Blog of the Collections Department

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.


Something New, Historic and Fun

One of the latest additions to our collection is a toy which offers a unique view of the Civil War.  It’s a game, a history lesson, a home theater and a farce, all at the same time.  So let me introduce “The Myriopticon, A Historical Panorama of The Rebellion”, its famous creator and how it all came about.

The creator of the Myriopticon was Milton Bradley.  The same man whose name would become synonymous with popular games like Candyland, Twister, Operation, Jenga, Battleship and Yatzee, just to name a few.

Bradley got his start as a draftsman and he worked for a while designing railroad cars.  But in 1860 he set out on a new career as a lithographer, creating and selling prints.  One in particular, an image of Abraham Lincoln, proved to be very popular and profitable.  But alas, Bradley’s Lincoln had no beard, so when the real thing began to grow facial hair, sales of the lithograph faltered.

He then decided to make a lithograph designed like a checkerboard with light and dark squares and gave it the title “The Checkered Game of Life”.    A game with a morality theme where proper living would carry a player from Infancy to Old Age and the wrong choices would lead to Ruin.   The game proved to be extremely popular and profitable with the initial print run selling out within a few months.

Bradley had found a new career path, but within a short period of time, sales began to quickly decline due to the Civil War.  Initially he decided to stop production and turn his attention to making weapons, but advice from others convinced him otherwise.  Soldiers in the field were looking for diversions to keep them occupied between battles and long marches, he was told.  So he decided to make miniature versions of games including checkers, chess, dominos, backgammon and his Checkered Game of Life.   He sold them for $1 each and since they were lightweight and easily carried, they were just the thing to boost sales again.

Another benefit he would get from the war, even if Bradley might not have realized it at the time, was the appearance of the war illustrations in magazines and newspapers.  Views of the battles, participants, weapons and war-torn cities, most of them done by artists who were on the scene during the action or who spent time with troops in the encampments.  Some of the drawings were accurate and others were not, but these depictions captivated readers and Bradley would find them extremely useful for his next big project.

After the war interest in educational pastimes began growing and Bradley took advantage of this momentum by creating a toy based on a popular style of entertainment called the Panorama.  Shown as a theater production with curtains, lights and often music, Panoramas were large rolls of fabric with painted scenes.  During the show, the fabric was slowly unrolled so one image at a time would be displayed while a narrator read a script to the audience.    Some of the most popular presentations were based on battles and stories from the Civil War.

Bradley had his parlor-sized version of the Panorama available for sale before the end of 1866.  His Myriopticon contained 22 drawings glued end to end with depictions of the Civil War from the fall of Fort Sumter to the burning of Richmond.   Other images included the battle between the Ironclads U.S. S.  Monitor and  C. S. S. Virginia, camp life, freed slaves and a sharpshooter.   Bradley did the artwork himself but some of the images look almost identical to illustrations seen in newspapers and magazines during the war.

The toy was a small cardboard box with an open back and a viewing window cut into the front panel and it was decorated with brightly colored lithograph paper depicting a patriotic bunting, theater curtains, musicians and two royal figures watching from the sides.   Two wooden rollers inside the box allowed the user to move the drawings past the viewing window and the instructions encouraged them to place a candle or other light behind the Myriopticon to enhance the illusion that it was a theater performance.

Like a real Panorama, the Myriopticon came with paper tickets, an advertising poster and a script.  The script was written by Bradley and it contained factual information as well as sly jokes and comments, and even some warnings to the audience to mind their step through the camp scenes as if they were present when the action was taking place.  And of course, there were pleas for the audience to remain seated until the show was over.

Like most lithographed toys, our Myriopticon exhibits the wear and tear of use and age, but the colors remain bright and the rollers still work properly.   Other examples of these toys are housed in other museums and private collections and they come up for auction from time to time.   It is interesting to note that not all the illustrations are identical in the Myriopticons that still exist.  There are several different versions of the Panorama.  Whether or not this is due to the date of production or a grand scheme that Bradley may have had to encourage viewers to attend multiple Myriopticon presentations, I will leave that for you to speculate.  As of yet, I don’t have an answer.

