Visitors to The Henry Ford often marvel at the number and variety of historical objects found here. Often, so does the staff. As a presenter in Greenfield Village, I have been surrounded by these rich collections--many of the objects having been gathered during the 1920s and 1930s, when Henry Ford was avidly collecting for his museum. An internship opportunity over the winter has given me a chance to further explore how a number of these objects—musical instruments--came to be part of The Henry Ford’s collections. As a violinist, the topic of music was a perfect match for me.
Christina Linsenmeyer, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of The Arts, Helsinki, is editing a book entitled, Themes and Trends of the Musical Instrument Collecting Boom, 1860-1940. As an avid collector of musical instruments during the early decades of the 20th century, Henry Ford is a perfect fit. Jeanine Head Miller, The Henry Ford’s curator of domestic life, and Robert E. Eliason, curator of musical instruments at The Henry Ford during the 1970s and 1980s, will be co-authoring a chapter of the book discussing Henry Ford’s musical instrument collecting.
Henry Ford grew up dancing to the lively music of country fiddlers—and even learned to play the fiddle a bit himself. Ford’s interest in traditional American music and in musical instruments, then, was personal one. Ford’s efforts built an impressive collection—instruments which tell the story of music made by town bands, fiddlers at country dances, wealthy people in music rooms, and everyday Americans who purchased mass-produced instruments from local stores or mail-order catalogs.
Housed at The Henry Ford amidst many large and significant acquisitions is a small collection of quirky and one-of-a-kind items. Located mostly in storage, this group of artifacts is unofficially known as the Henry Ford Tributes. The objects range in size, materials and creation methods, but all have one thing in common – they were gifts given as tokens of gratitude and appreciation to a single man whose innovative ideas changed the lives of so many. Corporations, farm wives, Ford dealers, immigrants and civic institutions were all contributors to this eclectic group of gifts and commendations.
This collection has never been considered for a museum exhibit, but thanks to The Henry Ford’s digitization initiative, we were given the opportunity to highlight just a few in this unusual collection. For members of the Historical Resources team, this was a long-sought-after opportunity; many of us have our ‘favorites’, and as the project began in earnest, the suggestions came in at a rapid rate. It was hard to keep the online exhibit to just 76 objects!