The Pilot Boats of George Steers

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George Steers. Engraved by William G. Jackman and published by D. Appleton & Co. around 1870. (Accession# 1941.401.01/LE 1517)

Ever since man first set foot in a boat and headed out to sea there has been a need for pilots. Sailing in deep water is easy (as long as a storm doesn’t catch you!); navigating the shallower waters along coastlines and entering ports and rivers you aren’t familiar with is a lot more dangerous.

In mid-19th century New York the competition to provide pilotage services to an ever increasing volume of commercial traffic was fierce. Since the first pilot boat to reach an inbound vessel typically got the job the pilot’s need for a fast sailing boat was paramount. As this need increased some of the world’s most talented yacht designers and naval architects jumped into the fray and began designing some of the fastest schooners the world had ever seen.  One of these men, New York’s George Steers, ended up designing boats that changed the face of naval architecture forever.   Read more

The Hazards of Bottom Peeping

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The Yacht Haze 87-tons Built by George Steers, New York by Currier & Ives. Image from Library of Congress. Control number: 2002698872

While working on a blog post about the pilot boats of George Steers (coming next week!) I ran across a particularly funny story that occurred on board the pilot boat Haze and thought you guys would enjoy it.

Haze was a schooner built in 1853 by George Steers and William Hawthorne for William Butler Duncan, a member of the New York Yacht Club. Between 1853 and 1867 she was owned by several members of the club and was regularly entered in the club’s racing regattas. Haze was well known for her “staunchness, speed and good sea-going qualities.”   Read more

It’s a Disaster! The Rollers of 1846

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View of James Town and the Harbour, Saint Helena. Taken from the Harbour Master’s Office during the Rollers of the 17th February 1846. The image was created from an eyewitness view by Frederick Rice Stack, a lieutenant with the St. Helena Regiment. (Accession# LP1200/1937.1569.01)

It’s time for me to admit something—I have a sick fascination with historical disasters—especially those related to natural phenomena. I don’t know why. I just do. Some of the prints and engravings we have in the collection are really unique so I thought I would share one of my favorites: The February 1846 “rollers” at St. Helena.  This image has fascinated me for years! The first time I saw it my immediate question was—what the hell are “rollers.” Now obviously they are waves but why did these particular waves deserve a different designation? (And no, they are not related to an earthquake or tsunami.)

The islands of Ascension and St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in the South Atlantic are periodically plagued by waves that seem to occur for no readily apparent reason–one moment the seas are calm, little waves start rolling ashore and before long waves big enough to surf are hitting the north facing side of the island.  One source described the waves as “the rollers for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated.” Really? I find it hard to believe anybody was celebrating after looking at this image because in this instance the consequences of the “rollers” were so catastrophic the event was recorded for posterity.   Read more

Tattooing…a dead art?

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Tattoo artist Cap Coleman in front of his East Main Street store. Taken by Museum photographer William Radcliffe, July 1936. (Accession# P873)

Many of you are probably aware that the Museum holds a wonderful collection of materials once used by the world famous Norfolk tattooist August Bernard Coleman, known as Cap Coleman. Our Coleman materials are one of our most popular and regularly requested collections for both private viewings and for loan to other institutions. Right now, the figurine of the “Tattooed Man” is currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts in an exhibition about fashion and design.

A couple of weeks ago a friend at Peabody Essex connected me with Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Nonie was in the process of coordinating the acquisition of an object for their collection [Since the MFA hasn’t formally announced it yet I won’t spoil their surprise by telling you what it is!] and had some questions about our Coleman collection and how we acquired it. Answering those questions revealed a rather surprising motivation behind the Museum’s decision to acquire the materials.   Read more

A Tour Through the Mediterranean with Joseph Partridge

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USS Warren, Act of Bearing Up in the Archipelago. The Archipelago referred to in the title is most likely the area between Cape Matapan and the western end of Crete. In a letter dated April 3, 1828 Kearny states about the voyage from Smyrna to Mahon: “We have had a long passage of 63 days, experiencing a succession of heavy gales of wind from the N.W. and squalls, rendering it not only tedious, but very dangerous to the safety of the vessel being light and badly provided with rigging.” Painted by Joseph Partridge. (Accession#: 1947.0851.000001)

Click on the map to tour the Mediterranean with the USS Warren!

A recent inquiry from the Assistant Professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World brought a really cool assemblage of watercolors in our collection to my attention. The images were painted by Joseph Partridge, an artist turned Marine stationed aboard USS Warren between 1827 and 1830.   Read more