Blog of the Collections Department

Way Back Wednesdays

June 1934, objects on table in main room, scrimshaw display

In our early days, we often simply placed objects all over tables to show off as much of the collection as possible.  Of course this left them easily exposed to damage and theft, so we no longer display them like this, but it still looks neat.  This image is from 1934 and features a small portion of our scrimshaw collection.  The finest piece is that large panbone next to the paddle from 1857/1858 depicting the Civic Heroes of the American Revolution and the Washington Monument at Richmond.  It was made by Nathaniel Sylvester Finney, a veteran whaleman.

Jan 23, 1963, Channel 13 taping a tv program about the International Antarctic Exhibition, interviewing Admiral Dufek

I believe I have posted other photographs before of our International Antarctic Exhibition before, but this one (from Jan. 23, 1963) shows Admiral Dufek being interviewed by Channel 13.

Front of Gibbs Gallery, 1978

The Gibbs Gallery, dedicated to William Francis Gibbs, is another exhibition that we have a lot of photographs from (like the International Antarctic Exhibition).  This shot (from 1978) shows the entrance to the gallery with a model of SS America front and center.  No doubt there was a lot of information included about another famous ship Gibbs designed, SS United States.

Main entrance December 30, 1937


This image shows the front entrance to our museum on December 30, 1937.  Quite a bit has change since then.  This is now the business entrance, but the beautiful bronze doors are still there.  The cannons were removed from this spot and just a few years ago put out in the front of the museum on special stands.  The anchors aren’t there either anymore, but the vegetation around this entrance has grown up quite a bit.

Everyday is an adventure

One of the absolute best parts of this job is that I am almost always on some kind of treasure hunt, whether I know it or not.  Frequently I will be browsing through an object file and will find some random bit of information that is either hilarious or incredibly interesting, or sometimes both.  Today has been one of those days.  In the process of locating information for a researcher regarding an umiak that used to be in our collection, I came across a funny handwritten note that said, “the oomiak has unquestionably added atmosphere as well as smell to the museum.”  It was only after I started researching the umiak that is currently in our collection that I understand why someone may have stated something.

Umiak on display in International Small Craft Center

Umiak on display in International Small Craft Center

Looking through information from when the umiak came to us (the one in the picture above) it was written that “While in Alaska Mr. Woolworth, forgetful of our purchase, brought back an oomiak on the deck of his yacht as a gift for the Mariners.  The boats as already stated, are covered with walrus skins.  When the sun shone for days, the greasy fragrance from this particular craft – plus the stench of urine with which Eskimos saturate the hides to tan them – caused mal-de-mere, anything but pleasant for those on board.  No doubt it was a never-to-be-forgotten trip.  In fact we heard stories about it for several years.”

This is just the kind of information I always hope to find when I am browsing object files.

General Slocum in Powerships

I am very excited to announce that the article I had created earlier this year about the coin from the General Slocum that was donated to us has been published by the Steamship Historical Society of America’s publication, Powerships.  I am now a published author, woohoo!!  But truly, the tale of General Slocum is a very powerful story and the layout in the magazine is great.  So if anyone is interested in reading it, you can purchase a copy here:


Returned Stolen Material

As usual, I am excited to share the archival materials that are being returned to us, so enjoy!

Japan Mail Steamship Co booklet, 1915 (1) Japan Mail Steamship Co booklet, 1915 (10)

Japan Mail Steamship Company brochure from 1915, showing the ship SS Yasaka Maru

Grace Line, Santa Paula launching booklet 1958 (1) Grace Line, Santa Paula launching booklet 1958 (4)

Booklet from the launching of the Grace Line’s new ship Santa Paula in 1958 at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company

Cunard Line booklet, Andania, Antonia, Ausonia (1) Cunard Line booklet, Andania, Antonia, Ausonia (6)

Cunard Line booklet featuring the ships Andania, Antonia & Ausonia

Anchor Line booklet, Eastern Service (1) Anchor Line booklet, Eastern Service (5)

