What You Can Find in the Atwater Kent Collection's New Online Portal

There's everything from a mid-18th century stone distance marker to a mid-19th century coverlet given to an abolitionist imprisoned for helping to free slaves to a mid-20th century sieve originally used by Drexel's chemical and biological engineering departments.
View of Philadelphia from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, artists in the foreground. One of Gimbel's One Percent for Art Program paintings.

"Philadelphia of Tomorrow," painted by artist Harry Gricevics in 1952. The artwork depicts the view of Philadelphia from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with various artists in the foreground. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.

How much did Philadelphians pay for alcohol and tobacco in the spring of 1909? Who commissioned art showing the enormous view from the Philadelphia Museum of Art produced two decades before “Rocky” hit the silver screen? 

Those answers — and many others — can be found in the Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel University, which comprises more than 130,000 objects from the former Philadelphia History Museum. As trustee of the collection, Drexel is building a “museum without walls” to preserve and highlight the history of Philadelphia and America.

To this end, Drexel recently launched an Accessible Online Collection showing more than 1,000 objects. Now, for the first time ever, a sampling of those objects is available virtually to the public. The number of online objects will grow monthly, so check back regularly to see what’s new (old)!

The creation of the Accessible Online Collection marks an important milestone in a yearslong initiative to preserve, catalog, photograph and share artifacts and materials. After the museum closure in 2018, Page Talbott, PhD, director of museum outreach in Drexel’s Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships, and Stacey Swigart, director of the Atwater Kent Collection, began working on records and data reorganization as well as creating a plan to determine categories and logistics for inventory and evaluation. Talbott has examined all the organizational paper records related to the collections — accession documents, research papers and catalog (object file) information, to name a few. The information was reviewed with the addition of research on the various materials in the collection. Swigart did the same for all the digital records. Digital work has included creating and updating standards and protocols, and editing and adding historical data as required — over 20,000,000 data edits and counting since the start of the project! The work from both paper and digital work led to the overall plan of inventory and evaluation of the physical objects and archives in the collection.

For Drexel faculty and professional staff, these objects cover hundreds of years and disciplines, and can be used as visual and historical references in classes and research related to the history of their disciplines and their place in Philadelphia history. For students, the collection can be used for research papers and projects, all while they absorb important historical context for the city in which they live and study. And for everyone, the collection is now accessible in ways it’s never been, for personal enjoyment and learning.

Have a question about the collection, or ways you can use it in your classes or research? Feel free to reach out to Stacey Swigart at sas639@drexel.edu. Please note that the Atwater Kent Collection is currently unpacking and inventorying from a recent move to Center City. Physical access by appointment will be available later this year.


Swigart and Talbott compiled just a few of many examples from the Atwater Kent Collection available through the Accessible Collection Online that relate to Drexel’s academic offerings (and its own University history). They know better than anyone that the collection is so rich that there is no limit to the questions and research it can support. Dig in and see what this resource uncovers for you!

Double woven coverlet. Cream with red and dark blue design, red and dark blue with blocks of plain weave in red and blue.  Given to Passmore Williamson while in prison for rescuing Jane Johnson and her children.

A coverlet given to Passmore Williams. Credit: Historical Society of Pennsylvania / Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.

History of Philadelphia

  • coverlet (circa 1830–1850) given to Passmore Williamson, an abolitionist imprisoned for helping an enslaved woman, Jane Johnson, and her children gain their freedom from slavery.
  • A stone distance marker (circa 1759) noting seven miles to Philadelphia. It was later found during street construction in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.

A sieve Drexel Dragons would have used about 70 years ago. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A sieve (circa 1950) originally used by chemical and biological engineering departments at Drexel University (can you imagine?!).
  • A model of the Centre Square pump house (circa 1820), which was the first municipal waterworks in Philadelphia and used to stand where today's City Hall is located.
Small single-serving restaurant teapot with lid, white ceramic with foliate designs in form of sampler stitches, from Whitman's Retail Store on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia (the building is still there but the store is long closed).

