Spanish Rapiers

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Recently we had to pull several weapons to photography, including several that are on display.  For four of them, three rapiers and a sword, this was the first time any of us were able to get up close to them as they have been on display in Age of Exploration since the early 90’s.  The three rapiers are attributed as Spanish, but one of our curator’s has pointed out that this is most likely inaccurate.

This first one is a  composite rapier with tapering blade, iron hilt, comprising vertically recurved quillons, arms, and a pair of asymmetrical shells framed by a double ring, knuckle guards, globular pommel and later wire bound wooden handle, ca 1600’s.  Its origin is unknown though, and we haven’t found any markings to give us any clues.   Read more

Columbus and Bush

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Christopher Columbus leaving Palos, Spain by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida
Christopher Columbus leaving Palos, Spain by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

We frequently loan out objects to other museums, just as we frequently borrow objects for our exhibitions.  Our hit exhibition this summer, Fragile Waters, was all borrowed material.  We recently sent a painting that is a vital part of our Age of Exploration gallery out on loan.  While we would not ordinarily loan an object that was on display at our institution, we decided to make an exception because this piece was considered to be very important for the exhibition.  The painting I am referring to (pictured below) is titled Christopher Columbus leaving Palos, Spain painted ca 1910 by  Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida.  Sorolla wanted this portrait of Columbus to be as accurate as possible, so he did a considerable amount of research, sketches and even had a descendant of Columbus, the Duke of Veragua, pose for the painting.

This brings me to the loan bit.  We loaned it to the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas for their exhibition Sorrolla & America.  The exhibition opened on December 13 and will remain there until April 19, 2014.  After Texas it will be heading to The San Diego Museum of Art (May 30-August 26, 2014) and Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid (September 23, 2014-January 11, 2015).  What excited us was that The Meadows Museum sent us a picture of a special visitor with our painting after the exhibition had opened, former President George W. Bush!  (pictured below)  I’ve got to say, it’s pretty cool that a former President has been photographed with our painting.   Read more

Coins

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02-05-5C

As a little kid, I gained an interest in coin collecting from my father, who has been collecting since he was a teenager.  One of my uncles has also had a big hand in this passion as he has also been collecting since he was a kid.  These days I mostly collect coins from countries I visit, which is harder with so many countries in Europe switching to the Euro.  This is why I was thrilled to realize that we have quite a nice collection of coins/medallions/etc. here.

These first two photos show an 1 Maravedis coin, ca 1558-1576, from Cuenca, Spain.  On one side is a crowned monogram for King Philip II.  On the other is the raised image of a castle  with towers and the letter “C”.  It looks like there might be a chalice to the left of the castle, but it is difficult to tell.   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

The Difference Between Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers Pt. 2

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Sir Henry Morgan, viewed as a Pirate by the Spanish and a Privateer by the English. Either way, he also qualifies as a Buccaneer. From The Mariners’ Museum Library collection.

Welcome back, and let’s finish our exploration of pirate terminology with the term “Buccaneer.” Buccaneer is used synonymously with the idea of the 17th-18th century Caribbean pirates, but it actually means something quite specific. When Spain started colonizing the Caribbean in the 16th century, it was initially the only nation to do so. Around the beginning of the 17th century, people from other nations like France, England and the Netherlands started trying to settle in the Caribbean too. The problem was they weren’t welcome in Spanish ports because the Spanish didn’t recognize their right to settle. As a result, the only people willing to trade with these settlers and adventurers were social outcasts like mulattos, Native Americans and shipwreck survivors who largely lived in the wild.

These people sold supplies like water and meat to the non-Spaniards, who started calling them “Boucaniers.” Boucaniers is a French term of some ambiguity, but according to Cotgrave’s 1611 French/English Dictionary, the closely related word Boucane’ translates as a wooden gridiron that these outcasts used to cook meat. In addition, the French already had a verb called “boucaner” which meant “to hang around with lowlives” or “to imitate a foul tempered billy goat.” These words got meshed together, and the French ended up calling the local outcasts boucaniers. From 1620 on, these “boucaniers” started developing reputations as navigators and sharpshooters, so anyone who wanted to move against the Spanish would want some Boucaniers, or Buccaneers, with them for their combat prowess. By 1680, the term Buccaneer was being used to describe not just the locals but any Pirate of Privateer in general. As a result, the Buccaneer was a Pirate or Privateer operating in the Caribbean during the late 17th century and early 18th century. I hope these two posts have been informative, and encourage anyone who wants to know more to come on down to The Mariners’ Museum Library and explore our dozens and dozens of books on the matter. Until next time, have a good day!   Read more