Blog of the Collections Department

Artifact of the Month – Sea Quadrant

Our April Artifact of the Month is also a new object to our collection and something we are all very excited about.  It is a sea quadrant made and sold by George Adams, Sr.


There are a couple of factors that make this particular instrument so special.  The first is the fact that it is the only known sea quadrant made by George Adams.  It was hand-signed, dated and serial numbered by Adams himself, which can still be very clearly seen.  It also includes the earliest known trade label for George Adams, which is one of the largest I’ve ever seen on an object.  The three extra mica windows were wrapped in a piece of paper that appears to be an early writing sample of Adams, making it all the more interesting.


George Adams, Sr. trade label


Serial Number, date, and signature of George Adams


The other factor that makes it so important and interesting is the provenance of the piece, its history.  The piece was purchased in 1774 by François Boyer, who was a Professor of Navigation and Mathematics at the French Royal Navy school in Lorient.  He kept a journal of his travels in England, as well as trade cards a receipt for one of his purchases.  What is most amazing is that the sea quadrant stayed with the family until it was sold at auction in 2014.  They had it for 240 years!  That is astounding for something like this.  And even better, the piece seems to have seen little to no use as it is in almost pristine condition, including the original case.

Receipt for the sea quadrant

Receipt for one of Boyer’s purchases during his trip


Trade card for Fraser


Trade card for Henry Shuttleworth

Adams stated that his purpose in creating this instrument was to correct the “inconveniences and difficulties” of using a back-staff and to provide an instrument that was more affordable than the expensive octant.  He and another instrument maker, Benjamin Cole, were both trying to create new sea quadrants.  And despite their efforts, this new instrument was never readily adopted by navigators, which has led to their rarity.  As I stated before, this is the only known sea quadrant by George Adams, and there are only three known by Benjamin Cole.




As you can tell from Jeanne’s face, we are all very excited about the arrival of the sea quadrant!  And very important to note is that purchases like this would not be possible without kind benefactors.  In this case, Peter Ifland, who has worked with the museum for years regarding scientific and navigational instruments.  We lost him last year, but he will forever be immortalized for his contributions in this field and for every wonderful thing he has done for us.


Raising the Mast

For those who follow our blog, you may remember that last year we had a Kenyan dhow added to our collection.  When the piece came to the museum, it was placed in the back of our International Small Craft Center in a temporary position.  Yesterday we spent a good portion of the morning getting it into a better spot for display and raising the mast.

14-28-01 raising the mast 02 Apr 2015 (1) 14-28-01 raising the mast 02 Apr 2015 (3) 14-28-01 raising the mast 02 Apr 2015 (4)


Our staff deserves some major kudos for this as they figured out how to rig it just by looking at photos we had taken when it was in D.C..  Now our visitors can enjoy seeing the dhow in all its glory!

More information on the dhow can be found HERE.

Buttersworth Exhibition Closing


For those who are interested in viewing our Buttersworth Exhibition, B is for Buttersworth, F is for Forgery, you only have a few more weeks to do so!

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The last day for the exhibition will be Sunday, April 26, 2015.  It has enjoyed great success with our visitors who are determined to figure out which painting is the forgery!  It’s also allowed people to truly appreciate the wonderful works of art created by James Buttersworth.  So don’t forget to stop by and check them out before the 26th!


Way Back Wednesdays

9-Old Small Craft Bldg

Construction of our old Small Craft Building.  About 11 years ago it was replaced with a newer, more efficient building where a good amount of our small craft is now displayed.Figureheads being repaired in model shop, January 23, 1940 (1)

This image shows men in our ship model shop repairing a group of our figureheads on January 23, 1940.  Many of our figureheads came to the museum in rough shape and so needed a bit of work to make sure that they were stable enough to be displayed.  As our old photos show, we used to have a large number of them on the wall of our Great Hall.Great Hall, 1973-74 (1)

To change it up a bit, we have this colored photo from 1973/74 showing our Great Hall with the USS Lancaster Eagle figurehead by John Haley Bellamy in the foreground.  In the far left corner the first order lighthouse lens from Cape Charles is visible.  It, much like our eagle, is one of the first artifacts visitors see when entering the museum.main room, May 1959

Our last photo shows a corner of the Great Hall in 1959, showcasing several figureheads and large paintings by Thomas Skinner on the wall.  It’s nice to see a corner like this as most shots are from the front of the gallery, showing the USS Lancaster Eagle (like the image above).


