Collections at Alexandria History Museum

The museum's collection includes the original 1839 lyceum building as well as over 5,000 objects related to the history of Alexandria, Virginia.

Page updated on Jul 17, 2020 at 11:45 AM

About the Building

Lyceum Exterior 2020The original lyceum building is the museum's most treasured artifact, representing one of the country's best examples of Greek Revival architecture. Since its construction more than 150 years ago, The Lyceum has been used as a cultural center, a barracks and hospital, a private residence, an office building and Virginia's first Bicentennial Center. The early history of the building is told in an interpretive display located in the museum's Lecture Hall.

About the Collections

Although Alexandria is fortunate to have several specialized museums, Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum is the only one that collects and interprets artifacts and history from all periods of the City's past, from the periods before its founding in 1749 through the present day. The collection includes architectural fragments removed from the building during renovation, furniture, textiles, ceramics, silver, glass, records from Alexandria businesses, tools, art, newspapers, toys and almost anything else that would help to tell the community's story.

The museum collects artifacts representing all time periods of Alexandria and the surrounding region's past, as well as objects relevant for interpreting The Lyceum as a historic site. If you know of any artifacts that would be of interest to the museum, please contact the museum's Curator for more information at 703.746.4994.

The following are some particular strengths of the collection.

Silver Collection

Silver CollectionThe Silver Collection includes late 18th- and early 19th-century pieces made by Charles Burnett, Adam Lynn, William Williams and John P. Latruite.   

The Howard W. Smith, Jr. Silver Collection forms the core of the museum’s collection of locally made silver. This remarkable collection of 18th- and 19th-century silver from Alexandria and District of Columbia silversmiths was donated to the Museum in 2004 by the estate of Howard W. Smith, Jr., and was the focus of an exhibit, An Alexandria Legacy: The Howard W. Smith, Jr. Silver Collection, which ran from November 26, 2004 - March 27, 2005. Comprised of a variety of silver wares made in Alexandria from 1790 to 1850, the collection includes almost 600 pieces. It has added significantly to the knowledge and appreciation of local silversmiths and their work. Howard W. Smith, Jr., an Alexandria native and resident, was a collector and scholar of Alexandria-made silver for most of his life. His remarkable collection includes pieces made by Adam Lynn, John Pittman, Charles Burnett, John Adam, William Adam, William A. Williams, Mordecai Miller, John Gaither, Benjamin Barton, John Potter, and James Galt. Forms include tea sets, beakers, serving wares, ladles, and sugar tongs. An extensive collection of flatware also features the work of many lesser-known makers from the District of Columbia, and it includes forks, which are rare in early 19th century American silver flatware, as well as spoons.

Alexandria Stoneware Collection

Stoneware pitcher, John Swann. Alexandria History Museum CollectionThe museum has a fine collection of ceramics, with an emphasis on 19th-century stoneware made and/or sold in Alexandria by John Swann, H.C. Smith, B.C. Milburn and E.J. Miller.  

The Wilkes Street Pottery is the modern name given to Alexandria’s most successful stoneware manufactory, which operated on the 600 block of Wilkes Street from around 1810 to 1876. The beautiful decorative wares of the Wilkes Street potters were well known throughout Alexandria and the surrounding countryside, and are still sought after today.

Learn more about Alexandria stoneware 

Furniture Collection 

Sideboard, Charles Koones

The collection includes furniture made in Alexandria by Charles Koones and the Green family business.

Original Documents Collection

Bank of Alexandria bank note, 1815

The collection includes many personal and business papers from Alexandrians.

George Washington Collection

George Washington Needlework Sampler (Large)George Washington is represented in  the museum's collection with items created to commemorate, and celebrate, his life and achievements. A commemorative bust, postage stamp and sampler are three examples from the 19th century that show he was greatly admired at home, nationally, and abroad.

Alexandria was George Washington’s hometown, even as he served his country. When the seaport community was founded in 1749, Washington’s older half-brother Lawrence purchased two of the original lots and George drew one of the earliest known plats of the new town.

Learn more about George Washington in the collection

Collections Policies

Like all professional museums, the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum 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 goal of the Museum is to actively preserve and interpret this historic landmark and its collections in order to foster an appreciation by Alexandria residents and the general public of its historic value. The Museum staff is additionally responsible for preserving and interpreting the Friendship Firehouse Museum and Friendship Firehouse collection.

Collection Goals: The purpose of the museum's collection is to provide for the preservation, exhibition, and interpretation of material culture pertaining to Alexandria's comprehensive history and the city's role in American history. As both a community history museum and a historic site, the Alexandria History Museum at The Lyceum collects artifacts representing all time periods of Alexandria and the surrounding region’s past, as well as objects relevant for interpreting The Lyceum as a historic site.

The Friendship Firehouse Museum and Friendship Firehouse collection consist of the building and objects of the Friendship Fire Company, and the organization’s twentieth-century incarnation, the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association; it is not a collecting museum.

The staff collaborates with other local museums and historical organizations to ensure that artifacts are placed in the most appropriate repository for long-term preservation and educational purposes. The museum will collect only those objects for which professional care, storage and security can be provided.

Acquisition: The museum's permanent collection is established through gifts, bequests, purchases, transfers from other institutions, and collecting by staff members. Prior to acquisition each object will be evaluated by the Director and Curator.