Blog of the Collections Department

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Japan Mail Steamship Company brochure (1) Japan Mail Steamship Company brochure (4) MarineEngineGovernor photographic postcard, Normandie (1) Photographic postcard, SS United States on trials 1952 (1) postcard, SS United States departing Hampton Roads (1)

Two postcards featuring SS United States.  The first shows the ship during trials in 1952 while the second shows it leaving Hampton Roads

Way Back Wednesdays

Dec 1958, Christmas exhibition in main room

Christmas display in the main exhibition room, December 1958.  At the top of the display, above the Guiding Star nameboard is a decorative piece from SS Deutschland and is very possibly from the main dining room.  The figurehead to the left is a Native American, probably from a British ship of the early 19th century.

Shipmodel Building Shop January 1937 - John Bader (left) Tilford Crandol (right)

View from January of 1937 showing our shipmodel building shop with two of our builders, John Bader (left) and Tilford Crandol (right).  It’s great to see all of the models and half models around the room and on the wall. These men had some amazing talent and built us several beautiful models, many of which are currently on display in our Great Hall of Steam.

Opening of the International Antarctic Exhibition, October 28, 1962

This is yet another picture of the opening of the International Antarctic Exhibition on October 28, 1962.

Sea Scouts from Baltimore, MD in front of main entrance May 1949

In May of 1949, the Sea Scouts from Baltimore, Maryland paid us a visit and so kindly posed in front of what used to be our main entrance.

Artifact of the Month – Cigar Case

The artifact of the month for January is one of the new pieces that came to us last year.  It is a cigar case constructed of two lacquered papier-mâché panels connected with an accordian-like fabric lining.  On one side is an image of Queen Victoria while the other side shows a sailor branding a slave, underneath which is written “Extinction of Slavery–Civilisation of Africa.”



Although not certain of the exact history of this particular cigar case and the purpose for the images, we do know that the image on this case very closely resembles Nathaniel Currier’s lithograph titled “Branding Slaves”.  Nathaniel Currier began the company that eventually came to be Currier & Ives, who were very well known for their lithographs.  It is thought that Currier’s lithograph was based on the painting “Scenes on the Coast of Africa” by François-Auguste Baird, who was an outspoken opponent of slavery and the slave trade.

Branding Slaves, Nathaniel Currier, 1947

Branding Slaves, Nathaniel Currier, 1947

Scenes on the Coast of Africa, François-Auguste Baird, 1940

Scenes on the Coast of Africa, François-Auguste Baird, 1940

It is believed that the reason for the portrait of Queen Victoria on the other side is because shortly before her reign slavery was abolished in England, a ruling she seemed to gladly uphold.  Also, her husband, Prince Albert, was a chair of the African Civilization Society, a group hoping to put an end to slavery.  As for the specific history of this piece, we may never really know, but I’m glad we have added this important piece to our collection.  It will be a great educational tool.

December 31, 1862

On this day in 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor slipped beneath the waves off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina during a storm. Sixteen of the sixty two crewmembers were lost that night. The men rescued by the U.S.S. Rhode Island would face the New Year with their thoughts on those swept off the deck by the ferocious waves and the men trapped inside the ironclad as she sank.

Staff here at the museum will have the Monitor’s crew in their thoughts today. Emails and conversations between friends and colleagues will inevitably mention them. So will some newspapers, Facebook pages and twitter posts. Many of us will stop by the Conservation Lab’s observation deck and look down at the large artifacts undergoing treatment in their water filled tanks. The engine, condenser, cannons, cannon carriages and the turret where the skeletons of two men were found. While still unidentified, these men now rest at Arlington National Cemetery and forensic reconstructions of their skulls are sitting not far from the pieces of their beloved ship. All mute reminders that accidents at sea have claimed,  and still continue to claim lives.

Today we remember those lost during the sinking of the USS Monitor on December 31, 1862.  Fair winds and following seas gentlemen as you continue to sail the waves in spirit.  May your souls be at peace.

ATTWATER, Norman Knox, Act. Ensign
FREDERICKSON, George, Act. Ensign
HANDS, Robinson, Woolen, 2rd Asst. Eng.
LEWIS, Samuel Augee, 3rd Asst. Eng.
ALLEN, William, Landsman
BRYAN, William, Yeoman
COOK, Robert, 1st Cl. Boy
EAGAN, William H., Landsman
FENWICK, James R., Quarter Gunner
HOWARD, Robert H., Officer’s Cook
JOYCE, (Joice) Thomas, 1st Cl. Fireman
LITTLEFIELD, George, Coal Heaver
MOORE, Daniel, Landsman
NICKLIS (Nickles), Jacob, Seaman
WENTZ, Wells (John Stocking), Boatswain’s Mate
WILLIAMS, Robert, 1st Class Fireman

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of our readers!!


“Operation Yuletide” Bringing out the Christmas tree to US Battleship Mississippi, painted by Thomas Skinner, 1948

Fun Fact Friday


St. Paul figurehead, ca 1875-1900

Fun Fact:  After our figurehead of St. Paul was purchased in 1934 and began the journey to the museum, he got in a little bit of trouble.  To travel he was placed inside of the luggage compartment in a small Ford runabout.  As the roads were rather bumpy, the lid of the compartment opened enough for other motorists to see parts of Paul.  Apparently people thought that the buyers were carrying a dead body and the the police were alerted.  Next thing our buyers knew, they had police pull them over and surround them once stopped.  They had to get out of the car and show the police that it was just a figurehead they were carrying and nothing sinister.

