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The 20th century began at the Museum with the establishment, in 1900, of a Department of Oriental Pottery. Throughout the decade, specific departments operated under the auspices of honorary curators. These would also include Textiles, Lace, and Embroidery; Numismatics; European Porcelain; Arms and Armor; Furniture and Woodwork; Prints, Book Plates, and Historic Seals; Philately; Goldsmith Work, Jewelry, and Plate; Oriental Carpets; Sculpture, Marbles, and Casts; and Musical Instruments.

Scholarly publishing began in 1903 with the Museum’s first collection handbook, Tulip Wares of the Pennsylvania-German Potters, which was sold on-site for $1 a copy. This handbook attracted the attention of ceramic students in the United States and Europe, making the Museum better known on both sides of the Atlantic. The following year a second handbook was published, titled The Great Seals of England and Some Others, with the first comprehensive general guide to the Museum being produced a few years later in 1907.

The premier issue of the Museum Bulletin was also published in 1903; the first art museum publication of its kind to appear in the country (though other institutions soon followed suit). The January issue of the Bulletin indicated that a Membership program was clearly in place at the Museum, and that the degrees of membership included: Patrons (Donors of $5000 or upward), Life Members (Donors of $100 at one time), and Annual Members (Those who subscribe $5 and upward annually).

The Museum Library was also growing, and included volumes pertaining to the collections as well as art magazines, reports, and handbooks from other institutions. The Museum participated in an exchange program for several years, trading publications and enhancing the collection.

In 1903 the Museum was the first to establish a Bureau of Identification, "through which possessors of art objects may obtain desired information" regarding authenticity in several branches of art, but particularly in the department of ceramics. Before long, the Bureau was considered an authority on the subject, and art lovers from all over were bringing their objects to the Museum for verification.

An Education program for the general public was initiated in 1905, with the first tours for public school children and the first art history lectures for adults being offered. From then on, groups of school children could be seen in the galleries on any given weekday sketching from the collections. The Museum recognized not only the importance of engaging with the public but also of working with other museums across the country, thus, it was an active participant in the formation of the Association of American Museums in 1906.

During the summer months, many Philadelphians fled the city to relax in the country. Therefore, summer was a time when the Museum could focus on the maintenance and upkeep of its ever-expanding collections. During the summer of 1909, for instance, "the collections of textiles, musical instruments, dolls and other objects, subject to the ravages of moths and other destructive insects, [were] thoroughly fumigated by the cyanide process." Despite the threat of insect pests, however, there was still plenty of room for grandeur. In 1910 the first Costume Ball was given by the Associate Committee of Women, an event that would become an annual fundraiser. The pageant not only brought the institution "forward with honor before the general public," but also garnered over three thousand dollars.

Plans for a New Building

In the years after the 1895 announcement that there would be a competition for a new Museum design, dozens of architects submitted their ideas and various sites in Fairmount Park and downtown Philadelphia were considered. Initially Lemon Hill, a Federal period house located in Fairmount Park, was to be razed so that the grounds could serve as the site for the new building. This plan never came to be, however, and in an ironic twist the building later served as the home to Fiske Kimball, the Museum's director from 1925 to 1955.

In 1907, it was proposed to Mayor John E. Rayburn that the Museum be erected atop Fairmount hill, the city’s highest natural elevation (noted on William Penn’s early maps) and the site of its first reservoir. The area recently had become available for development, as the city had decided to stop pumping its drinking water from the Schuylkill River. Furthermore, the property was immediately adjacent to the terminus of a proposed boulevard designed to link downtown Philadelphia with Fairmount Park. A grand building on top of the hill, it was determined, would make a fitting visual conclusion to the new Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Major Exhibitions

  • 1903: Pompeian Ruins: Restorations, and Scenes
  • 1904: The Great Seals of England and Some Others
  • 1905: Art Association of the Union League Exhibition
  • 1908: Some Rare Eastern Carpets; Mexican Antiquities; Maiolica Tiles of Mexico

Major Gifts and Acquisitions

  • 1902: The Mrs. William D. Frishmuth gift of colonial relics and musical instruments
  • 1903: The Dr. Robert H. Lamborn Collection of Latin American Colonial Art
  • 1908: The Edwin AtLee Barber Collection of Mexican glass from Puebla; 16th, 17th, and 18th century maiolica tiles from Mexico