Front and back views of the teapot. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A 20th century ceramic teapot from Whitman's Retail Store on Chestnut Street in (Do you recognize the pattern from the Whitman’s Samplers of assorted chocolates?)
  • A water storage container (circa 1940) with the inscription "Survival Supplies Furnished by Office of Civil Defense/Department of Defense."
Small, painted metal sign "THIS IS YOURS/ KEEP IT CLEAN..." posted in employee bathroom of Miller, Bain, Beyer & Co.

An employee bathroom sign from the mid-20th century. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A painted metal sign (circa 1950) originally posted in the employee bathroom of Miller, Bain, Beyer & Co., which sold linens and textiles “For Hospitals, Motels, Hotels, Institutions and Industrial Plants.”
  • A paper case (circa 1850) likely used to transport business papers of ship broker John H. Barnes.
Wooden box containing a Westphal Specific Gravity Balance, a scientific instrument used for measuring specific gravity (ratio of the density of an object or substance to the density of standard substances like water or air). Pieces include brass stand and balance arm, a cylindrical glass vessel, a glass plummet, a curved glass thermometer (with mercury inside), and numerous metal scale riders and hooks.

The balance was a gift from Dan Ve Luu, who used it at Drexel University. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


Advertisement for a doctor on tan paper//Leeches for sale.

The "Cupping & Leeching by J.P. Fischer" card. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A trade card (circa 1870) for a doctor advertising leeches for sale and "Cupping & Leeching by J.P. Fischer."
  • An 1858 glass medicine bottle containing potassium nitrate, which in the early 20th century was used to treat diseased conditions including asthma.
 Compact, metal, a very high carriage with long key arms that swing down from the sides, unlike the standard that hammers front onto the ink ribbon. Oliver's name in raised letters on the side painted text along with on the back panel and on the base. Used by the Medical Examiners Office for the City of Philadelphia into the early 20th century.
This typewriter was used in the early 20th century. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.

Public Health

  • A typewriter (circa 1900) from the Medical Examiners Office for the City of Philadelphia.
  • A 1945 photograph of a Red Cross nurse spoon-feeding a child patient.
Sage green velvet pillbox. Open on top with self fabric cording decoration. Two brown plastic combs inside.

The 1960s fashion hat. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


 Road side sign advocating to "Keep Sex Education Out Of Our Schools" by the Movement to Restore Decency with locations in Telford, Sellersville, and Landsdale. A message spray painted over the sign reads, "I'm for it sex all the way." "One school of thought in the past," written on the back of the photo.

The photograph of the sign from the Movement to Restore Decency. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A photograph (circa 1980) of a sign advocating to "Keep Sex Education Out Of Our Schools" with a message spray-painted over the sign reading, "I'm for it sex all the way."
  • A 1923 metal button for the 75th anniversary of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
 Scale for weighing prizefighters.  Scale used for Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney World Heavyweight Title Contest, fought in Philadelphia, September 23, 1926.
The scale used to weigh prizefighters. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • A scale (circa 1920) used for weighing prizefighters Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in the World Heavyweight Title Contest, which was fought in Philadelphia in 1926 during the celebration of the U.S. Sesquicentennia
  • The 1916 rulebook for "Athletic and Recreative Activities of the Public Schools of Philadelphia Pa."
 A plain off-white colored poster with the following message in black ink print "NOTICE// The working of horses or other animals for more than FIFTEEN (15) hours in any one day or more than NINETY (90) hours in any one week is prohibited by law.// PENALTY: Fine not exceeding FIFTY ($50) dollars or// THREE (3) months imprisonment.// THIS LAW WILL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED.// THE PENNSYLVANIA SOCIETY FOR THE// PREVENTION OF CRUELTY TO ANIMALS// 922-924 NORTH BROAD STREET// PHILADELPHIA, PA.// Bell, Stevenson 4700// -Telephones-// Keystone, Park 4729".
The sign from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.


  • An undated poster noting that the working of horses or other animals for more than 15 hours a day or 90 hours a week was prohibited by law and subject to a $50 fine.
  • A 1926 search warrant for John Wagner & Sons to look for liquor during Prohibition.