The Port of Call Blog

Chris-Craft Exhibit Now Open

PI932-ExhibitPoster (2)


Our latest exhibit is now open in the Library. American Classics: The First Half Century of Chris-Craft will be on display through May, 2014.


The legacy of Chris-Craft is rich in both tradition and innovation—the glossy mahogany hulls they built remain instantly recognizable as the epitome of classic pleasure boats. And with additional model lines that eventually included aluminum, plywood, steel, and fiberglass hulls—as well as kit boats and sailboats—there was a Chris-Craft designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of buyers around the world.



The story of Chris-Craft is one of originality, of business and industry acumen; it speaks to meticulous attention to detail and a commitment to craftsmanship. Using photographs, advertisements, and other materials drawn from our extensive Chris-Craft Collection, American Classics follows the trajectory of this unique corporation during its first decades—the evolution of a small-town, family-owned business which became the world’s largest builders of pleasure boats and drastically changed the industry.


The Library is open Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 12:00 pm-5:00 pm; Thursday, 12:00 pm-7:00 p.m.

We hope you’ll stop by to check it out!


Rare Maps & Sea Monsters

Good afternoon, readers!

Mariaelena DiBenigno is a special guest blogger today as a graduate student in the William and Mary American Studies Program.  She has been an intern with us for a few months and she has been working exclusively with our rare map collection. In addition to cataloging these resources, she’s been on the hunt for something more…
Read on to see what she has been up to!

While cataloging The Mariners’ Museum Library’s collection of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century maps, I have also been scanning the illustrated seas for the unusual, the astonishing, and the monstrous. Part of my current project involves searching for depictions of sea monsters in the oceans, near land and along the edges of the maps. Fortunately, this rare map collection contains a multitude of sea monsters, as you’ll see below.

In the map, Septentrionalivm regionvm descrip. (MSM0125) by Abraham Ortelius, 1592, there is a colorful ichthyosaur gracing the waters off the coast of Ireland as he plays a mandolin in the lower left corner. There are also images of the whale-like physetera, or spouter, and its counterpart, the large-bodied cetus.

MSm0125-jpg635174338040000000  MSm0125Detail_01-jpg635174338280000000
MSm0125Detail_02-jpg635174338560000000  MSm0125Detail_03-jpg635174338740000000

All manner of mermen and mermaids decorate seas. On several cartouches, like the ones below, strangely cherubic creatures with fish tails romp about.

Below, the map Tvrcici imperii descriptio. Concordia parue res crescunt, discordia maxime disabunter (MSM0115), by Abraham Ortelius in 1592.

MSm0115-jpg635174337240000000  MSm0115Detail-jpg635174337450000000

Below, more cherubs are featured in the map, Typus Universalis (MSM1712) by Sebastian Münster, 1540.


Very few maps in the collection depict menacing sea monsters, although one seventeenth century text, Architectura Navalis, shows sailors shooting galley cannons at three threatening sea creatures from the map Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Tabula (MSM0001by Frederik de Wit, 1660.

MSm0001-jpg635174336190000000  MSm0001Detail-jpg635174336440000000

I have learned that sea monsters serve three purposes on maps:

1. They display the great oceanic unknown to audiences with atlas access.
2. They demonstrate a community’s desire to frighten away enterprising foreign fishermen.
3. They simply help decorate large swathes of sea.

While we can’t always be sure what each individual sea monster represented, we do know that these illustrations were replaced with ships in the early eighteenth century. As the seas became more and more charted, the age of the map-based sea monsters came to an end.

I am sure that Maria will uncover several more sea monsters in our rare map collection during her stay with us. Just keep in mind that you are always welcome to drop by the Library to see them in person!

New Year… New archival projects!

Happy New Year, readers!

It has taken me some time to get back into the swing of things here at the Library, but I am happy to deliver some exciting news… We have created our own digital library, The Mariners’ Museum Library Gallery, in order to shine a spotlight on some of our rare and unique resources that have been digitized. This ongoing project will allow our patrons to view our online exhibits, our digitized manuscripts, journals and logbooks, our rare maps, and eventually, some of our photographs. Click the image below to see what we have so far!


