Take a tour of an extraordinary new donation!

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Asprey of London despatch box. Gift of Jonathan Morey in memory of Leonard Morey. It was acquired in Belgium around 1950.

2017 was a pretty amazing year for donations to the Museum’s collection. Besides receiving two multi-million-dollar boats from Oracle Team USA and a painting by artist James Gurney we received many new and historically interesting items.  One gift we received in December is so truly extraordinary I thought I would take you on a tour of it!

The object is a despatch box made by the famous Asprey of London in 1871-1872 (based upon the silver marks and advice cards). Despite the relatively plain exterior, the first clue the piece is pretty astounding is the ornately engraved escutcheon plate surrounding the retracted handle on the lid. At the center of the plate is a group of two crests or logos and a monogram (the letters are E D S M but we aren’t exactly sure of the order in which they should be read). On the right side of the plate is a small button flush with the surface of the lid, pushing it causes the handle to release from the plate so the box can be carried—although I wouldn’t, the box weighs about 30 pounds!   Read more

Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River watercolor (Pt. 5)

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At last! The final part of my series on Lt. Frederick Warre’s watercolor of Shanghai. As I mentioned in the last post, Warre was pointing out the location of the British consulate in panel 6 and that the huts behind the consulate were being removed.  Warre starts his commentary on panel 7 by stating that the British have actually purchased the land all the way to “the point where the Joss Houses are” which I have learned is the word for a temple. I believe the point he is referring to is just to the right of mast on the vessel at the center of the image where you can see that typical, and architecturally beautiful Chinese style roof.

Behind the joss house you can see a river which Warre states is “of considerable importance and leads to the large city of Soochowfoo, about 30 miles up.” I believe the river is the Wusong and that “Soochowfoo” is Suzhou.   Read more

Newport News Shipbuilding to the rescue OR the “de-canistering” of little Francois (swivel gun)

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Swivel gun, Depot Central de l’Artillerie, 1826

Some of you might remember my post of September 22 where I discussed the discovery that one of the swivel guns we had pulled for the Gallery Crawl appeared to be loaded. Well, I can now happily report that it was not loaded but it did have SOMETHING jammed inside of it (and no, it wasn’t a beer can, although I will admit to having one of those stuck inside a 4-pound mid-18th century British cannon).  We did have a brief scare in early October when we sent a sample of material from the touchhole to William & Mary and it tested positive for the elements of gun powder. Thankfully we now know that it was just the remnants of gun powder from the touchhole and not a fully loaded cannon—which I guess I should have expected.

Shortly after the Gallery Crawl we contacted Newport News Shipbuilding and they graciously agreed to help us by x-raying the cannon (you might remember that ours wasn’t strong enough to see through the barrel while NNSBD’s machine can penetrate steel up to 20 inches thick). This isn’t the first time NNSBD has pitched in to help the Museum. Over the last 20 years or so they have periodically used their linear accelerator, high energy X-ray machine (Linitron) to x-ray objects recovered from the USS Monitor.   Read more

Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River (Pt. 4)

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Panorama of the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China, 1846-1847

Let’s get back to Lt. Warre’s watercolor!

He starts panel number five by stating that the American flag you can see at the left is the temporary location of the American Consulate and that it is actually sitting on “British ground.” The location of its permanent home is down in panel 7 on “the right bank of a small river…leading to Souchowfoo”. I think the river is the Wusong (also called Suzhou) and that “Souchowfoo” is actually Suzhou—at least that’s the closest spot I can figure fits his phonetic spelling of the place name! [I did check to see if the “S” was an “F” because there was a place called “Fouchowfoo” (Fuzhou) but the shape of Warre’s letters is pretty specific and luckily he gave me an “F” and “S” to make the comparison—you can thank graduate school for the paleography training!]   Read more

Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River (Pt. 3)

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Panorama of the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China, 1846-1847

Let’s continue with Lt. Warre’s panoramic view of the Huangpo River. As we move to panel three the scene starts to become quite a bit more crowded. Lt. Warre states that the mass of junks and European shipping is so thick at this point that it pretty much fills the river from bank to bank. Of course, he is still lamenting that his paper isn’t wide enough and he also states that he hasn’t been able to represent the river traffic nearly as densely as he wishes “So far from the number of vessels being exaggerated they are not half thick enough!”.

At this point Warre gives a quick description of the right bank of the river (which we can’t see). He states: “Behind the shipping is the Chinese City of Shanghae, a large walled city, but the houses all low and mean and not visible above the city walls, except on the river side.” The mass of shipping on the left bank of the river extends two or three miles and Warre states that to be accurate even the foreground of the scene should be completely filled with boats. I am glad he didn’t completely fill the scene because it would make it really difficult to see the particular details he has included.   Read more