In its six decades of existence, the National Museum of History housed in Chapultepec Castle has supported the creation of other national museums and those in other states of Mexico by ceding objects that are the historical patrimony of the Mexican people under the jurisdiction of the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History; INAH). At the same time, it has continued to acquire pieces for its collections. As a result, today its holdings total close to one hundred thousand pieces. A part of the collection is on display in the permanent exhibition galleries, while the rest of it is in storage, organized into the following curatorial areas:
1. Painting, sculpture, drawing, engraving, and prints
3. Historical documents and flags
4. Technology and weapons
5. Costume and accessories
The National Museum of History is heir to the former National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography at Moneda Street number 13, in downtown Mexico City, begun in 1910. When the National Institute of Anthropology and History was founded in 1939 it also provided for the creation of a new museum. As a result, the collections forming part of the departments of Colonial and Modern History and Ethnography went on to become part of the exhibition in Chapultepec Castle.
The former museum had, in turn, come from the National Museum created during the government of Guadalupe Victoria in 1825, in rooms in the University. From there it was moved, under the orders of Maximilian of Habsburg in 1865, to the building had housed it, the Casa de Moneda or former Mint, beside the National Palace.
Although the historical collections were sparse around the 1880s, they grew with the acquisition of objects related to the events and heroes of the Nation. For example, before the end of the nineteenth century this museum had a group of paintings of viceroys, the sculpture of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, Vicente Guerrero’s military dress coat, Agustín de Iturbide’s scepter, and a suit, spectacles, and metal crowns of Benito Juárez, and the Christofle silver dinner set of Maximilian of Habsburg.
The institution increased its holdings with pieces acquired during the Celebrations of the First Centennial of the Independence of Mexico: dress coats and military accessories, jackets, a religious ornament and the portrait of José María Morelos y Pavón, as well as the keys to Mexico City, objects returned by Spain and France; the font where Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was baptized, brought from Cuitzeo de los Naranjos, Guanajuato, and the confessionary send from the town of Dolores. From the National Museum of Artillery—which was created during the administration of Porfirio Díaz and closed in 1914—came the historical collections, weapons, flags, and military uniforms. It should be noted that around 1924 the numismatics collection alone grew by eighteen thousand coins made of gold, silver and copper.
However, most of the collections that the
National Museum of Archaeology, History, and Ethnography kept in the Department
of Colonial and Modern Ethnography came from two major lots: that of military
man Martín Espino Barros and mining entrepreneur Ramón Alcázar. The former was
the largest by far, with 60,369 pieces, including coins, medals, crosses,
reliquaries, insignia, military medals, chain links, locks, keys, samplers, decorative
combs, ink wells, penholders, fans, belt buckles, candlestick holders, spurs, horse
tack, snuffers, pipes, chests, writing desks, vases, basins, flower pots,
buttons, and military appliqués. With this acquisition the former museum was
able to form the Department of Retrospective Industrial Art, created by decree
in 1908, which then was named Minor Arts, and later Colonial and Modern
The second lot entered the establishment in 1917 and since then it has been known as the Alcázar Collection. It is composed of more than 7,233 pieces from the viceregal period and the nineteenth century: fans, samplers, weapons, old watches of all sorts, military insignia, medals, furniture, snuff boxes, cigar cases, cigarette cases, matchboxes, chain links, sweets containers, jewelry boxes, stamps, sculpture, decorative combs, a wide array of jewelry (earrings, rings, bracelets, pins that formed complete and half sets), paintings, and many other ivory, porcelain, Talavera, bronze, and enameled metal objects.