Also, with the new Library Gallery, we have the ability to begin crowdsourcing our digitized manuscript materials. This means that you can select a page from one of our handwritten archival resources and type what you see. This kind of transcription project would be a huge undertaking for our small library staff, but with your help, you will be practically making our never-before-seen manuscripts “findable”, searchable, and readable for our international researchers. If you’re interested in becoming involved with this project, all you need is a transcription account, access to the internet, and patience/familiarity with reading 19th century handwriting.  Also, be warned… It can be addicting!


Holiday Wishes from The Mariners’ Museum Library



The minutes are ticking away here at the Library because the holiday break is upon us yet again.


Just so you know, we will be closed, and services will not be available, beginning December 20, 2013 to January 5, 2014.


Before I leave, I just wanted to thank you for a great year and to wish you all a safe and happy holiday! Enjoy this last post of 2013!








In this image from our HRPE Collection, Santa poses and receives bags of mail and packages for the soldiers at Newport News, VA on November 21, 1945.











In this next image, also from our HRPE Collection, Brigadier General John R. Kilpatrick is shown standing beside a Christmas tree before making a statement at the Christmas gathering on the Norfolk Army Base on December 24, 1942.









Finally, some more festive images from the HRPE Collection to get you into the spirit of the holidays.
Clockwise from top left: P0003.J11419, P0003.E5710, P0003.E11232, P0003.E11373

J11419J5710HRPECHRISTMASE11373               E11232

Winter is coming…

We’ve had a schizophrenic start to the cold weather here in Newport News but since my car door was iced shut yesterday morning, I began thinking about all things cold and frosty. I’m usually bundled up in blankets, or I have layers upon layers of clothing, so I wondered… How did those out in the freezing cold seas dress?

The following samples from our photographic collection just might give you an idea:




To the left, we see an image of James R. Dennistoun dressed for the cold in a sweater and hat as he leaves to feed the mules on board the Terra Nova.


In 1912, he joined the British Antarctic Expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott as a crewmember in charge of the mules and sled dogs that were to be used in order to be the first to reach the South Pole.


Photograph taken by D. F. Welch, 1912








In this next image we see Mr. Otis and Wheelman dressed in heavy jackets, hats, and gloves during the 1901 Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition to find a possible route to the North Pole.


Three vessels left from Tromsø, Norway on July 16, 1901  in order to be a part of the journey: Frithjof, America and Belgica.


Photograph taken by William S. Champ, 1901





To the left, we see three team members of the British Antarctic Expedition all bundled up from head to toe as they stand on an ice floe near the bow of a ship.


Photograph taken by D. F. Welch, 1912









Here we see two native Alaskan boys wearing hats and heavy fur jackets as they sit in a kayak in Nunivak, Alaska.


Photograph taken by Edward Curtis, 1928







Finally, this is more like what I imagine most of us feel and look like towards the end of winter: under the weather, fed up and waiting for spring.


In this image to the left, we see Edward “Teddy” R. G. R. Evans, second in command of the British Antarctic Expedition on the day that they got to Akaroa, New Zealand in April 1912.  He is sitting on deck in a winter jacket and hat with his legs covered in blankets as he smokes his pipe.


Photograph taken by D. F. Welch, 1912





All there is left to say is good luck, bundle up, and if you’re somewhere out there in single-digit or negative temperatures, think warm thoughts for a few more months?

Happy Thanksgiving from the Library

The hours are winding down here at the Library as we get ready to close for the Thanksgiving holiday until Monday, December 2nd. Before we leave, I wanted to share a few images from our photographic collection to get you into the spirit of too-tight pants, turkey comas, and being thankful, of course.



In the image to the left from our HRPE Collection, we see six members of the Mess Service Command from Camp Patrick Henry peeling potatoes en route to one of the 22 reception stations in the United States.

Even though this picture was taken on July 14, 1945, it’s a good example of the teamwork that it’s going to take to put together a feast. Especially if you have over a handful of people coming over.

