Personal Collections, Vol. II

Our staff build, preserve, and provide access to the Newberry's collection of 1.6 million books, 600,000 maps, and 500,000 manuscript pages. Many of them also methodically curate their own personal collections ranging from coffee mugs to Kennedy memorabilia.

In this blog series, Newberry staff members share their personal collections and explain how and why they collect what they collect.

NB: In accordance with professional standards for museum and library workers, Newberry staff practice strict "social distancing" from anything related to the Newberry's collecting interests to avoid any possible perceived conflict of interest.

Collector: Jim Akerman, Curator of Maps
Collection: Coffee Mugs

How and when did you start your collection?

It's not like I go to flea markets and buy mugs. These are simply mugs I have been picking up on my travels over the years, as souvenirs. I try to avoid airport gift shop mugs, since those are mass produced.

For the most part, it's a working collection, too, by which I mean we use these mugs, put them in the dishwasher and if they break they break. We do rotate ones out to the attic or basement though as they get old.

What interests you about coffee mugs?

It's not the mugs so much as the memories they evoke. As I'm writing this, I'm drinking from my "Cool as a Moose" mug. Cool as a Moose is a T-shirt store in Bar Harbor, Maine that my family visited on our first long family car trip in 2000. On that occasion, we bought T-shirts of course (not mugs); but years later, I asked a Newberry program assistant, who was from Maine and was going home, if she would pick up a mug for me––and she did (a T-shirt, too!).

What is the gem of your collection?

There are a few that I am protective of either because they are completely unique or have sentimental value. I'd say that one in particular is a mug showing the skyline of New York City that I got in April 2001. It includes the twin towers, of course, and I retired it after 9/11. Another one I picked up in 2004 at Windsor Castle, made of bone china and with the ER monogram [standing for Elizabeth II Regina]. On that occasion I met the queen's keeper of prints and manuscripts and had the opportunity to view her collection of drawings by Leonardo.