Getting the Collection “Ship-Shape”: The Small Craft Survey

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Objects Conservator Paige Schmidt and Myself examine “Minnow”, an Optimist Class Dinghy, in the International Small Craft Center. Image Credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

If you visit the International Small Craft Center on Thursdays, you may spot Objects Conservator Paige Schmidt and me (Summer Conservation Intern) crawling around on the floor between the boats. We have not lost our glasses like a blinded Velma Dinkley. Actually, we’re conducting a conservation survey of the Museum’s collection of 142 small craft.

The small craft collection contains a diverse variety of vessels ranging in size, shape, function, and source culture. Because the Museum’s small craft originate from such a variety of contexts, each boat comes to the Museum with its own quirks and challenges resulting from its history of use. To get a better understanding of the collection, its condition issues, and its needs, it is necessary to evaluate each small craft, one-by-one.   Read more

Battle of Wassaw Sound and CSS Atlanta

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Sketch of CSS Atlanta. Robert G. Skerrett, artist.
Date unknown. The Mariners’ Museum # PNc0001.

The CSS Atlanta was an ironclad transformation effort which used the iron-hull and Scottish-built engines of SS Fingal to fashion one of the Confederacy’s most powerful warships. The ironclad; however, had a deep draft which limited its operational area below Savannah. This coupled with a very rash and impetuous captain, Commander William Webb, resulted in Atlanta’s capture in a brief engagement with the monitors USS Weehawken and USS Nahant. The ironclad soon became the USS Atlanta and served until 1865 in the James River. It was later sold to Haiti and floundered en route without a trace.

SS Fingal

The Atlanta had its genesis from the merchant ship SS Fingal. This merchant ship was constructed at the J & G Thomson’s Clyde Bank Iron Shipyard at Govan in Glasgow, Scotland. The Fingal’s dimensions were:   Read more

A Vial-ful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down: Technical Analysis of Historical “Medicines”

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Image 1. Ship’s Medical Chest, c.1860, before conservation treatment. Image Credit: The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Last month, The Mariners’ Museum and Park welcomed me “aboard” for an 8-week Graduate Fellow Internship in Conservation. During this summer, I am working with the Conservation Department under Object Conservator Paige Schmidt. I’m coming to The Mariners’ Museum from Buffalo, New York, where I’m studying Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College, majoring in Objects Conservation. During my time at the Museum, my primary project will be the treatment and analysis of a Ship’s Medical Chest from c.1860 (image 1). The results of analysis will be used to inform safe handling and storage of the chest. The Museum has almost a dozen medical chests, which were once used by ship physicians to hold their medical tools, books, and “medicines.” This chest houses 9 glass vials, 6 of which contain substances that may have been used as medicines in the 19th century (image 2).

Our suspected substances

Finding unknown medical substances in a museum collection can be concerning, as many early medicines are now known to be hazardous. Some of the vials were labeled, “Camphor,” “Bryonia,” “Nux Vomica,” and “Tartar emet,” (although the Nux Vomica vial was empty).  Camphor is a common ingredient in topically-applied medicines like anti-irritants and vapor rubs, but high dermal exposures and ingestion can be toxic.   Read more