Another thing that comes to my mind is just how many of these toys may have gone up in smoke during the presentations.  Cardboard covered with paper, wood rollers and Bradley’s suggestion of placing a candle or lantern behind the box during the show and you have the potential for some interesting special effects during the performance.    Which may have been truly effective if it happened during the showing of the last image…the burning of Richmond.

To see our catalog record for the Myriopticon with photos of all 22 of the drawings, visit our website at www.   Click on the Explore button at the top of the screen and then choose Search Catalogs.  You will be able to view our collection by putting in search terms or merely browsing.   Thanks for reading our blog.



Firing on Fort Sumter

Burning of Richmond

Burning of Richmond

Ironclad Action

Ironclad Action



New Findings in the Ronson Ship Collection

Over the past three months, I have encountered all different types of findings within the Ronson Ship collection. So far, I have primarily worked with pipe stem fragments and tablewares.

Currently, the boxes that I have been working on have included various types of tablewares. The most predominant types that I have encountered thus far have included red earthenware, salt-glazed stoneware, Westerwald tankard rims, scratched-blue stoneware, Delftware, English yellow slipware as well as some  blue hand-painted Chinese porcelain.

While I have come across a wide variety of tableware types, there have been some pieces that have been more challenging to accurately determine. Each day that I am working with the collection, I never know what I am going to stumble upon so it has been exciting to be able to date and pinpoint some of the household tableware that were found in the ship.

Here is a brief look into how some of the tableware pieces look:


Here are some fragments of Westerwald stoneware. It primarily dates back to 1650-1775.


Here are some larger pieces of Westerwald tankard rims.



This is an example of trailed slipware. Slipware is broken into three different categories: trailed, feathered, and dotted.



These are other designs that can be found on slipware. It typically dates back to 1580-1795. It was predominantly used for tableware.


This picture shows three separate Westerwald pieces that I was able to put back together. This type of stoneware was used mainly for mugs or jugs.



Hopefully I will have some more updates to share soon!



Raft Dance – Illustrated London News

From the Illustrated London News comes this amusing image of people dancing on a raft amidst a group of ships and boats.  According to the text on the side, this occurred during the Squadron Regatta in Cork, Ireland in July of 1851.  Those on the raft were sailors from the HMS Leander who has dressed up to perform various dances on the raft for the amusement of all at the regatta.  As a finale, the performers jumped into the water and then continued to amuse onlookers with their antics.

So far I haven’t been able to find out any more information about the occasion displayed in this piece, but I thought it was probably still interesting enough to share.

raft party

Way Back Wednesdays

Museum building November 17, 1937

This was one of the storage buildings (in 1937) attached to the main museum.  It would later be converted into our library space, at least until they moved over to the Christopher Newport University library.

Museum Courtyard, boats on display January 2, 1940

After they discontinued storing our boats in the lake, they put them into our courtyard where they were more easily visible, as this photo from 1940 shows.  Now they are happily displayed in our International Small Craft Center.

Newport News Boys Club camping in the park July 1947

And here we have an image from July of 1947 from when the Newport News Boys Club camped in the park.  They have clearly been swimming, but the lake is no longer a nice place to do that.

November 1936 Classroom exhibition inspired by a visit to The Mariners' Museum

This photo shows a classroom exhibition that was inspired by a visit to The Mariners’ Museum in 1936. Not sure what school this is from, but the wall looks great!

Artifact of the Month – Galatea

For November I decided to make one of our beautiful figureheads the artifact of the month.  Choosing one was rather difficult as they are all wonderful in their own ways, but eventually I picked that of Galatea.


