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Keeping it

The GRPM Blog

Hidden Gems at the Grand Rapids Public Museum


August 4, 2020


Grand Rapids Scrip

Can You Find Them All?

There are thousands of historic artifacts and natural specimens on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Some, like Finny the 75-foot-long Finback Whale skeleton or the 1928 Spillman Carousel are large and showy, but many of the Museum’s fascinating objects aren’t quite as obvious. These are some of my favorite “hidden gems” at the GRPM.

Sculptures, Day and Night.

Every GRPM visitor walks between these two artifacts, but many don’t notice them. These two sculptures depict nymphs or graces representing “day” and “night.” They were originally placed outside the main entrance to the old Grand Rapids City Hall and were salvaged by the GRPM when it was torn down during Urban Renewal in the 1960s.​


More like a hidden mineral than a hidden gem, this huge gypsum crystal is part of the introduction to the Collecting A-Z exhibit. What many Museum visitors may not know is that there are miles of gypsum mines underneath Grand Rapids, including some right along the Grand River underneath GVSU’s Eberhard Center. Gypsum was originally mined for use as a building material and many of the tunnels are still used for cold storage.

Barber Pole.

The shops in the Streets of Old Grand Rapids exhibit are recreations of real businesses from the 1890s. Although it isn’t a full shop you can go inside, the sign and barber pole for J.C. Craig’s “electrified” barber shop are an important reminder of one of Grand Rapids’ earliest African American citizens and business owners.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company Advertisement. ​

The original Grand Rapids Brewing Company was formed in 1893 from the combination of six smaller breweries around Grand Rapids. By combining and building a new brewery, they hoped to compete against large national breweries like Anheuser-Busch, which was expanding across the country. The plan was actually somewhat successful until Prohibition put a stop to all legal brewing in 1920.​

Grand Rapids Scrip.

Hidden among the hundreds of coins and bills in the “N is for Numismatics” exhibit is an example of scrip money. Scrip was issued as payment by the City of Grand Rapids to people who worked for the city under a special program developed during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The city would hire unemployed citizens to perform a wide variety of jobs in city departments. The scrip was redeemable for a variety of goods at a city-run store. Between 1931 and 1933, the city issued $1,603,000 worth of scrip!​

Sturgeon Jar.

The stars of the Grand Fish, Grand River exhibit are the two live Lake Sturgeon, but the exhibit also contains several functional and beautiful artifacts related to this fascinating fish. This jar is made of stoneware clay, glazed with iron oxide stain and decorated with images of sturgeon and water motifs. The piece was commissioned by the GRPM in 2019. It was created by Shirley M. Brauker, a Michigan artist recognized for her pieces featuring Native American heritage.

By: Alex Forist, the GRPM’s Chief Curator

Late Opening Notice.

On Saturday, May 11, the Museum will open at 12 p.m. due to road closures for the Amway River Bank Run.

Early Closure Notice.

The Museum will close at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 for Museum Adventure After Dark. Tickets are still available!