New York City boasts hundreds of museums, but you can literally count those that attract the lion’s share of visitors—tourists and residents alike—on one hand. Every year, smaller and lesser known museums in neighborhoods throughout the entire city offer eye-opening, educational, moving and quirky exhibits that deserve a much larger audience.
One of them, the Museum of American Finance, occupies the historic Bank of New York building at 48 Wall Street and is within a few blocks of the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Currently on view at MoAF is a particularly alluring exhibit, “Worth Its Weight: Gold from the Ground Up,” which includes a collection of unique and rare gold objects, including a Gemini astronaut training helmet with gold visor; a miner’s pan and other artifacts from the California Gold Rush; a United States Treasury gold license; and a Christopher Bechtler gold coin (the first standardized gold dollar coin minted in the US).
“The exhibit shows how gold interacts with our everyday life, whether we realize it or not. It’s in our pocket, we wear it, it’s in decorative pieces, it’s all around us, but we don’t really see its role in our lives,” explained Maura Ferguson, Director of Exhibits at MoAF. “We also give the history of gold in the US: The gold rushes, gold in finance and modern-day mining. The exhibit is fun, and something people can relate to.”
Museum officials began thinking about creating an exhibit devoted to gold when the price of the precious element soared to more than $1,400 in 2010 (to put this in perspective, gold was trading for $18.25 per ounce in May 2001).
“Gold became the thing of the moment, and there was a lot of gold bug talk,” said Ferguson. “We discussed different ways to present an exhibit, and it took a few iterations until we were able to put all the pieces together.”
“We had a tight timeline, and started to procure objects about 12 months in advance, filled in holes [in the collections] and developed the exhibit from there,” said Ferguson.
A Place For Everything
Sourcing and procuring objects for the exhibit wasn’t the Museum’s only hurdle.
The Bank of New York building—which was completed just before the Stock Market Crash of 1929—is a stunning venue with high ceilings and architectural details like a curved marble staircase that were meant to give bank depositors a sense of security in the days before FDIC insurance protected losses from bank failures. But for all its grandeur, the 30,000 sq. ft. space is lacking one important structural element, said Ferguson: “There are few walls to which we can attach things, so we needed free-standing exhibits.”
highresolution worked closely with Ferguson to devise a variety of solutions to mount and showcase artifacts, as well as to explain their history and significance. The “Gold in America” display, in particular, is rather large and the museum wanted an alternative to building a wall.
We fabricated several free-standing aluminum frames with a channel that went all the way around to hold 20’ x 8’ fabric panels. The framing can be manufactured in any length, and the fabric panels are sewn together to fit the frames.
Using dye-sublimation printing to fuse the ink to the textile, we printed the purple background and the blurbs labeling and describing the objects in the display. The panels can be washed or dry cleaned, and the printing is quite durable.
When creating these frames, we deliver the printed fabric rolled up or folded, and apply a silicone bead to the edges on all four sides. The fabric is then inserted into the channel by hand, locked in and stretched to give it a smooth, flat appearance.
A Perfect Match
highresolution printing produced signage, graphics and other display elements for several exhibits mounted by MoAF over the years, but “Worth Its Weight” was particularly tricky. The exhibit spreads out over three galleries, and involved printing on several types of soft signage textiles—satin, sheer and EZ Stretch knit—as well as on foam core, gator board and Sintra polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Regardless of the substrate on which we were printing, the exhibit’s thematic purple and gold colors had to match across all the various types of displays.
To achieve this consistency, we used a dye-sublimation process; calibrated the colors to account for the different characteristics of each textile and substrate; and provided multiple proofs of each panel with different gradations of a specific color. Ferguson was able to pick out the best matches.
To ensure the exhibits throughout the entire space were color-matched, we also provided an additional color proof of each substrate.
For instance, the “Many Faces of Gold” gallery is a series of cases that highlight the uses of gold in the realms of Science & Technology, Health & Medicine, Branding & Marketing and Entertainment & Awards, among others. highresolution created the side and back panels for this exhibit from gator board. We used gator board because it is a substantial substrate—polystyrene foam between layers of melamine and wood fiber veneer—that will not warp and holds color beautifully. You can see from case to case that it is well color-balanced.
Bedazzled and Bewitched
For many museum visitors, the highlight of the exhibit are the “Jewelry Box” and “Midas Touch” galleries.
The Jewelry Box features several stunning pieces, including a matching gold, pearl and diamond jewelry suite crafted in 1940-41 by Tiffany & Co. and jewelry designer Marla Aaron’s cufflinks in four gold alloys (yellow, white, rose and green). The Midas Touch houses a dazzling collection of 17 gold and jewel-encrusted items designed by world-renowned jeweler Sidney Mobell, including an 18-karat solid gold Monopoly set and a 24-karat gold-plated kaleidoscope studded with 88 rubies, 94 sapphires and 69 diamonds that create a sky motif with lightning, stars, the moon and the sun.
A Long Relationship
highresolution printing also produced the displays for another of the museum’s current exhibits, “America in Circulation: A History of US Currency,” which features some 250 notes from the Colonial era to the present day and includes currency bearing the signatures of signers of the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence and high-denomination notes such as $5,000 and $10,000 bills.
We printed the reader rail panels on gator board, and custom-built the black aluminum panels on which the bills are mounted. The panels are made from a heavy sandwiched aluminum to ensure that it will not warp or curl from the heat and humidity caused by the lighting in the display cases.
Our first production for the Museum was the “Barings in America” exhibit in 2012, which commemorated the 250th anniversary of the founding of Barings Bank, a British investment bank that provided the capital for many famous historical ventures, including the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
The following year, we worked on an update of the exhibit, “Tracking the Credit Crisis: A Timeline,” which had first opened in 2009 and was one of the Museum’s best-attended shows. highresolution printed a 7 foot x 56 foot timeline of the financial crisis on gator board that charted significant events from the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 through 2012, when the SEC levied fines on investment banks for misleading investors and the CEO of a hedge fund was indicted for insider trading.
The Museum of American Finance is on the corner of Wall and William Streets. It’s open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. The “Worth Its Weight” exhibit will be on display through December 30, 2016, and the “America in Circulation” exhibit runs through March 2018.
2 thoughts on “All That Glitters Is Gold At The Museum of American Finance”
Great collaboration and presentation of the museum’s history.
Many thanks Phil. We produced this last year..but it is an important production to share.