Painting of George Washington: $20 million. Two-headed calf: $2,000. Iconic industrial statue: $1.5 million. New Haven church records covering 138 years: $2,550. Documents of a disgraced governor: $500,000.
Those are just a sampling of the hundreds of expensive and interesting — or just freakin' weird — artifacts owned by or on loan to the state of Connecticut.
Some of those items, such as the $20 million Gilbert Stuart portrait of our first president, are insured through Lloyds of London. Others, like the Dusky Lorikeet, a stuffed bird, valued a bargain-basement $10 that's on display at the Old State House, don't require quite so much coverage.
The Washington painting "is probably the most valuable" item among all the artwork and artifacts on display at state buildings, according to Dean Nelson, administrator of the Museum of Connecticut History at the Connecticut State Library in Hartford.
Stuart was commissioned by the state of Connecticut to paint Washington's portrait, and Nelson says the museum even has the correspondence between state officials and the artist. Stuart was paid a whopping $600 for the portrait in 1801, according to the records. Nelson says the estimate of the painting's current worth is based on recent sales of similar pieces.
Insuring all these heavy-duty artworks and historically significant artifacts doesn't come cheap.
Daria Cirish, the state's director of insurance and risk management, says the state has a special policy through Lloyds of London to cover the estimated $53.1 million worth of documents, paintings, rare books and maps and assorted other treasures in the State Library and the Museum of Connecticut History. The price of the annual insurance premium comes to a sweet $142,350.46, says Cirish.
The state's various insurance policies cover not only state property but also items from private or quasi-private organizations that are on loan to the state.
The two-headed calf and that Lorikeet (a swanky-looking parrot native to New Guinea) aren't technically owned by the state. Those bad boys, together with a whole bunch of other wacky and wild artifacts in the Old State House's "Museum of Curiosities," belong to the Old State House Association.
The association is a private group, created in the early 1990s when the Old State House was restored and taken over by the General Assembly. The board of the association was later merged with that of the Connecticut Historical Society, which now controls and cares for all that crazy and interesting stuff.
You may be wondering how and why all those peculiar artifacts end up on display in a state building. The answer is the Rev. Joseph Steward, a dude who started out by painting portraits of Connecticut politicians and business types in the late 1700s and early 1800s. (Some of those paintings are worth big bucks, including one of "General Greene and Major Shewbrick" with an estimated value of $75,000.)
Old State House spokesman Bill Bevacqua explains that Steward later decided to ask Connecticut sailors and world travelers and just plain folks to bring back oddities from their journeys, and then created a little museum to show off their donations.
Like the two-headed calf. And the "fetal pig with two heads." And the warthog, diamond putter, narwhale tusk, giraffe rib, "mummified hand," petrified mollusk, triceratops horn, three-horned goat skull, rufous-bellied niltava (an Asian bird), and "buffalo bones."
None of those somewhat peculiar contributions are worth all that much. But the restored "Hartford Fire Department Steam Pumper No. 1" certainly is. One insurance estimate put the value of that 1912 beauty at $150,000.
"It's one of only a handful of pieces of that kind of equipment from that era," says Richard Malley, head of research and collections at the Connecticut Historical Society. "There are just so few of them around."
The pumper, which was used by Hartford firemen right up to the 1930s, is actually owned by the historical society and is on loan to the Old State House.
Another prize piece the society has loaned to the state for display is an English-made iron helmet from the 1630s that was worn in Connecticut during the 1630s.
Then there's Mark Twain's very own bicycle, a high-wheeler that was donated to the society back in the 1920s by "a man who had worked for Twain for many, many years," Malley says.
It's the kind of machine made famous by Twain's essay about learning to ride a bike called "Taming the Bicycle." That's the one that ends: "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live."