Way Back Wednesday

Warwick County Girl Scouts Field Day in what is now known as Harvey Field May 1947

A group of Girl Scouts from Warwick County enjoying their field day in what is now known as Harvey Field in May 1947.Troops from Ft. Eustis, A battery 11th battalion, posed next to Leif Erikson statue

Troops from Ft. Eustis, A Battery, 11th Battalion, posed with our Leifr Eriksson statue.  In the foreground is one of our beautiful Spanish cannons from the 18th century.  It is currently on display at the front of the museum.USS Lancaster Eagle in Great Hall November 15, 1945

Another great shot of our Great Hall Exhibition in November of 1945, featuring our wonderful USS Lancaster Eagle figurehead by John Haley Bellamy.

visitors in the gift shop May 1955

Visitors packing our gift shop in May of 1955.


Artifact of the Month – Steamboat Thomas A. Edison

Due to a busy schedule, I was unable to create an Artifact of the Month blog for February, but I will remedy that this month by naming our model of the steamboat Thomas A. Edison as Artifact of the Month for March!


Our model is currently in storage, but has been on display a number of times in the past, as recent as 2007.  We purchased it in 1968 from renowned model maker John Fryant.  The original Thomas A. Edison was built at Apalachicola, Florida by John Loftin, with a home port of Key West, Florida.  There is some question to the date as it is usually reported as 1904, but Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States reports it as having been built in 1901.

Paddle steamboat “Thomas A. Edison” on the Caloosahatchee River; Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Paddle steamboat Thomas A. Edison on the Caloosahatchee River; Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

Thomas A. Edison spent her time ferrying passengers and cargo up the Caloosahatchee River until 1914, at which point she met her untimely demise.  At this time she was tied up at the Lee Company Packing House during low tide.  The packing house caught fire and, despite best efforts, they were unable to move the steamboat before the fire spread to her. While she was destroyed, her engines were salvaged and are now at the Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan.

This is a sad ending for a lovely steamboat, but at least we have this beautiful model to remember her by.

Fun Fact Friday

One of the most recognizable pieces of our collection is the USS Lancaster Eagle, carved by John Haley Bellamy.  What many people do not know is how we came to acquire such a treasure.



In the 1930’s, we had a number of buyers roaming around, looking for artifacts for the museum.  A group of them happened upon the eagle while poking around a ship chandler’s shop in Boston (of course, it would be pretty hard to miss).  The owner of the shop was very eager to get rid of it the piece, understandable since it was the era of the Great Depression and the piece took up a lot of space in his shop.  But, as usually happens once someone expresses some interest, the price suddenly escalates.  Because of this, the purchase of the eagle was put on hold off on acquiring it.  Thankfully, they did end up coming back purchasing the piece!  It is one of the most important and magnificent pieces in the collection.  And when people walk through the doors of our museum, they tend to head straight to the eagle first, and who could blame them.


Picture of the eagle in the ship chandler’s shop.


A Valentine For Our Readers

A bit of Valentine’s Day fun for this blog post which looks at artifacts in our collection that are cataloged with the words valentine, love, darling, chocolate, candy,  kiss and heart in either the name or description fields in our collections database.


This is a ship’s clock from a vessel that started out with another celebratory name—SANTA CLAUS.   Built by Thomas & William Collier in New York, she launched as a side wheel passenger steamer in 1845 with her paddle boxes decorated with an image of Santa Claus, a chimney and his toy bag.  The ship was converted to a tow ship in 1859 for the Cornell Towing Line and retained the name Santa Claus until it was rebuilt in 1868 and the name changed to A. B. VALENTINE to honor an agent who worked for the company.  The VALENTINE’s career ended in 1901 when the ship was retired and sold to a scrapper. This clock was part of a large maritime collection given to the museum in 1941. (NA 103)na103


Ah, love is in the air…and in the water with this magazine advertisement for Jantzen swimwear.  Captioned “this is the life, sun is warm….love and youth and life are wonderful” and the “new fabrics are potent, the colors deliberately romantic.”  The sunny yellow, green and orange colors are just what we need to get us dreaming of warmer weather.  This piece is one of thirteen swimsuit advertisements purchased for an exhibit on the history of swimwear and beach bathing etiquette.  Not all of them were put on display at that time, but they provided curators with background information for our label copy and they are definitely a bit of fun in our collection.   (2001.06.03)




