Marco Polo and the Bank of St. George

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Camogli, Italy with the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on the Ligurian coast. (QW 114)

Some of my most interesting research projects begin with something very minor, which leads me down a path that I never expected. This one began with a beautiful watercolor showing Camogli, Italy with a church and part of a castle behind it. That was a quick research project: get the history of the structures that are featured and the name of the body of water. Then I looked up the history of the artist, which is where it all unraveled into several days of research.

The artist is Admiral Bertram Mordaunt Chambers, a British naval official who was the principal port convoy officer of Halifax harbor during the December 6, 1917 explosion. His official reports state that he ate breakfast overlooking the harbor through his large glass windows, and then five minutes after he left the room the glass shattered into tiny shards that tore up the woodwork that had been behind his seat. He is one lucky guy!   Read more

Taking northern Italy on skis

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Line
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gothic_Line

When the 10th Mountain Division staged in Hampton Roads they were preparing to embark for northern Italy. This mountainous region posed challenges in terms of the terrain. The task would be formidable. The Germans very well fortified with machine gun nests and bunkers across the so-called “Gothic Line.” How best to mount an offensive in this punishing landscape? As it happened, some foreign-born world champion skiers had been drafted into the U.S. Army and they would lend their expertise in training the troops to navigate the Apennine Mountains.

According to Fort Drum (home of the modern 10th Mountain Division), the inspiration for a unit specializing in mountain and winter warfare came from then President of the National Ski Patrol Charles M. Dole who was inspired by the Soviet Union’s costly invasion of Finland. In fact many of the unit’s infantry were recruited directly by the National Ski Patrol and perhaps some of those were the men who are subject of today’s post: world champion skiers like Friedl Pfiefer, Walter Prager, and Sigi Engl. Readers interested in learning more about the 10th Mountain Division’s heroics during the assault on northern Italy are encouraged to read the Fort Drum page.   Read more

That's Chairman Dogface to you

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US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11674
US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11674

As professional catalogers going about our business of creating electronic records for photographs there are many steps we have to complete in order to ensure the work we do is thorough and accurate. For the majority of the photos we work with the U.S. Army Signal Corp has included descriptive captions on the backs of the prints. In the case of officers these captions usually include their name, rank, a serial number, and hometown with additional details being attached to more senior officers. The information may be minimal, but it is absolutely crucial to us!

In the photograph below we have two brigadier generals and a major belong to the 10th Mountain Division preparing to embark for northern Italy, January 1945. Their junior staff lurk in the background. The Signal Corp has provided the names and basic info on each individual. Now its time to go to work.   Read more

Way Back Wednesday

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bf50 arrival in Venice #34

In 1999 we sent out our Gondola to Venice, Italy for restoration work.  These two shots show it being transported to the shop where pieces would be fixed and it was repainted.  It is now on display in our International Small Craft Center.

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June Artifact of the Month – Gondola Mania!

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Miniature Venetian gondola. courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.
Miniature Venetian gondola. courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

This month we’re taking a look at two very similar, but also very different, items that we have here at The Mariners’ Museum. We have two gondolas within our collection, a miniature work of a Venetian goldsmith that measures 2 and 1/8″ long, and a full size gondola that measures a whopping 35 feet and 8 inches long, and weighs about 1,100 pounds.

The miniature is made to scale of approximately 1:192, and it has two gondoliers included on the boat. The standing gondolier is 3/8 inch, while the second gondolier is sitting down, in front of the canopy which is hinged and can be opened. The seated gondolier is unique to the style of gondola’s prior to 1791, when the struggling Venetian state had to change to one man gondolas in order to downsize spending and save money. (That’s a downsize rate of 50 %!) The little gondola is made up of 18 carat gold, and decorated with gold filigree. The Mariners’ Museum purchased it from the Bodley Book Shop in New York in 1939, and while the exact goldsmith who created it is unknown, it is thought to have been made around 1840. In 1996, The Mariners’ Museum based a Christmas ornament on the miniature as part of a series of ornaments that were designed after pieces of the collection. The ornament was coated in 24 carat gold and available for purchase in the Gift store.   Read more