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The Rebirth of the 1906 Newport to Bermuda Race Trophy

The 1906 trophy for the first Ocean Race to Bermuda after conservation.

In 1906 Thomas Fleming Day, editor of The Rudder magazine, established a 635-mile race to prove that amateur sailors in vessels under 80 feet could safely sail in the open ocean. While only three boats participated in the first race, the event, now the oldest regularly scheduled ocean race, typically fields 150 to 200 vessels.

The trophy for that very first race, created by Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co., Ltd. in London, was provided by yacht racing aficionado Sir Thomas Lipton (which is why it is sometimes referred to as the Lipton Cup).

The Ocean Race Trophy presented to the Brooklyn Yacht Club,
The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, May 26, 1906

In the years between its award to the yacht Tamerlane in 1906 and its purchase by the Museum in 1982, the trophy obviously received some pretty rough handling. It was detached from its base; a number of pieces were loose, missing or bent; there was a hefty build-up of grime and tarnish; and most importantly, an old fracture in the central supporting post (disguised as the hippocamp’s tail) had become an area of significant structural instability.

Trophy right before shipment to Conservation Solutions Inc.
A previously repaired crack in the central support had become structurally unstable.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, last October the Museum’s Bronze Door Society awarded the collections department $30,000 towards the conservation and restoration of the trophy. Besides stabilizing the structural problems and repairing bent, damaged or loose elements, the project included a thorough cleaning and polishing and the design and fabrication of the missing parts.

In February, the trophy was transported to Conservation Solutions Inc. (a division of EverGreen Architectural Arts, Inc.) in District Heights, Maryland where a team of conservators overseen by CSI owner Mark Rabinowitz and objects conservator Steven Pickman spent the next six months bringing the trophy back to life. The work involved a number of different phases and some of the work turned out to be a lot more difficult and complex than anyone realized.

After an initial survey, a few test cleanings aimed at identifying the most effective methods of removing dirt, old cleaning compounds and reducing tarnish were conducted. The trophy had received some very unsympathetic cleanings in the past so they conservators were determined to find ways to conduct the work without causing further damage to original materials or accidentally over cleaning the piece. They were particularly concerned with the surfaces covered with parcel-gilt as it was discovered to be very poorly adhered and thereby easily damaged. A completely different cleaning regimen had to be developed and conducted on those areas. Once the testing was completed the trophy was partially disassembled and the individual pieces were cleaned.

Cleaning tests

After cleaning, conservator Steven Pickman addressed the stabilization of the old repair in the central support. When the old solder was removed it revealed a dowel bridging the break. It had apparently deformed over the years causing the downward pitch of the bow of the bowl. Pickman readjusted the dowel to provide better alignment of the broken parts and then reattached the two sides of the break with tin/silver solder. Where soldering wasn’t possible, he filled the crack with bulked adhesives. The solder and adhesive fills were then shaped by carving and sanding and inpainted with silver-pigmented watercolors to match the surrounding surfaces.

Break before, during and after completion

The next phase of the project involved the design, replication and replacement of the missing elements. It was pretty obvious to anyone looking at the trophy that pieces were missing—Iris’s raised right hand clutched nothing while her left held a representation of a tiller, but nothing connected it to the rudder. Also missing was one of two garlands that originally decorated the wooden base. In addition to these problems, when a 1906 photograph of the trophy was located it revealed that the extant garland was incomplete. If we wanted to use it to cast a replacement for the missing garland it to would need to be restored. Thankfully, the 1906 photograph was clear enough and the ribbons that remained provided enough detail that they could be used to facilitate the design of the missing pieces.

Missing caduceus
Missing rudder post
Missing garland
The one extant garland turned out to be incomplete which complicated the replication process.

CSI used two different methods to design the missing pieces. The caduceus (missing from Iris’s right hand) and rudder shaft were designed using a CAD program called Rhino. The design was used to produce 3-D printed wax models of the pieces. Those models were then used to cast the replica parts in .925 silver. The work was completed by Liberty Jewelry Manufacturing Company in Timonium, Maryland.

Iris, post conservation

The small sections of ribbon missing from the extant garland had to be physically modeled in clay, cast and then adhered to the original garland. Once the extant garland was repaired, a silicone mold of it was created and used to cast the replacement garland. The final detailing of the newly manufactured replicas was done by hand and their surfaces were antiqued, patinated or painted with acrylics to aesthetically integrate the new elements into the historic fabric of the trophy. The pieces were then adhered to the trophy.

Clay models made for replacement pieces
Replicated garland installed

In the most laborious stage of the project loose elements were secured, bent elements were carefully reshaped and the process of removing the tarnish from the silver and parcel-gilt surfaces began. The final step in the process involved the application of several coats of lacquer. Although lacquering silver isn’t fool proof in the prevention of tarnishing it was completed in an effort to forestall it for as long as possible. With luck, the lacquer will minimize the need for extensive polishing in the future.

Images showing reduction of tarnish
The areas covered in parcel-gilt posed a serious cleaning problem for the conservators

Conservators then focused on the stabilization of the trophy’s wooden base. Several cracks in the base were filled; abrasions in the surface were inpainted; and the two elements of the wooden base were stabilized and anchored to reduce movement. At this point, concerns expressed by the Museum staff about the reattachment of the trophy to the base were addressed. At some point in the past, the pins or posts that connected the two parts of the trophy had been broken or removed. Having the trophy separated from its base made transporting and displaying it problematic and would have exposed the trophy to future damage by improper handling or jostling of its display case.

The conservation team carefully studied ways remount the trophy and settled on installing stainless steel threaded rods to the underside of the trophy feet and seating them into the original mounting holes in the trophy base.

Before and after, port side
Before and after, starboard side

As you can imagine, the trophy will need to be handled quite carefully in the future. It is top-heavy and has many delicate parts protruding from the surface and poor handling could put undo stress on the repaired joins. From this point on the trophy will need to be housed in a microclimate case maintained at 40% relative humidity buffered with activated charcoal to absorb any hydrogen sulfide or sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere of the case.

The Museum will also have to strictly oversee loans of the trophy as future transportation and installations will need to involve couriers. We also need to consider investing in the construction of a climate controlled case which will allow us to approve loans without worrying about the environment we’re placing it in.

We owe a big debt of thanks to the Bronze Door Society because the restoration and repair of this trophy wouldn’t have been possible without them!

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