About the Collections

The Nantucket Historical Association collects personal and family papers – diaries, letters, and other personal records – along with institutional and organizational records, artifacts, artworks, textiles, moving images and sound recordings, and books on Nantucket history. The NHA collects materials from all time periods and is particularly interested in acquiring artifacts, manuscript collections, and business and organizational records of the twentieth century.

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Read the NHA’s Collections Policy

Artifact Collections

Engraved Jawpan of Whale
The anonymous scrimshaw artist known as the “Panbone Engraver” carved this outstanding panorama using the entire “pan” section at the rear of the sperm whale’s jawbone. The scene includes an exquisitely detailed view of cutting-in, several whaleboats engaged in the hunt, one of which has been smashed apart by a whale with the crew sent flying into the air. ca. 1830 (1956.0003.001)

The Nantucket Historical Association’s artifact collections consist of material culture made or used by Nantucketers from throughout the island’s history. The association specifically collects objects that document the island’s cultural, social, political, religious, economic, architectural, and artistic development and that represent specific individuals, families, or groups and their stories. The NHA’s collection strengths include whaling tools and gear, clothing and textiles, lighting, domestic items, fine and decorative arts, South Seas ethnography, and Nantucket archaeology.

The Nantucket Historical Association’s artifact collections are housed in the Bartholomew Gosnold Collections Storage Center. Researchers can access these materials by contacting the curatorial staff to make an appointment

Archival Collections

Old Mill from West Dover Street
West Dover Street. Mrs. Folger in the cart used for Folger’s White Rose Oil, with the Old Mill in the background. Henry S. Wyer, ca. 1897. Glass-plate negative. (GPN3186)

The Nantucket Historical Association Research Library is primarily a repository for manuscript and photographic collections. More than 550 manuscript collections include individual and family papers along with business and community organization records, and document Nantucket history from 1659 to the present. A particular strength are the materials representing the island’s whaling industry during the first half of the nineteenth century, including logbooks, journals, and account books documenting whaling voyages.

The Research Library maintains the most extensive visual record of Nantucket history. Its photographic collections date from the 1840s to the present and span the development of photographic technology. The bulk of the collections contain portraits of individuals and groups along with images capturing the changing Nantucket landscape.

The NHA also collects oral histories documenting various aspects of twentieth and twenty-first century life on Nantucket. Oral history is a form of research based on the personal interview, and more than 500 oral histories are available to the public whether through online streaming or in the Research Library’s reading room. Many interviews are accompanied by supplemental materials such as full transcripts, indexes of content, or photographs.

The Nantucket Historical Association Research Library holds the permanent corporate records of the NHA, including correspondence, publications, business papers, and other documents relevant to the association’s history and development.

Library Collections

The First Nantucket Tea Party
The First Nantucket Tea Party by Ruth Starbuck Wentworth, decorated and illustrated by Walter Tittle, 1907. (NAN FIC 813 W48f 1907)

The Research Library maintains both a reference and a rare book collection focused on the subject of Nantucket and dating from the 1600s. These include works of general history, reference, and fiction that illuminate the activities, occupations, and culture of the island community as well as titles written by Nantucketers. In addition to the history of Nantucket, the reference collection also documents whales and whaling; exploration and travel; ships and navigation; maritime history; the Society of Friends (Quakers); genealogy; lighthouses and lightships; archaeology and architecture; natural history; decorative arts; and chanteys and sea stories.

The Research Library also has an extensive collection of maps, charts, and plats detailing Nantucket or areas in which Nantucketers settled or traveled. It also collects research papers, architectural reports, periodicals, broadsides, prints, posters, and genealogical charts that document or describe Nantucket’s history.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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