of gay rights chastising the institution.  Gay rights advocates responded quickly and the bank briefly became the center of a national media frenzy.  In many ways this controversy reflects the changing demographics and values of the city and of the commonwealth.

The use of the rainbow flag as a symbol of diversity, inclusiveness, and hope has a long history and is based in the biblical promise of the rainbow.  In 1978 Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco, California artist, created the first 8-striped version of the flag in response to a local activist’s call for the need for a community symbol.  Based on the 5-stripe “Flag of the Race,” Baker dyed and sewed the fabric for the 1978 flag himself.

From John Smith’s Map of Virginia to the Federal Reserve pride flag, A History of Richmond in 50 Objects examines how objects contain layers of meaning that are both personal and public. Hopefully, we have a greater sense of the power of objects to connect us to others across time and individual experience.

Each object shares an individual story depending on the history of each individual viewer.  What do you see about yourself or your community in the exhibition?  Do you feel included or excluded and why?  The immediacy of things helps us each relate to one another and is among the reasons why we pass things down and donate to museums – objects evoke memory.

Understandably, the selection of different objects from our museum’s holdings or from the greater world beyond the walls of this building would have yielded very different stories and left us taking away a somewhat different view of Richmond, Virginia’s past.  The possibilities are infinite.

Credits: Story

Sponsored by—The Lipman Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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