A colored lithograph, circa 1840, celebrates the determination of 22 year old Grace Darling and her efforts to save the survivors of the wrecked paddle coasting steamer Forfarshire on 7 September 1838. Around 3am and during a violent storm, the Forfarshire struck rocks on one of the Farne Islands located off the coast of Northumberland, England.  Eight of the crew and one passenger managed to escape in a lifeboat and the rest clung to rocks and pieces of the wreckage as it was pushed around by the wind and waves.  They were spotted by Grace around dawn and she convinced her father, lighthouse keeper William Darling that they needed to try to help the survivors.   Despite his misgivings that he and his petite daughter could control a rowboat in the storm, they set out and rescued the nine people who remained alive.  Of the estimated 43 casualties, many of the bodies were never found and of those recovered, some were never identified.  This print was purchased by the museum in 1946. (LP 3301)



What is Valentine’s Day without chocolate?  Here is a circa 1953 individual coffee/chocolate pot measuring just 4 inches high with the gold crossed key and anchor design of the North German Lloyd Line.  Used for First Class passenger service and manufactured by Rosenthal in Germany. (1973.60.33)



To hold the Valentine candy, here is a creamware Bon Bon dish decorated with a sepia colored transfer print of the battleship USS ILLINOIS at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company.  This type of decoration is also called Transferware after a technique developed in England in the mid-18th century.  An engraved metal plate is used to print the design on paper and then the paper is used to transfer the wet ink to the ceramic surface.  To fix the design, the object is fired in a low temperature kiln. Prior to this technology, ceramic designs were painted by hand.   Bon Bons may have been around since the 1600s according to some sources and the name is a duplication of the French word for “good”—Bon. These good-good confections are usually a soft center coated with a thin layer of chocolate.   The battleship USS ILLINOIS was launched in 1898 and commissioned in 1901.   (FN 732)



Royalty, a pirate, a lovely lady, battles at sea, treachery, redemption and love.  All part of Captain Blood, a 1935 black and white movie and this 1953 reprint of one of the movie posters that were displayed at theaters.  One of a group of posters purchased in 1997 in preparation for a pirate exhibit.  The inscription reads Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Prince turned pirate to fight the King’s armada and win a woman’s kiss”.   (1997.23.01)



A gift from the sea in the form of whale ivory carved into a jagging wheel-also known as a pie crimper.  Used to crimp or fuse the upper and lower piecrusts together so the filling didn’t escape while it was cooking.  Nicely decorated with hearts, diamonds and rosettes.  The only part of this piece that is not natural material is the small metal pin holding the wheel to the handle.  Jagging wheels are one of the items carved by sailors while they were on long voyages.  A gift to those left at home, a reminder that loved ones waited for them, or just something to fill up their time.   (IS 19)



I hope you have enjoyed this Valentine’s Day look at our collection.  If you want to see what other treasures are “hidden in the hold”, check out our website at  where you can do searches for items in our collection, archives, library holdings and the artifacts from the USS MONITOR.   Look things up by keyword, accession number, title or subject.  Thanks for reading!

The Return of Columbus

After being on loan for a year, our painting of Christopher Columbus painted ca 1910 by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida has returned!!



The painting has been traveling with the Sorolla & American exhibition that was organized by the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas.  After going to the Meadows Museum, it went to the San Diego Museum of Art and then to Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not convince them to send me with the painting to Madrid.  Shucks!!



After all that travel, the painting arrived home last week and we opened it with the help of our wonderful facilities staff (the crate was extremely heavy!).  Now that it is back, we will return it to its home on the wall in our Age of Exploration exhibition where we currently have a reproduction  hanging.


Way Back Wednesday

Taming the Wild October 8, 1937

Anna Hyatt Huntington’s statue “Conquering the Wild” at night on October 8, 1937, before the fence was put around it.  The monument is dedicated to Collis Potter Huntington and features a young man taming a horse on top.  Around the sides are four seated men representing Art, Learning, Science and Industry.Small Boat Exibition in South Courtyard, late 1950's

This image shows our small craft exhibition in the courtyard in the late 50’s.  For a long time the courtyard was our best area to display boats as it was such a large are.  Now we have the wonderful International Small Craft Center, a large building just for our boats.

Snow in the park March 9, 1947

I thought this image was rather fitting considering the weather lately.  It shows snow in the park in March 9, 1947.  On the rare occasion when we do get a decent snow fall here, our park is transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland.Steamship Historical Society, October 1954The Steamship Historical Society of America stopped by for a visit and to pose with this engine in October of 1954.  The engine in the background is the walking beam engine from the steamboat Albany, who was built for the Hudson River Line in 1880 by Harlan & Hollingsworth.