Collections at Gadsby's Tavern Museum

The Collection of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is wide and varied. From ceramics to furniture, each object tells the story of the evolution of hospitality in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Photographic Collection documents the tavern’s 20th century journey from run-down buildings to world-class museum.

Page updated on Aug 27, 2020 at 2:15 PM

About the Collections

The Collection of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is wide and varied.  From ceramics to furniture, each object tells the story of the evolution of hospitality in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Showcasing the 20th century, the Photographic Collection documents the journey from run-down buildings to world-class museum.  

Collections Online

John Gadsby's Silver CollectionHistoric Alexandria Collections Online makes collections more accessible to researchers and the general public and protects fragile objects and documents from excessive handling. John Gadsby's Silver is among the first collections to go online.

John Gadsby’s Silver
Englishman John Gadsby was a famed tavern keeper and hotelier in Alexandria, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. from 1796 to 1836. He retired to what is now known as the Decatur House, located near the White House. Gadsby’s Tavern Museum’s silver collection consists of cutlery, serving platters, chafing dishes, and wine chillers, which graced the tables of his various hotels and his private residence. Stamped “Gadsby,” these silver pieces conveyed John Gadsby’s refinement and hospitality to his friends and hotel guests.

Photographic Collection

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum has an extensive photographic collection that contains more than 10,000 photographic images documenting the Tavern’s history. Topics include: 

  • The Civil War - During this period the two buildings still maintained their basic 18th-century appearance even though small changes were made to the exterior of the Tavern and City Hotel.
  • 20th-Century Renovation – Restoration projects in the early 20th century by local organizations were completed to create an authentic 18th century tavern and City Hotel.
  • Furnishing Re-interpretation - Photographs document the various furnishings of the Tavern and City Hotel exhibit spaces.
  • Special Events - Documentation of special events that occurred at Gadsby’s Tavern during the 20th century include George Washington’s Birthnight Ball, 18th century military drills, and fairs.
  • Objects - The largest number of photographs document the museum’s collection of objects.
  • Education Programs - Photographs of the education programs illustrate children’s activities at Gadsby’s.
  • Other Events - Gadsby’s Tavern was used as a meeting place in the 18th century and is still used today for lectures, demonstrations, and receptions.

Research and Library Collection

The following materials are available for use by researchers by appointment only. Please  contact Gadsby's Tavern Museum to arrange a time.

Research Files: These include primary and secondary source materials gathered from a variety of sources that are organized by topic.  They help document the history of the building, provide context, and assist in furnishing the museum.  

Library: This consists of over 1,000 volumes including decorative arts, furnishings, clothing, social life and customs, Alexandria and Virginia history, museum studies, conservation, building preservation, and other related subject areas. 

The library also includes information on the preservation and history of the tavern buildings. Guiding documents for the interpretation and preservation of the tavern buildings include The Historic Furnishings Plan by Ellen Kirven Donald and Gretchen Sullivan Sorin (1978), The Master Interpretive Plan(1985), and Restoration "Gadsby’s Tavern" in Old Town at Alexandria, Virginia by J. Everett Fauber, Jr. FAIA (1976).  

Archival Donations

The Museum continues to document its 18th, 19th, and 20th century history. The staff is presently collecting all archival materials and memorabilia that references Gadsby’s Tavern, or the owners and occupants of the buildings. The Museum welcomes any clippings, programs, letters, correspondence, photographs, videos, or other information relating to the history and use of Gadsby’s Tavern.  Please  contact the Museum to discuss donations.

Collection Policies

Like all professional museums, Gadsby's Tavern Museum abides by a Collections Policy in acquiring and caring for collections. The Historic Alexandria Museums worked together to create a set of collections policies that define the scope of each museum’s collections and set policies for caring for them in accordance with the special needs of each collection.

The following is excerpted from the Museum's Collections Policy. For more information, contact the Museum.

Collections Goals:

Gadsby’s Tavern Museum is a non-profit institution, owned and operated by the City of Alexandria, Virginia. The museum staff has a professional commitment to protect, preserve, and interpret Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, a structure comprised of two 18th-century tavern buildings, in accordance with accepted professional standards. The purpose of the museum is threefold: to preserve and authentically furnish the buildings known as Gadsby’s Tavern Museum; to acquire, preserve, and exhibit artifacts and works-of-art of the mid-to-late 18th-century, early 19th-century and 20th-century preservation history appropriate to the Tavern; and to provide enlightening and enjoyable programs of interpretation for the public.  


Objects may be added into the permanent collection by means of gift, bequest, or purchase. Clear title to the object must be held by the Museum. The object must comply with the recommendations set forth in the Historic Furnishing Plan, be relevant to the interpretation and understanding of the stated historical period (1785-1810), or reflect the subsequent history of the two buildings. Adequate history of the object must be established before it is accepted into the permanent collection. The donor must have clear title to the object and convey this title and all rights of ownership to the Museum without restrictions. The Director may request that an appraisal of the object’s value be obtained from a professional appraiser at the donor’s expense. Staff will not knowingly accept any object which has been stolen or obtained in a false or suspicious manner. The Museum reserves the right to refuse any gift or bequest it does not deem appropriate and in the best interest of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum or the City of Alexandria.  

Outgoing Loans:

All institutions requesting a loan must complete a facilities report issued by the staff of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, which allows the museum staff to evaluate the nature of the loan, insurance coverage (borne by the borrower), and the ability to provide acceptable security and collections care. The Director reserves the right to refuse any loan request that is not deemed appropriate or does not reflect accepted professional standards of care in the facilities report. A formal request for the loan must be written by the borrowing institution and addressed to the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum Director. This request must be submitted two months prior to the anticipated date of shipment. The borrower must acknowledge Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in the exhibit, exhibit catalogue, and any related publicity.