PVT. Moses M. Smith, T/4 Joseph Densling, PVT. Urban Corey, PVT. Mathew Morris and PVT. Coli Sullivan





The image to the left is also from our HRPE Collection where S/Sgt. Polly Thompson is seen inside of an ice house on November 14, 1944.

The bird is always the star of the show on Thanksgiving and I know of a few picky people who find it difficult to find the perfect “one”.  She doesn’t seem to mind inspecting a couple of Thanksgiving turkeys for an overseas shipment, and I bet that the recipients appreciated it.







In this next image from the HRPE Collection, we see Pvt. Lenwood E. Brinson chopping meat on the troop kitchen car of a troop train on July 14, 1945.

The caption on the back of the photograph explains that Pvt. Brinson was one of a seven-man crew of the Mess Service Command which sent cooks on troop trains to all parts of the country.

Yes, more food prep.. But it’s all worth it…






Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


E10948     E9500     H5422

Some of the smallest books I have ever seen…

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around in the rare books again when something made me look twice in disbelief. I had never noticed these before: Miniature books!

According to the Miniature Book Society, these were books measuring no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness. Knowing this, I wondered, were these works tucked away in pockets? Were they really used? The thickness of the books combined with a tight spine made it a little difficult for me to read the ones in the images below, so were these meant to be secretive?

I do have to share one thing that made me laugh because I imagined someone carrying this tiny book to tell the gem of a joke below and hearing nothing but crickets…

The Red Sea
A sailor, who had served on board the Romney, with Sir Home Fopham after returning home from India, finding that wigs were all in the fashion, bespoke a red one, which he sported at Portsmouth, to the great surprise of his companions. On being asked the cause of the change of colours in his hair, he said it was occasioned by his bathing in the Red Sea.
Page 160 from Jack’s kit or, Saturday night in the forecastle.

Anyway, the ones below are not all technically “miniature” books, but they’re tiny nonetheless!

De imperio Magni Mogolis sive India vera commentarius. By Joannes de Laet
DS461 .L15 Rare

DS red

The soveraignty of the British seas. Proved by records, history, and the municipall lawes of this kingdome. Written in the yeare 1633. By that learned knight, Sr John Boroughs.
JX4410 .B7 1651 Rare

JX red

Jack’s kit, or, Saturday night in the forecastle : being a choice collection of naval songs, nautical jokes, dog watch yarns, and galley witticisms. By an Old Salt ; the whole revised and arranged by Old Comic Elton.
PN6110 .S4 A5 Rare

Title page both red

An apology for idlers, and other essays. By Robert Louis Stevenson
PR 5488 .A1 Rare

Title page both red



Paintings in Rare Books

I keep saying to myself that I’ll pick up painting again, but I haven’t picked up a brush in a few years now..
Just the other day, I came across a couple of resources in the rare book collection that made me change my mind.


In Watercolor sketches of headlands on the South American coast (ca. 1830), a mystery artist provided several panoramic watercolor paintings. On some pages, we see ships alone on the water but others feature the coastal views of numerous lands. In the image of this Royal Navy vessel below, the caption reads, “HMS Dover anchoring near Rio during a heavy squall”.

HMS Doris anchoring at Rio during a heavy squall

In the next image of Harradura Point Coquimbo, we can see how the artist has provided us with some notes so that we may situate ourselves “NE by N”:
In this last image, I’ve zoomed in so you can see the details a little better.

In Watercolor drawings of marine views by Frances Waring (1776-1840), we see another great example of watercolor paintings with a maritime theme.
Page 11 The Blucher
In this first image, we see a bit of a chaotic scene with a coal brig surrounded by other vessels. Can you believe this page at the following pages are about 8″ x 12″?


