Blog of the Collections Department

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.


Fun Fact Friday

Back in the early days of the museum, several people were sent out to find and purchase items to build our collection.  They would often collect so many things at one time that the objects would fill up their houses until the pieces could be labeled and shipped to the museum.  One such object is our figurehead attributed to the ship William Wirt.



What is most interesting about Wirt’s stay in the buyer’s home is the fact that he sat on top of their refrigerator, watching them as they went about their lives.  They stated that “It was a creepy feeling, especially at night and almost reminded us of the ghastly story of John the Baptist.  Our friends called him ‘Bill’ and he soon became part of the household.”  Apparently they became rather fond of him and were a little reluctant to ship him to the museum.

It is hard to imagine having your house filled with treasures like this one, especially when you know that you do not get to keep them.

Returned Stolen Material

BankHoliday_WhiteStar-001 BankHoliday_WhiteStar-002

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