I’ve found that, like Galatea here,  a lot of figureheads get their names from mythology.  There are two myths that go along with Galatea, the first stating that she was a beautiful sea goddess/nymph who was in love with a man named Akis.  The cyclops Polyphemus was in love with Galatea and jealous of the young Akis, crushed him beneath a rock.  In her grief, Galatea turned Akis into a stream.

The other myth refers to Galatea as a statue that Pygmalion carved from ivory.  Pygmalion’s statue was so beautiful that he fell in love with it and left offerings to Aphrodite asking for a woman as wonderful as his statue.  When he returned home his statue turned into a live woman and they were married.

I imagine that this figurehead was probably based on the latter story as she has been carved so smoothly that she looks as though she has been made of ivory.  Also, when you compare paintings of Pygmalion and Galatea, she is usually shown with that same draping cloth across or around her, as with the image of the painting below.

Depiction of Ovid's narrative by Jean Raoux, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Depiction of Ovid’s narrative by Jean Raoux, Courtesy of Wikipedia

While there has been some confusion as to which ship named Galatea that our figurehead came from, it has been determined that it is from the one built in 1865 in Boston.  She was in American hands until 1877 when she her home port changed to Bremerhaven, Germany.  She remained under German ownership until 1883, which is when she disappears from the European Lloyds Register of Shipping.

An interesting narrative of about the ship and the figurehead come from Captain Yngve Eiserman, a Swedish collector who gained his information from a local man who was part of the last crew on Galatea.  He is stated as saying:

“The ship to which she gave her name was, I believe, one of the early American clippers whose memory is still honoured in the States.  After making her name under the American flag she passed into German hands.  Then one day in 1882, she was badly battered in a gale off Port Elizabeth…so the crippled Galatea crawled into Table Bay and was dry docked…the first ship to use the newly completed dock.  But a sad blow fell upon the captain and his crew.  Their ship was condemned as being no longer fit for sea.  When the old Galatea was condemned she became a hulk in Table Bay.  When she outlived her period of usefulness in even that lowly capacity she was run ashore among the breakers on Blaauwberg beach and broken up.  Her figurehead, I believe, was saved by a Mr. Stevens at Blaauwberg.  Eventually it passed into the ownership of Mr. Charles Bleach who set it up in his hotel at Simon’s Town.  There it was always an object of interest…Now the American Museum has raised the money for its purchase and from letters I have said they are very glad over there to be getting it back.  The figurehead, carefully packed, left in the American steamer West Isleta for New York on Thursday.”

As for who carved our figurehead, that is unknown, although it has been attributed to Herbert Gleason, who was a Boston carver.  The reasoning is that Galatea shares many characteristics of known carvings by Gleason in look and form and because the ship was built in Boston.

In any case, she is a beautiful figurehead and while currently in storage, hopefully she will be displayed again in our Great Hall of Steam with some of the other figureheads.

Fun Fact Friday

Going through old records and photographs for the museum really brings to mind how many fascinating little facts there are about this place that most people don’t know.  I decided to create a regular Fun Fact Friday post on here to highlight these interesting tidbits.  For now it will probably be once a month, but after I do some more research I may be able to expand to every other week or so.

Without further ado, here is our first fun fact.  Most of the time when museums open for the first time they have a grand opening, or at least some type of event to mark their beginning.  We did not.  On October 29, 1933, visitors to the park were admitted to the museum with no fanfare.  As we often say around here, we opened because one day people just started wandering inside.  The picture below shows what those first visitors would have seen in the museum.  After spending so much money to build the museum and park and to obtain the collection, it all seems very anticlimactic.

Main gallery space, November 28, 1933 (2)

The Dead Horse Festival

While spending some time going through a stack of Harper’s Weekly articles we have, I found some really interesting subjects.  The one that stuck out the most was titled The Dead Horse Festival.  First mistake was looking at the imagery before reading the article.  I thought they were throwing a real horse from the ship; they aren’t.