Anchor Line booklet for their Eastern Service, featuring the ships Caledonia, Cilicia & Circassia

MS Britannic photogarph, August 2, 1931 Cretic photograph, 1915

Photographs of MS Britannic (1931) and Cretic (1915)


Posters, part 8

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Thought it was time to share some more posters, so here we go.  The first one is from the 1960’s and encourages young people to stay in school.  As for the second poster, it was an effort to save the old USS Oregon.  The ship was scrapped in the 50’s, but pieces of it remain in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland Oregon, including the mast.  The third is a recruiting poster ca 1917 by artist Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

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The first poster in this set is also WWI and encourages people to buy victory notes.  The second is WWII by artist Allen Saalburg and works at encouraging patriotism by reminding people of the lives lost in the Pearl Harbor disaster.  The third is also WWII (1944) and stands as a reminder that Americans were also fighting on the Pacific front, not just in Europe where the fighting was coming to a close.  It was done by artist P. Kolada

Way Back Wednesday

July 1963 Concert being held in the courtyard

Many people are familiar with our concerts by the lake series in the summer but, long before those, we would occasionally hold concerts like this in our courtyard.  This is from July of 1963.

Feb 23, 1968, Miss Evans' 92nd birthday party

Cerinda Evans was The Mariners’ Museum’s first librarian and also wrote a biography on Collis Potter Huntington, our founder’s father.  This photograph of her from February 23, 1968 is of her 92nd birthday party the museum threw for her.  On the wall behind her you can see an oil painting of her.  And look at that typewriter!!

Fisheries and Whaling exhibition 1963

This third image shows a whaling and fisheries exhibition in 1963.  The main focus is the whaleboat built in New Bedford, Massachusetts by the Beetle Boat Building Company in 1933.  The piece is currently on display in our International Small Craft Center.  On the wall behind the boat is a painting of a Dutch Whaling Scene (1645) by Bonaventura Peeters, which is one of the oldest paintings in the collection and is a beautiful piece of art.

Jan 1966, first paying admissions


Something I didn’t know about the museum is that entry into the galleries was free until January of 1966.  This picture shows our first paying customers.  Behind them on the wall is a piece I’m very fond of, the stern carving from the replica sloop-of-war Fame (ca 1872).  She was used for training boys in seamanship.

Artifact of the Month – Kenyan dhow, Lamu

A couple posts ago I mentioned that we had a new boat coming.  Well, it’s here and I decided to feature it as the object of the month for August.  She is a Kenyan dhow named Lamu.2014-07-16 (2)

Lamu was brought to Washington DC for the 2014 Folklife Festival all the way from Lamu Island, Kenya.  The above photo shows her in the National Mall in DC, the National Museum of Natural History behind her.   She was brought by Ali Abdalla Skanda, whose father built her about 10 years ago.  While at the festival, Skanda and an assistant, Aly Baba, worked on fixing her up and finishing the painting and woodcarving.  Skanda recognizes that dhows are not used as they once were (with the development of motorized boats) and so dedicates himself to continuing the art of dhow building (passed from generation to generation in his family) and preserving his culture.

Ali Skanda works on his dhow sailboat, Lamu. Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

Ali Skanda works on his dhow sailboat, Lamu.
Photo by Josh Weilepp, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution

As neither Kenya nor a vessel of this type is represented in our small craft collection, we jumped at the chance to obtain the dhow.  It is currently visible in the back of our International Small Craft Center, but we have plans to showcase it in the front in the (hopefully) near future.

Before dealing with this boat, I had no idea what a dhow was, but I’ve come to learn that it is generally defined as “a group of ships used in East African, Arab, and Indian waters, whose main characteristic is the large lateen sail.” (Setting Sail:  Ten Thousand Years of Seafaring Adventure by Luc Cuyvers, 2004)  A lateen sail is one that is triangular in shape, as opposed to the square sail that was being used in the West.  The print below shows an example of a dhow where you can clearly see the triangular sail.



