Peabody-Essex Museum

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East India Marine Hall, the original building from which the museum has since expanded

The Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts is one of the oldest museums in the United States. Alongside other collections, it possesses one of the premier collections in the United States of East Asian and Pacific cultural objects, including especially East Asian export art, and maritime art.

The museum is the successor organization to the East India Maritime Society, a society of mariners and explorers. The Society began in 1799 to collect, in a determined and systematic manner, cultural and natural history objects brought back to the US after journeys to East Asia and the Pacific.

The Society built a hall in 1824, in which portions of this collection were displayed on the second floor. This hall later became the core of the Peabody-Essex Museum, a position it continues to hold today, even as the museum has expanded with the construction and renovation in later years of additional wings.

Edward Sylvester Morse served as the museum's third director for 36 years, beginning in 1879. Though his renowned ceramics collection was donated/sold to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, his collection of roughly 30,000 Japanese objects of everyday folk or material culture of the Edo and Meiji periods was left to the Peabody-Essex.

In the 1880s, the Peabody-Essex and the Smithsonian Institution shared ownership of a collection of Okinawan objects brought to the US by Commodore Perry.[1]

Highlights of the collection include one of only three known extant large breadfruit-wood statues of the Hawaiian god Kū, and "Yin Yu Tang," an 18th century Chinese merchant home disassembled from its original location in China's Anhui province and reassembled, whole, adjacent to the Peabody-Essex, and made accessible to visitors.


  • Gallery label plaque about Edward Sylvester Morse, at Edo-Tokyo Museum, Tokyo, Japan.
  1. Takayasu Fuji, "Provenance of Okinawan Artifacts in the United States," American View, 23 Jan 2008.
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