Castles Shipbreaking Company

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Figurehead from HMS Formidable

Any visitor to the museum will most likely remember the large, gold eagle in our lobby as it is eye-catching and right in the path of the entrance.  But close to the eagle are two other impressive figureheads, those from HMS Formidable and HMS Edinburgh.

These figureheads (and one carving) came from a place called Castles Shipbreaking Company in London (to learn about the history of the company go HERE).  This company was known for breaking up ships (as their name implies), but they also had a furniture business.  While many figureheads, and carvings, were taken off of the ships before they came to Castles, many others were left on the ships and taken off by Castles.   Read more

RMS Queen Mary

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Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
RMS Queen Mary at dock in Long Beach, CA, Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I recently had the opportunity to visit RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, which is something I have been wanting to do for quite a while now.

Queen Mary has had a pretty illustrious history, which I won’t go into in too much detail because you can read about it on her website, HERE.  She was built in Scotland for the Cunard Line and had her maiden voyage in 1936.  She quickly became a favorite for the rich and famous who wanted to travel luxuriously.  During WWII she became a troopship and was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” due to her stealth and grey paint.  If I heard correctly on one of my tours, at one point she carried as many as 16,000 troops on one voyage, which is still a record to this day.  I know that she is a large boat, but that seems like way too many people.  Anyways, in 1967 she retired and docked in Long Beach, where she remains to this day.   Read more

Artifact of the Month- White Star Line

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White Star Line china
White Star Line china

This “Artifact of the Month” is a piece of china from the White Star Line.  The White Star Line was a prominent British shipping company and today is most known for its ship, RMS Titanic.  While our piece of china is not from the actual Titanic, it is very similar to what first class guests would have been served on aboard the ship and therefore is on display in a corner of our Great Hall of Steam Gallery with information and other objects relating to Titanic.

“Stonier Co. Liverpool” is stamped on the back of the plate, but in reality they did not make the china.  The Stonier company brokered and distributed the china.  The star featured in the center of the dish is the symbol of the White Star Line, which is also inscribed in the banner below the flag star.  The crown pattern around the plate originated from Brownfield, which gave this style its name.  As you can see in the photo, the gold gilt and turquoise embellishments really highlight the center emblem well.   Read more

Propaganda Posters

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I’ve been spending a lot of time recently with our collection of posters, mostly propaganda or advertising, as I’ve been photographing them so we can have the images in our database.  For some reason, I have always been drawn to posters, especially those with bright, colorful images (as with the ones I shared a few posts ago).  So without further ado, here are some of the ones I have been working with this week.

The first poster is a Navy recruiting poster from 1917 and was done by artist Kenyon Cox.  The second is a very bright poster that hung in the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company to encourage workers to keep at their work.  The clown is a little creepy, but nevertheless, this is a great poster.  The third is a Russian poster from 1932 that a fantastic volunteer recently translated for me.  I’m not exactly sure why the poster was made, but it might possibly be to celebrate the creation of the Russian Pacific Fleet.   Read more

Pirates in Anglo-American Culture

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A Jolly Roger flag flown by the USS Ranger. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello again, readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. A quick look at modern popular culture will make it clear even to the most casual of observers that the Caribbean Pirates of the 17th and 18th century are icons in family entertainment. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has been immensely successful, and the 20th century is full of films about swashbuckling heroes and adventures at sea. And yet, a sampling of our news headlines paints a very different picture of piracy: container ships are ransacked, crews held for ransoms, and tourists are kidnapped or killed. Indeed, the world recognizes this problem and has deployed dozens of warships to counter the pirate threat to commerce and personal safety. Why is there such a dichotomy on the subject of piracy?

As a historian, it seems to me that the issue of piracy meets its natural response in the modern headlines: piracy has been reviled and combated since time immemorial, as it should be. The catch is that people also like stories of adventure, romance and rooting for the underdog. English (and by extension, American) culture especially has always had a bit of a rebellious streak, with heroes like Robin Hood robbing the superfluously rich and thumbing their noses at a corruption. For the Anglo-American world, pirates served as an excellent source of rebellious fun once they had faded into the past a bit, and books like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island capitalized on this fun in the late 1800s. About two centuries had passed since the buccaneers had last prowled the Caribbean, and it seemed safe to feature pirates as a source of adventure.   Read more