I instantly fell in love with this nighttime image of Dover:
Page 18 Dover at night


And this last one was fun.. The caption reads that this is “near Radipole – near Weymouth Aug 27th 1826″
Page 34 Near Radipole
I did a little searching to see if I could find a photo of the bridge, and this site came close with an image of a bridge in a Weymouth village:


There are so many more images in both of these (and other) rare books that are worth a very long study. A favorite that comes to mind is a study of tropical fishes, but that’s another blog…
If you happen to view all there is to see on paintings in rare books, know that there are also a few logbooks that feature color and monochromatic paintings that were done while at sea! If you have a chance, come on in and be amazed by the detail and know that it’s one of a kind.

Good bye summer.. Hello fall and winter

I know the start of the fall season was a couple of weeks ago, but that last week of 80-90 degree weather just didn’t feel like autumn to me!

It’s now my favorite time of year where I can say goodbye to my sweltering car and the hum of the AC unit so I thought I would say farewell to the heat by sharing some great photographs that will make us miss summer…

8395          PI10
                              Children on grain barge in New York           Wisconsin lumberman carrying a canvas covered                                                       Photograph by Edwin Levick                  canoe   P0001.009/01/PI10



Fishing boat in the New River in Eggleston, Virginia


For those of you who won’t miss it, here’s a little something to get us in the cold, wintry mood:

MS0404.001    MM051-PR97
                              Along the beach, Miyazaki, Japan                                 Great Lakes freighter                                                                        Photograph by Edwin Levinson                                        P0001.018/PR97



PP2624                  24273SOUTHSTREET
                         Homer Ferguson and wife                                             Snow on South St.

                              P00011.016/01/PP2624                                     Photograph by Edwin Levick   


There is so much more stunning photography to be seen. Stop by our warm reading room on a cold fall or winter day and enjoy these spectacular works!

Caring for the books in the library

Here at The Mariners’ Museum Library, we have thousands of rare books in our collection. They are not all in pristine condition like the ones at a bookstore.. These books have character. The downside is that they require a bit more care so that the resource remains available for the public to see. Let’s take a peek at what we do in the Library to care for these rare books.

Tying the book together
In the image above, we have Nystrom’s pocket-book of mechanics and engineering from 1887. The string adds a bit of charm and is nicely wrapped like a little gift, but it does have a purpose. Without the string, the book would sit on the shelf with its pages exposed because the leather cover has split from the spine as we can see in the image below.
Nystrom Full Bowtie
Many of our books are stored on the shelves in this fashion for a number of reasons. The pages inside may have separated from the spine and cover, the book may have an insert that was placed inside the cover instead of bound, or the cover is thin, unable to support the contents resulting in warped pages as it slumps on the shelf. Without the string, the book continues to wear through the years as other books move around it, or as we continue to bring it out for patrons.
The Damage That Bugs Can Do
Struys 1
Some of the books that we have in the collection have also been attacked by insects. In the image above, we can see just how much damage these little guys can do. They’ve eaten little holes and trails through this books by Struys: The voiages and travels of John Struys through Italy, Greece, Muscovy, Tartary, Media, Persia, East-India, Japan, and other countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Struys 2
It is hard to tell what kind of environment books have been exposed to before they come to us, so we make sure to freeze our books for two weeks whenever we see skittering critters coming out of the pages.
Hist of VA Title page
Ok, my whole goal with this next part is to stop everyone from licking their finger before turning a page. The brown speckles all over this book above is what we call foxing… Or, a fancy word for a paper discoloration, or a fungus of an questionable origin. Some say it is due to the age of the paper but others say it is a result of fungal growth in a humid environment. In any case, we keep the stacks in a temperature and humidity controlled environment to stabilize whatever may be happening between the covers.
In the image below, we see a close-up of what you would be touching and licking when turning the page. Please, for your health and my stomach, don’t put this anywhere near your mouth.
Mold up close
Now it’s no secret around here that I am pretty short. That being said, it’s always tempting to stand on the tips of my toes to snag the spine of a book with my finger.. That’s what that little finger-sized gap is for, right? WRONG! By pulling a book down off of the shelf, especially a rare, fragile book, you risk tearing the spine or eventually ripping the whole spine off. The example below is what not to do and what happens as a result:
Spring wrong 2   Ripped spine