Dead Horse Festival (1) Dead Horse Festival (2)


There is some text missing from ours, but I was able to find it online.  The first two columns read:

“This amusing ceremony often takes places on board of English ships sailing to Australia.  On joining a ship the sailors are advanced a month’s wages, with which they are supposed to have bought a horse, which dies at the end of four weeks.  A dummy steed is prepared in the forecastle, the body being an old flour barrel, the neck and head of canvas, stuffed with straw and painted.  In place of a saddle, a hole is cut throughout the body, large enough to admit the legs of the rider.

About half past seven in the evening a small procession, headed by a man who carries a baton, furnished with a rude imitation of a human face, issues from the forecastle.  Following him is a sailor with long white whiskers, who holds a can for penny contributions.  He is protected by a number of policemen, armed with canvas clubs like those used in pantomimes, with which they lay about them as freely as New York policemen, but with no other effect the eliciting shouts of laughter.  The procession is closed by a number of sailors who sing jolly sea songs during the march.  After the collection has been taken up, the party returns to the forecastle.

Shortly afterward a larger procession shown in sketch No. 1, issues from the forecastle, with a number of comic characters in addition to those just mentioned, among them the auctioneer, in frock-coat and tall hat, with a roll of papers in his hands, and attended by a clerk.  Immediately after the auctioneer comes the horse, ridden, or rather carried, by a sailor dressed as a jockey, and led by a groom.”

The last few words missing in the third column are “side, near the mainsail”

"The Ceremony of the Dead Horse" from 'Shanties from the seven seas' by S. Hugill (1961)

“The Ceremony of the Dead Horse” from ‘Shanties from the seven seas’ by S. Hugill (1961)

The origin of this comes from when a sailor would be given a month’s advance when signing on to a ship.  This was usually long gone by the time the voyage began, often sent to the sailor’s family.  At the end of the first month at sea the sailor would have worked off this debt and begun to earn money,  and it appears that this was their way of celebrating.  The dead horse is representative of the advance money they had been given and how they were free of that burden.

Running across interesting tidbits like this is what makes history so fun!

Returned stolen materials

And again I have another batch to share with everyone.  It is a small group of stereoviews, which are something I find very interesting as I had never heard of them before working here.   For those who are not familiar with them, they are those cards with two images.  The idea is that in a viewer, the photos line up to create a 3-D effect to your eyes, and so these were very popular when introduced.

No. IIII. Stockton City (1)

Stockton City

301.  Broadway Wharf & River Steamers (1)

Broadway Wharf and river steamers in San Francisco

Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor (1)

Fort Lafayette, New York Harbor

Grand Central Hotel, New York City (1)

Grand Central Hotel, New York

May Queen on Lake Minnetonka, Minn (1)

The steamboat May Queen on Lake Minnetonka,  Minnesota.

Mt. Desert Ferry terminal, Maine (1)

Mt. Desert Ferry Terminal, Maine


Way Back Wednesdays


While I don’t often post images that just show one object, I chose to do with this piece as the condition has drastically changed through the years.  This pictures shows the smallest model in our collection, which just happens to be in a flashlight bulb.  The pencil is great for comparison as it shows just how small the piece is.  We still have this in our collection, but the glass of the bulb has filmed over and the little model is barely visible now.

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

Here we have a group of Seascouts from Baltimore, Maryland in front of our then main entrance in May of 1949.  No doubt they come to tour the museum as we still have groups like this come and visit us from time to time.  If possible, we try to provide them with special behind-the-scenes tours, which are always a lot of fun.

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

From the 30’s until just after WWII, we had a ship model shop (shown above in January of 1937) on the property.  It was the men that worked in this shop that built many of the models showcased in our Great Hall of Steam Gallery.  They used plans from the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company to build these models, which means that the accuracy with which they were built is amazing.  The models are pretty fantastic.

Snow in the park March 9, 1947

And just as a reminder to everyone that summer is over, here is a picture from March 9, 1947 that shows snowfall in the park.  That’s right, winter is coming and it is projected to be pretty cold this year.  Hopefully Mother Nature won’t be too unkind.