It started with a cabinet.

A recently acquired double cabinet that, at first glance, appears unassuming in its construction and design provided the spark for this exhibition. Once the cabinet’s doors are open, the drawers inside reveal its complex history and active role in the transatlantic trade networks between Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America that transported shiploads of goods and captive people during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Winterthur’s collection is deeply entangled in these trade networks fueled by slavery. Where documentary sources can omit the experiences of enslaved peoples in the Atlantic world, surviving material culture speaks from every spoonful of sugar baked into a cake or thread of cotton woven into a shirt. International commerce, consumption, structures of control, and enslaved creators all linked slavery to commodities like these– the things which shaped early America and, consequently, the collection at Winterthur.

Truths of the Trade investigates objects at the epicenter of these narratives of transatlantic trade and its legacy. We invite you to consider the multiple meanings and complex histories each museum and library object offers.

The Exhibition