November Artifact of the Month – HMS Royal Sovereign Model, c. 1804

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HMS Royal Sovereign Model, courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
HMS Royal Sovereign Model, courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

Hello faithful followers! This month’s artifact focuses on a model ship built for King George III of England. He was the British king under which the American colonies revolted and declared their independence from in the American Revolution of 1775. In 1804, the real HMS Royal Sovereign was built for King George III, however due to old age and a touch of mental illness; it was thought to be he didn’t use it following 1805. His illness led him to allow for a regency to rule in 1811, even though he was immensely popular. He ruled for a grand total of 59 years, the third longest ruling British monarch, behind his granddaughter Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, the current Queen of England.

The Royal Sovereign was the last ship in which he sailed prior to his death in 1820. In reality, it was about 96 feet long and armed with eight guns, while the model measures 1/4 inch to the foot. The actual ship was used for about thirty years before being decommissioned and serving as a depot ship until it was broken up in 1850. The model maker was unknown, but it was thought to be built for George to either show him all of the beautiful benefits of the yacht, or for personal enjoyment and decoration. It has a removable top deck, which reveals beautiful interior details. There are furnishings, carpet, miniature paintings, and even people inside the model. It shows the galley, sitting room, dining room, King’s bedroom, and even circular ladders descending to a lower deck. The outside of the ship are decorated with medallions representing the Four Cardinal Virtues as women, while the stern is decorated with the figure of Neptune in his car. Over the windows there are figures of the four Quarters of the World, and all of these decorative aspects are represented on the model, as a complete replica of the actual ship.  It is an extremely detailed representation of the ship, and provides a fascinating look at what time spent on the ship would be like. Because the maker is unknown, there was not that much information to be gained about the creation of the ship. It was donated to The Mariners’ Museum in 1984, by the Kriegstein family. Roman Kriegstein, and his two sons Henry and Arnold, compiled a collection of about ten models of Admiralty Board ships ranging from the seventeenth century through the beginning of the nineteenth century. This model of the Royal Sovereign was a part of their collection.   Read more

October Artifact of the Month – USS Dionysus Engine

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USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

Hello faithful readers and welcome back to the artifact of the month! This month, we will be looking at a 271,000 pound engine from a Liberty ship built in World War II, USS Dionysus. Last week, while working on my blog, I got to take a little field trip out to the back of the museum where all of the macro artifacts are stored. While exploring, my supervisor showed myself and another intern the engine which is housed in a shed to protect it from the elements. The shed itself is a little creepy from the outside, but the engine inside is magnificent. It is massive, and just looms over you, with parts and pieces that are about the same size as me.

USS Dionysus was originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Faithful as part of the lend-lease program, but instead was kept by the US Navy. It was commissioned in 1945 as a repair ship for the Navy, and was sent into the Pacific war zone at the end of World War II. Following the end of the war, Dionysus was put in the United States Naval Reserve Fleet until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1952, when it was added to the Atlantic Fleet. Following the end of the Korean War, Dionysus was again put on reserve until it was scrapped. Dionysus was a Liberty ship, which was a type of ship produced by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II and was constructed from standardized parts that were made across the country. They, liberty ships, were made for under $2,000,000 and held 27 officers and 497 enlisted sailors, in addition to 2,840 Jeeps, 440 tanks or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. During the war about 200 of the ships were lost due to a variety of reasons, but two different ships, SS Jeremiah O’Brian and SS John Brown survived, and are both open to the public. The engine was removed in 1978 and donated to The Mariners’ Museum and put on display. The engine itself is approximately 271,000 pounds with all of its components assembled, and is the main triple expansion steam engine of Dionysus. Later that same year, Dionysus’ hull was sunk off the coast of North Carolina to become part of the artificial reefs along the coastline. It was the fourth Liberty ship to be sunk there since 1974, and is located about five miles south of Oregon Inlet.   Read more

September Artifact of the Month – USS Leviathan Eagle Ornament

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Eagle decorative ornament from the SS Vaterland, courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
Eagle decorative ornament from SS Leviathan, courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

When asked to work on this collections blog, my supervisor asked what artifacts in particular drew my attention. It’s a little awkward to say, but I’ve always been a fan of wartime histories and I may or may not have responded with a jubilant “WAR,” which sounds worse when you excitedly exclaim it in front of people. Regardless of my intern embarrassment, my declaration has ensured that I often get to focus on war relics, such as this month’s artifact, a metal eagle ornament from SS Leviathan. The eagle is a decorative metal piece that would have been displayed on the interior of the ship following its renovations. It’s two toned in color, with a blueish colored body, and gilt accents on the feathers and legs. It’s pictured twice below, once in color, and once in black and white so that it is easier to see the detailing on the piece.