As for the origin of the dhow, that remains uncertain.  Many seem to think that the boats originate from the Arabs or Indians, but some think they may trace back to the Chinese.  However these boats came to be, they have been a vital mode of transportation, carrying people and cargo around the seas.  And that is why we are so glad to have one in our collection that we can use as an educational tool for many years to come!



Returned stolen material

It’s been a while since I’ve reported on the returning stolen pieces, but I am happy to say that they continue to come in.  And some people have been extremely kind and sent extra pieces in to help rebuild our collection.  Here are some of the pieces have that have come back in the last month.

City of Pueblo steamship photograph Robert E. Lee steamship photograph

Photographs of the steamships City of Pueblo (left) and Robert E. Lee (right).

Ward Line Holiday Tours to Havana ad (1) Ward Line Holiday Tours to Havana ad (2)

Advertisement for the Ward Line, Holiday Tours to Havana

Ward Line brochure fore Morro Castle and Oriente (1) Ward Line brochure fore Morro Castle and Oriente (2)

Another Ward Line piece, a brochure for Morro Castle and Oriente, with an image from Morro Castle’s Dance Deck.  The stage is great!

USS America launching, 1 February 1964 (1) USS America launching, 1 February 1964 (2)

Brochure from the launching of USS America in 1964.

Pacific Coast Steamship Co brochure (1) Pacific Coast Steamship Co brochure (2)

Brochure for a cruise to Alaska with the Pacific Steamship Company.

MS Italia booklet (1) MS Italia booklet (2)


MS Italia booklet with small deck plan

Kungsholm booklet (1) Kungsholm booklet (2)

Booklet for the Swedish American Line ship Kungsholm.

Loaning Objects to Jamestown

We are frequently dealing with loans, whether objects are being sent to other places or coming in for an exhibition we are planning.  This summer has been especially busy as we have had several large loans, which are very time-consuming.  This week we brought several large objects to Jamestown that will be used in an upcoming exhibition about the Chesapeake Bay.  This includes two boats, oyster tongs, a culling board and a frame saw.  The end of the tongs and saw can be seen in the pictures below.



Most of the objects were easy to get to their designated space on the second floor, but one boat, named Old Lady, was too large for the elevator and had to be hauled up the stairs.  To accomplish this, we purchased some new straps that would run along the bottom of the boat, which would give people a good handle while protecting the sides of the fragile boat.  We then had ten men get along the sides and use the straps to lift and haul her up the stairs.  Thankfully, it went smoothly and she made it to the exhibition space with little fuss.


Waiting to get the straps in place so she can be hauled up the stairs.  Wrapped up like that, Old Lady looks like a boat burrito.


With such a wonderful group helping us, the move went smoothly and the boat made it to its destination safe and sound.  We still have more artifacts to move, but they are smaller and can be moved much more easily.  So for those in the area or who are looking to visit, be sure to check out the exhibition when it opens on September 19.  It will remain open until September 8, 2015.

Also, keep an eye on the blog because we have a new boat coming in!

Posters, part 7

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Our first poster is obviously a WWII poster and encourages people to remember Pearl Harbor and join the Coast Guard to help defend the country.  The image was done by Charles Rosner.  The second poster has pretty much the same message as the first, just without mention of Pearl Harbor.  Both of these posters were used in a recruiting office in Norfolk, VA, which is probably how we ended up with them.  The third poster is one of my favorites, I guess because I don’t generally associate space travel with the Navy.  It is ca 1955 with an unknown artist.

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“Pour it on” is a great poster from 1942 by artist Jarret Price.  It was made by the United States War Production Board and it looks as though we might have received our copy from the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, which would make sense because we have received many posters from them.  The second is another WWII poster and features a sad, but true, message about the inhabitants of Lidice, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic).  The third poster ca 1950’s/60’s encourages women to join the Navy and shows three different positions they can hold.  It was done by artist Lou Nolan.