South Street Seaport’s Library and Archive

Greetings from the South Street Seaport Museum’s library and archive!  In October of last year the Museum of the City of New York assumed the operation of the South Street Seaport Museum.  Organizing and cataloging items in the Seaport Museum’s library and archive is one of many projects undertaken in the new administration.  I left my position on the digital team and moved downtown where I’m now working with Carol, the project archivist at the Seaport Museum. She and I are hard at work tackling various projects.

So far, we’ve begun work cataloging and re-housing the photography collection, which contains thousands of negatives, slides, and prints of ships at port, docked at the South Street Seaport, and at sail in New York Harbor, as well as more general marine topics.

Sailing ship, ca. 1900. South Street Seaport Museum. Photography Collection.

Fisherman, ca. 1915. South Street Seaport Museum. Joe Cantalupo Fishing Schooner Collection.

Carol created and arranged the Passenger Liner collection, one of the larger collections in the archives. Programs, photographs, passenger lists, schedules, and promotional brochures are among the many items found in this collection.

Luggage Tags, ca. 1955. South Street Seaport Museum. Passenger Liner Collection.

Matchbooks, ca. 1930-1950. South Street Seaport Museum. Passenger Liner Collection.

We’ve also started to inventory and survey a very large collection of ship plans.  There are over 30,000 drawings and while we’ve just begun to see what’s here, we’ve already found great objects, including an almost complete set of plans for J. P. Morgan’s yacht, Corsair.  In the center of the plan you can see a white square, which is an alteration to the design made a day after the original was drafted, perhaps to conform to Morgan’s taste.

Position of Fire Place for the Yacht Corsair (detail), 1920. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Part of this process includes cleaning.  Some plans date as far back as the 1870′s,  and occasionally they are in need of basic treatment to remove dirt.  Soiled objects are cleaned with an archival paper cleaner, which is rubbed against the object’s surface, much like one would use an eraser (visible in the first image).  Below is a particularly dramatic illustration of a drawing “before and after.”

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Beam Strap for Engine No. 92, 1879. South Street Seaport Museum. W & A Fletcher Collection.

Stay tuned for more updates and stories of our finds in the South Street Seaport Museum’s archives!

3 responses to “South Street Seaport’s Library and Archive

  1. RICHARD C FABER JR

    THANK YOU- I AM AN OCEAN LINER MEMORABILIA EXPERT-COLLECTOR AND DEALER IN THIS SUBJECT- I HAVE BEEN IN THIS BUSINESS FOR 35 YEARS AND I LIVE IN MANHATTAN-SHOULD YOU NEED ANY ASSISTANCE OR HELP WITH THIS COLLECTION, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME- I WAS A DEAR FRIEND OF DER SCUTT
    AND STANLEY LEHRER
    BEST WISHES
    RICHARD FABER,JR

    • Richard — I have purchased items from you in the past. I have some ocean liner posters and large photos (Normandie and Ile de France) that I no longer have room for and would like to sell or consign. Can you help?

  2. Congratulations on tackling a daunting but long overdue project. I look forward to more reports on your work.
    Your work makes me proud to be a contributor.
    Peter E. Dans, M.D. author of Life on the Lower East Side.
    Please give my best to Jack Putnam and Ms. Landreth.

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