Leviathan was originally SS Vaterland, a passenger liner built at Hamburg, Germany. In 1914, she was the biggest ship in the world, but only made a couple of trips prior to the outbreak of World War I.  Vaterland had just arrived in New York when war was declared, and was therefore unable to return to Germany. Prior to this, she had made only three round trips between New York and Europe. Instead she remained in a terminal in New Jersey for three years until the United States entered the war in 1917. At that point, Vaterland was taken and turned over to the U.S. Navy, who renamed her Leviathan and kept her in service as a troop ship until 1919. Following the conclusion of the war, Leviathan again found herself in limbo, until she was sent to the Newport News Shipyard in southern Virginia to undergo a complete overhaul and renovations to turn her back into a passenger liner. Her renovation was actually supervised by William Frances Gibbs, the naval architect who would later design SS United States, and the owner of two of the baseballs that were featured in our April Artifact of the Month.   Read more

August Artifact of the Month – Compass Collection

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Ivory compass, 1750-1850. Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
Ivory compass, 1750-1850. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

For August’s Artifact of the Month, we will be looking at a series of compasses that we have here at The Mariners’ Museum. The compass is one of the world’s oldest navigational instruments, dating back to the Chinese between the 9th and 11th centuries. A magnetic compass works by aligning its magnetic needle with the Earth’s magnetic North Pole, and therefore ensuring that it always points north. The compass was created from the use of lodestones, which is a mineral with a magnetized iron ore. The Chinese found that when put flat on a board, the lodestones would continue to consistently point in the same north and south direction. The compass hugely improved the accuracy of maritime exploration and travel. It made it much easier to locate destinations, and cut time off of traveling. With the aid of other devices, the compass can also be utilized to figure out both longitude and latitude. It also made it so that areas known to be problematic to navigate were much easier to avoid or move through. This helped revolutionize maritime travel, making it easier for explorers to go on longer expeditions as well as safer ones.

One of our most beautiful compasses in our collection is one that was purchased by Fred Hill in Paris, France. It is only about two and half inches in diameter, and has an ivory case that opens and closes much like a woman’s compact. It’s dated to between 1750 and 1850, though the exact date and maker is unknown. There is another compass in our collection hidden in the hold here at The Mariners’ Museum that was also purchased by Fred Hill. This one is a miniature compass, which is also by an unknown French maker (perhaps the same unknown maker!). This compass is thought to have maybe been a toy, and is set in a brass bowl on a bone stand. This miniature compass is thought to be from 1910. This miniature compass is pictured below, while the compact compass is pictured above.   Read more

July Artifact of the Month – WAVES Uniform

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Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Propaganda poster encouraging enlistment in the WAVES. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

The June Artifact of the Month is a WAVES uniform set that was given to The Mariners’ Museum by Mrs. Clara Gemmet. Mrs. Gemmet joined the Navy in 1955 and went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland. Following her basic training, she went to Airman Prep school, which she passed and continued on to the Naval Air Station Memphis, a major technical station for the Navy and Marine Corps. According to Mrs. Gemmet, she is still in touch with some of the women she was in the Navy with and, if given the opportunity, she would go back and do it all over again. She specifically states, “The women I worked with, shared cubicles with were wonderful, honest, proud women – proud to be helping their country by wearing OUR uniform.” Mrs. Gemmet is still involved with the WAVES through WAVES National, which works with women from all of the seagoing services, along with the Sacramento WAVES and as an officer in her local branch of Fleet Reserve Association.

In the end of July 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the creation of a World War II naval division for women, known as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. It allowed women to be placed into non-combat jobs within the continental United States, in an attempt to fill desk jobs with women and therefore enable men to take on combat roles elsewhere. For example, women worked as pharmacist assistants, radio dispatchers, mechanics, mail carriers and decoders. Within one year of FDR’s signing of the law, about 27,000 women had signed up for service. By the time the war was over, there were about 8,000 female officers, and almost 84,000 enlisted women, which made up about 2.5% of the total navy.[1] These women, including Mrs. Gemmet, still wore skirts and dresses as part of their uniforms, as opposed to pants, along with fitted jackets and heels.   Read more