With the first donation made in 1881 to what would later become the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and nearly 60,000 objects now in the museum’s possession, there’s no end to the surprises we find in the museum’s collections. As the museum’s collections manager, I often find myself looking at something and thinking, “How did this end up here?” Here are a few unique items I’ve come across — an assortment that is a great representation of the variety and vastness of the collections. If you’re interested in seeing more, check out the online collections database on the museum’s website, at kalamazoomuseum.org/collections.
Tutankhamen’s throne replica, pre-1980
Do not let the gold color fool you — it’s not real gold. This chair was made as a replica piece for Irving Gilmore, son of one of the two early owners of the former Gilmore Bros. Department Store. (Irving’s father, James, joined his brother John as co-owner in 1883, two years after John opened the store in downtown Kalamazoo.) The Gilmore family traveled widely, and this chair was used in a display in the store in the 20th century. Based on the throne found in Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, which is made of gilded wood and colored glass with carnelian and other semi-precious gemstones, this replica is made of wood, with carved reliefs and paint used to duplicate the look of the original chair.
Tube tester, circa 1950s–1960s
In the first half of the 20th century, prior to the invention of the transistor, vacuum tubes filled electronics such as radios, televisions and early computers. Tubes went bad over time and had to be checked with a tube tester to figure out which tubes needed to be replaced. This tube tester was used at Laing’s TV in Kalamazoo, a store opened by Jefferson Laing in 1952 that sold, installed and repaired televisions and other electronics. The store closed in 2020.
Passenger pigeon, circa 1870s
On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, the last passenger pigeon known to exist, died at the Cincinnati Zoo. A century earlier, there may have been as many as five billion passenger pigeons in North America. Because the birds were easily caught, they were often hunted for food. The rise of cities and the expansion of farms also contributed to their demise, as passenger pigeons lost their natural habitats. This passenger pigeon in the KVM’s collections was captured in the late 1870s near Petoskey, one of the last major nesting places remaining in Michigan at the time. The last time a passenger pigeon was seen in the wild in the state was in 1881.
Mechanical political pin, 1896
What do golden bees have to do with politics? This “Gold Bug” campaign pin has the images of William McKinley and his vice presidential nominee, Garret Hobart, on its retractable wings and was given out during McKinley’s presidential run of 1896. The images retract behind the bee’s body, and the pin’s golden color was chosen to highlight McKinley’s campaign platform, which supported the gold standard, and was used as a reaction to William Jennings Bryan’s campaign, which supported the silver standard.
Michigan Celery Cookbook, 1946
Celery may not come to mind as a No. 1 dinner choice, but in this cookbook it’s front and center. Celery was a very important crop in Kalamazoo and outlying areas from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, and the city became so known for the vegetable that it was nicknamed the Celery City. This cookbook was produced toward the end of Kalamazoo’s dominance as a celery grower, but it promotes Michigan celery and its uses. Sections include “Comparisons of Vitamins and Minerals in Michigan Celery with Other Basic Foods,” “Michigan Celery in Salads and Appetizers” and “Pointers on Keeping (and) Preparing this Delicious Vegetable.”