Years later Paul once again got into a little bit of trouble.  He and many other figureheads were attached to the walls in our Great Hall and one of the trustees asked that Paul (whose right arm is extended and pointing) be moved because of where he was pointing.  It just so happened that Paul was directly across from our beautiful, but busty and topless mermaid.  So Paul was moved and a Victorian lady was put into his place across from the mermaid.

Way Back Wednesdays

May 1973 Tour of the museum for Russian Scientists, Captain Yuryi Dimov, Leonid Kryshtyn and Aleksandr Morozov with interpreter Nataly Martin

In May of 1973 we gave a tour for several Russian Scientists, including a figurehead carving demonstration.

May 19,1955, museum photogerapher William T. Radcliffe taking a picture of ship model Susan Constant

William T. Radcliffe was the official museum photographer for a long time and this shot of him (in 1955) preparing a model for photography is great.  Have to love those old cameras!  It also begs the question of, who is taking a photo of the photographer.



This image is a little different than most of the other Way Back Wednesday photos as it shows an object, rather than scene from the museum.  This is probably the smallest model in the collection and is inside a flashlight bulb.  Unfortunately, time has not been kind to the bulb and so now we can no longer see the model, but at least we will always have this image to know what it once looked like.

Opening of Gibbs Gallery in May 1972

I know I share a lot of photos from the Gibbs Gallery, but we have a lot of them and William Francis Gibbs was an interesting man.  This image from 1972 shows the inside of the gallery as finishing touches are being put on it.

Artifact of the Month – dredged anchor watercolor

For December, our artifact of the month is a lovely watercolor of a dredged anchor, the sea life growing on it almost making it look like a holiday wreath.  This piece is new to our collection and the staff were all pretty excited about it as it.  That excitement grew as the piece was further researched.



The image is supposed to be a depiction of an anchor dredged up in 1885 off Cape Ann by Alpheus Hyatt.  To anybody with some knowledge of our institutional history, the name Hyatt should sound familiar.  Alpheus was the father of our founder, Anna Hyatt Huntington.

Alpheus Hyatt, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Alpheus Hyatt, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Alpheus Hyatt was born April 5, 1838 into an old Maryland family.  He gained an interest in zoology early in life and eventually became a custodian and later curator for the Boston Society of Natural History as well as professor of zoology and paleontology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.  Always curious and desirous to share his knowledge, Hyatt started a marine laboratory in 1880 in Annisquam, Massachusetts.  In 1881 it was formally established as a summer program, Annisquam Sea-side Laboratory, and as a branch of the Boston Society of Natural History, with whom Hyatt was already affiliated.  The program allowed women as well as men to attend and the students were often taken out for dredging field trips on board Arethusa.  It was probably on one of these journey’s where the anchor in the watercolor was dredged up.  The laboratory was later moved to Woods Hole and became an independent operation.  Hyatt passed away on January 15, 1902 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the bottom left corner of the watercolor is the artist’s signature and date, George Merwangee White 1885.  White lived from 1849-1915 and has a number of works at the Peabody Museum in Salem, MA.


Fun Fact Friday

This month’s fun fact is about our Great Hall of Steam exhibition, which is our gallery that includes many large ship models.  What many may or may not know is that a good number of the models exhibited were built here at the museum.  On July 19, 1932, we opened a ship model shop for the purpose of creating models that could be displayed.


Ship Model Shop, January 1937

When the work began, they decided to do models of contemporary ships so that the plans from the actual ships could be used.  Most of these ended up being ships that had been built at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company.  The first model the shop started working on was that of President Hoover of the Dollar Line, although a model of the tug John Twohy, Jr. was finished first.


President Hoover/President Coolidge of the Dollar Line

Once experience had been gained building the contemporary models, the shop began working on models for historic vessels, such as the Monitor and Virginia.  The model shop continued until the early 1940’s, at which point they had built a total of 14 models.  Thanks to them we have some beautiful representations of ships past.


Model makers working on the model of America, 1939

B is for Buttersworth

Although I am a little late with the announcement, we recently had a new art exhibition open, titled “B is for Buttersworth F is for Forgery“.



The idea is that you can wander around the gallery enjoying the art of James Edward Buttersworth, who was a fantastic maritime artist, while also trying to see if you can spot which is the forgery, for there is only one.



Buttersworth (1817-1894) was born in England, but emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1840’s where he settled in New York City.  He is well known for his paintings depicting scenes from the America‘s Cup race as well as scenes from New York’s harbor.  Butterworth’s father, Thomas Buttersworth, was also a maritime painter and you can find two of his works in this gallery as well.

"British Armed Top Sail Schooner off Malaga, Spain" and "Frigate Entering Gibraltar Harbor" by Thomas Buttersworth

“British Armed Top Sail Schooner off Malaga, Spain” and “Frigate Entering Gibraltar Harbor” by Thomas Buttersworth

After you’ve studied the paintings, it is then time to choose which you believe to be the fake.  You get three strikes and then you are out on our computers (shown below), but of course you can try again as many times as you like.


Another really fun aspect of the exhibition is just around the corner from the computers and is a make your own painting activity.  On the wall is a blank maritime scene (if no one else has played with it yet) next to which are magnets.  You can use these magnets to create your own maritime painting (as seen below).  I’m sure visitors have been enjoying this and I know that the staff has.  B is for Buttersworth will be up until April 26, 2015.