Published: June 10, 2015
“Loss of the Packet Ship Albion,” engraved by C. Tiebout after the painting by T. Birch, William H. Morgan, Arch Street, Philadelphia. Charles Muenchinger, Central Falls, R.I.
NEW BEDFORD, MASS. — To my knowledge, there is only one antiques show in the country where exhibitors set up under the dangling, skeletal remains of Kobo and Quasimodo, a 66-foot juvenile blue whale and a 27-foot male humpback whale. This would be the Nautical Antiques Show at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, from crimpers to ditty boxes the most rewarding market anywhere for those who love the sea.
This gem of a fair is small but deep, intense but laid back. It is set in one of the world’s outstanding specialty museums in a richly historic town awash with references to Herman Melville and his great white whale. After you finish shopping, the culinary offerings of New Bedford’s vibrant Portuguese community beckon at the popular local restaurant Antonio’s — for starters, try the chorizo stuffie — and at the specialty food market Amaral’s, to name but two area attractions.
Launched as a companion to the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s annual Scrimshaw Weekend, now in its 27th year, the Nautical Antiques Show returned for its sixth installment on Friday, May 15. Most of the 19 exhibitors, who spilled into three adjacent rooms, arrayed their wares on tabletops. Two exhibitors, Richard Donnelly and Sandy Moss, coordinated the show on the museum’s behalf. They hope to have more dealers next year.
A handful of collectors waited in line for the 11 am early admission opening. More aficionados followed at noon. Some of the best known buyers of marine art and antiques were already there — swapping scrimshaw, nautical instruments and tools, whaling logbooks, ship models, photos, paintings, prints and whaling memorabilia.
Timed to catch enthusiasts coming from Brimfield, the show closed on Friday at 6 pm, after which the scholarly presentations got underway. The event’s perennial sparkplug, Dr Stuart M. Frank, spoke on scrimshaw gathered by President John F. Kennedy. Saturday’s presenters included Paul E. Vardeman on “Panbones and Whale Teeth: The Scrimshaw of Two English Masters of the Genre”; Richard Donnelly on “Farmer Goes a-Whaling: Non-Scrimshaw in the Fabulous Collection of Frederick Allen”; Frank on “Glimpses Behind the Scrimshaw: Those Pesky Scrimshandering Whalemen and Some of the Other Stuff They Did” and Mary Malloy on “More Yankee Scrimshaw from Polynesia.” Ipswich, Mass., dealer Andrew Jacobson gave his annual report on the market. The day concluded with Frank’s talk “Farthest Refuge: Visions of St Helena, the Penultimate Resting Place of Bonaparte, and the Advent of the Napoleonic Scrimshaw.”
On Sunday, participants headed to Portsmouth, NH., to tour the scrimshaw collection of the late Thomas Mittler at Northeast Auctions. The assortment is documented in the beautiful new book Through The Eyes of A Collector: The Scrimshaw Collection of Thomas Mittler by marine arts authority Nina Hellman of Nantucket.
“My dad sold this tooth in 1971 for $375 before the Bank Note Engraver was identified,” Parke Madden said of this attributed sperm-whale tooth decorated on one side with a scene of a girl riding a dog and, on reverse, a parrot. Paul Madden Antiques, Sandwich, Mass.
“Dad sold this in 1971 for $375 before the maker had been identified as the Bank Note Engraver,” said Sandwich, Mass., dealer Parke Madden, holding out an engraved tooth, now priced in the high four figures, for closer inspection. Scrimshaw scholarship has advanced in the past four decades, in no small part thanks to the community of enthusiasts gathered in New Bedford.
“I always enjoy coming to this show. It’s a great way to meet the collectors and dealers, and to see some great new discoveries,” Madden added.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is at 18 Johnny Cake Hill. For information, 508-907-0046 or www.whalingmuseum.org
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm