Navy Service Pistols

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Colt Model of 1911 pistol, as used by the United States Navy. The Mariners’ Museum and Park, 1937.0023.000023

There are some hints in the topics of my other blogs, but for those who don’t know, I am an enthusiast of military history and the history of military technology in particular. Now my general interest tends more towards artillery (especially if it’s old, bronze, and pretty – seriously, check out the two Spanish 24-pounder cannons by the Museum entrance, they’re gorgeous) but smallarms are fun too!

In modern militaries, weapons are standardized as a matter of course; when you’re fielding hundreds of thousands of people, logistics gets complicated if everybody brings their own. It’s far easier if everyone is using the same ammunition, spare parts, magazines, etc. Standardization of firearms for that purpose really began with major European powers in the early 18th century, so by the time the US was founded, this was de rigueur for any national military. By the early 19th century, the US Navy had been established, and had adopted a standard handgun from the US Armory at Harper’s Ferry.   Read more

Rust never sleeps

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Treatment solution wicking through the wiring and drying out on the electrical contacts.

“Rust never sleeps” was the title of an ICOM-CC conference dedicated to metals conservation in 2011; and it summarizes quite well why the conservation department cannot just leave the lab completely unattended during the current pandemic.

Not only are there a lot of electrochemical treatment set-ups that need constant attention in the “wet lab” and outdoor tanks, but environmental conditions in dry object storage also require our steadfast attention.   Read more

A salty situation

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Mmmmmm, salt…
Image by author.

“So… why are you guys so salty about, well, salt?”

If you’ve been following along with the blog posts about conserving USS Monitor, you may have noticed a common theme: salt. Salt is bad for this, we’re removing the salts from (or desalinating) that… but why? I’ve been sprinkling that stuff on my lunch; how bad can it really be?   Read more

Brushing off a little history

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The brush was removed from the starboard gun carriage, covered in mud and hard concretion.

Although my blogs to date give a very Dahlgren-centric view of what I do, there is far more to USS Monitor than just its guns. And I love having such a huge variety of objects to work on! In addition to big metal objects, we find a wide variety of organic objects, ranging from the wooden sides of the gun carriages to rope packing seals to a wool coat. We also have a number of brushes from on board the ship, including a nearly complete bench brush that I’ve been working on!

This brush was originally found stuck to one of the gun carriages, covered in mud and concretion – the hard, rocky material that forms around corroding iron. Although the brush itself is entirely organic – wood and fiber – it was so close to the iron of the gun carriage that it was caught inside concretion formed by that object. As a result, it didn’t look like much to begin with.   Read more

Gun Boring? No! Gun fascinating!

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Microscopic image of grey cast iron, sampled from a Civil War period Hotchkiss bolt. The squiggly, black lines and nodules are graphite, surrounded by lighter-colored iron.

Last month, we were able to complete one of the last major steps in the conservation of USS Monitor’s two XI-Inch Dahlgren shell guns: boring concretion out of the barrels. Material Culture Specialist Hannah recently showed off what we found in this process (coal is, indeed, cool), but why clean the gun bores to begin with? And how do you actually go about doing that, anyway?

The ‘why’ has a few pieces to it. There are benefits to our archaeological knowledge of the wreck, but our primary concern was keeping the guns in good condition. Monitor’s guns are made of iron, and specifically are made of grey cast iron. Grey cast iron is not 100% pure iron; it contains about 4% carbon, and that carbon exists as flakes of graphite locked in by the metal surrounding it – picture little shavings of pencil lead and you won’t be that far off.   Read more