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New Jersey State Museum
2014-12-20 15 17 48 New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, New Jersey.JPG
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Established 1895
Location Trenton, New Jersey
Type State museum of New Jersey
Collection size 2+ million specimens

The New Jersey State Museum is located at 205 West State Street in Trenton, New Jersey, overlooking the Delaware River, and serves a broad region between New York and Philadelphia. The museum's collections include natural history specimens, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, and cultural history and fine art objects, and exhibitions, educational programs and research provide context for the collections. The museum, a division of the New Jersey Department of State, includes a 140-seat planetarium and a 384-seat auditorium.


The New Jersey State Museum was the first state museum in the country established with education as a primary focus of its mission. The New Jersey Legislature formally established the museum by law in 1895, and the museum was housed in the New Jersey State House; the museum received initial accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 1974 and has maintained accredited status continuously since that time.

As put forth in the mission statement: As a center of cultural, educational, and scientific engagement, the New Jersey State Museum inspires innovation and lifelong learning through collections, research, exhibitions and programs in science, history and art. The New Jersey State Museum engages visitors of all ages and diverse backgrounds in an exploration of New Jersey’s cultural and natural history presented within a global context, fosters state pride, and serves as a cultivator of tomorrow’s leaders.

In its beginning, like many museums of its era, the museum focused on natural history. The first major collections were of rocks, minerals and fossils from the New Jersey Geological Survey, which began in 1836. In 1912, the museum expanded its focus to include archaeology through an acquisition of artifacts produced by Native Americans in the region. These artifacts dated from the prehistoric and historic periods as well as from New Jersey's diverse populations during the Colonial and post-colonial eras. In 1922, the museum was one of the first on the east coast to exhibit, as art, a collection of North American Indian objects. With the acquisition of these objects, the museum started its ethnographic collections. In 1924, decorative arts were added to the museum with examples from the Trenton-area ceramics industry. In 1929, the museum moved into larger space in the newly constructed State House Annex. And while fine art had been exhibited and acquired through the mid-20th century, the museum began a strong collecting emphasis on paintings, sculpture and works on paper in the early 1960s.

In 1964, the museum moved from the State House Annex into facilities created specifically for it within the newly created Capitol Cultural Complex. The museum's Main Building, now a classic example of mid-century modern architecture, consists of four floors of exhibition, program, research and collection space, a 140-seat Planetarium and public spaces including a Gift Shop. A second building holds a 384-seat Auditorium, as well as gallery spaces.

Bureau of Archaeology/Ethnography

The Bureau of Archaeology/Ethnography collections encompass approximately 2.4 million prehistoric and historic specimens acquired by nearly 100 years of excavation, as well as almost 4,000 ethnographic objects acquired as gifts to the museum. Scholars widely recognize the museum's archaeology specimens as the definitive systematic research collection for the study of the prehistory of New Jersey. Notably, the archaeological collection includes material excavated from the nearby Abbott Farm National Historic Landmark Site. The museum's archaeology collections are respected as one of the most important collections for the regional study of northeastern North America, and provide data on the entire span of human occupation in New Jersey from prehistoric times to the 20th century.

The ethnographic collection consists of specimens that represent the Lenape and other North American Indian groups, and also include a small number of West African specimens collected to interpret the heritage of New Jersey's African-American population. Additionally, the collection also consists of a small grouping of Asian objects collected by New Jersey donors while they were on business or pleasure trips during the late 19th century through the 1950s. In a move toward reinterpreting the African and Asian works, these objects are now being presented as examples of cultural objects from people who have moved to New Jersey from around the globe.

"New Jersey's Original People," "Cultures in Competition" and "A Much Moved People" are on view on the lower level.

Bureau of Cultural History

The Bureau of Cultural History preserves and interprets historical objects that document the lives of people who have lived in New Jersey from the 17th century to the present. The collection includes over 13,000 artifacts documenting New Jersey's cultural, economic, military, political, and social history, as well as aspects of its decorative arts. Ranging from ceramics produced by Trenton potteries to decorative quilts made and used by New Jersey women to utilitarian artifacts reflecting the rich maritime and agricultural heritage of the Garden State, the Cultural History Collection is one of the largest material culture collections dealing with New Jersey history. Textiles, trade tools, furniture, and an array of artifacts documenting craft, work, play, community, and family life are also represented in the collection. The Cultural History Bureau also oversees the preservation and interpretation of the New Jersey State Capitol's collection of military flags used by New Jersey regiments in the Civil War and World War I.

"Pretty Big Things: Stories of New Jersey History" is on view on the third floor.

Bureau of Fine Art

The State Museum has collected over 12,000 works of art including paintings, prints, drawings, sculpture and photographs, most acquired since 1965 when the museum's mission was expanded to include fine art.

The collection has an American focus that highlights the work of New Jersey artists within the context of American art history. Also included are works that depict New Jersey scenes and events. The strengths of the Fine Art collection lie in works by the American modernists associated with Alfred Stieglitz, American abstract artists of the 1930s and 1940s, a comprehensive collection of works by 19th through 21st-century African-American artists, contemporary American and New Jersey art, the complete graphic outputs of Ben Shahn and Jacob Landau and print and paper works by the New Jersey Fellows associated with the Brodsky Center.

American Perspectives: The Fine Art Collection is on view on the second floor.

Bureau of Natural History

The Bureau of Natural History holds a diverse collection of about 250,000 specimens which have historic and cultural significance, in addition to their scientific value. The natural history collections are especially strong in industrial minerals and ores, paleontology specimens (fossils), osteology specimens (bones), modern shells, and a systematic study skin component. Smaller sub-collections include pinned insects, fluid-preserved fauna, taxidermy mounts and glass lantern slides. The bureau is also the repository for about 300 type (first documented) specimens of Paleozoic and Mesozoic fossils, as well as a large number of fossils documenting the Paleozoic strata within the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Minerals from the zinc-mining locality of Franklin-Sterling Hill are well represented, including the largest number of fluorescent mineral species in the world, as are mine-specific specimens from New Jersey's industrial iron mining past. Specimens from beyond New Jersey are used for comparative purposes in exhibitions and educational programming, to augment the systematic collections, and for research purposes.

"Written in the Rocks: Fossil Tales of New Jersey" is on view on the 2nd floor.

Bureau of Education

The museum's Bureau of Education offers programs and events designed to offer activities that not only engage our audiences but help to instill a desire for lifelong object-based learning. School groups can attend museum-based classes, hands-on workshops, exhibition tours, planetarium programs, as well as access classroom resources such as curriculum guides. Teacher professional development workshops offer opportunities for classroom teachers to gain additional knowledge and skills which they may employ back in their own classrooms. General audiences can participate in a variety of performances, lectures, gallery walks, demonstrations, film series, scout programs and more.


Since its opening in 1964, the State Museum's planetarium has been a large part of the museum's public programming, incorporating both educational programs and a variety of entertainment features, such as traditional sky shows and laser shows. The museum's planetarium is equipped with “Full Dome” video technology, and also includes a digital video hemisphere as part of the planetarium lobby exhibitions. The 140-seat planetarium also features a Minolta MS-10 instrument for sky shows and visual displays of the solar system. Exhibits include displays of constellations, solar system models and space exploration. The planetarium presents public shows on weekends, during school vacation periods (spring and winter), and during the summer. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. During the school year, weekday planetarium programs are offered to school and community groups by reservation only.

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