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The Winton M. Blount Postal History Symposia: Select Papers, 2010–2011
Thomas Lera
viii + 134 pages, 126 figs. 9 tables
2012 (Date of Issue: 9 October 2012)
Number 56, Smithsonian Contributions to History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.19486006.56
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Rarely do scholars of postal organizations and systems meet and discuss their ideas and research with scholars of philately. In an attempt to bridge this gap, the National Postal Museum and the American Philatelic Society hosted the first Winton M. Blount Postal History symposium on 3–4 November 2006 to bring together these two research groups to discuss postal history. This publication covers the next two symposia. The 2010 theme was “Stamps and the Mail: Images, Icons and Identity.” Stamps, as official government documents, can be treated as primary resources designed to convey specific political and esthetic messages. Other topics and themes for the symposium were stamp design’s influence on advertising envelopes and bulk mailings, censorship of stamps as propaganda as used on letters, and the role of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee or organizations that generate the designs. The 2011 symposium was held at the American Philatelic Center in conjunction with the United States Stamp Society’s annual meeting. The United States Stamp Society is the preeminent organization devoted to the study of U.S. stamps. It is a nonprofit, volunteer-run association of collectors to promote the study of the philatelic output of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and of postage and revenue stamped paper produced by others for use in the United States and U.S. administered areas. The theme of the symposium was “How Commerce and Industry Shaped the Mails.”

Harpsichords and Clavichords
Cynthia A. Hoover
43 pages, 36 figures
1969 (Date of Issue: 31 July 1969)
Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258..1
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The harpsichord and the clavichord represent the two most important types of stringed keyboard instruments used from the 15th through the 18th centuries. By the 19th century, the piano had become the most important domestic keyboard instrument.

In this booklet are described a few of the restored Smithsonian harpsichords and clavichords that are occasionally on exhibit in the Hall of Musical Instruments or in use in the series of concerts sponsored by the Division of Musical Instruments. Models showing how the sound is produced on these instruments are also on exhibit.

A complete list of the keyboard collection is found in A Checklist of Keyboard Instruments at the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, 1967), which is available from the Division of Musical Instruments, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560.

Privateers in Charleston 1793-1796
Melvin H. Jackson
160 pages, 24 figures
1969 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1969)
Number 1, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.1.1
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The privateer was a privately owned vessel bearing a commission from a sovereign state that empowered her to seize declared enemies of that state on the high seas. Such seizures, or prizes, after due process in the courts of the sovereign or of friendly powers, became the property of the captor to do with as he would. The license under which the privateer operated was known as a letter of marque and reprisal, and in time the vessel bearing such a commission came to be known as a “Letter of Marque.”

All too often the letter of marque was used as a legal cloak for banditry on the high seas, and efforts over the centuries to restrict the worst features of privateering evolved an elaborate body of international convention and domestic regulations. By the early nineteenth century, however, privateering finally came to be recognized for the incorrigible institution it was, and in 1856 it was swept away by the Treaty of Paris, to which, it is interesting to note, the United States and Spain did not subscribe.

Privateering as a form of warfare persisted over so many centuries largely because it was a cheap weapon. For France at the outbreak of the long Wars of the French Revolution—her caste-ridden navy long neglected and destroyed at last by social upheaval—privateering was a weapon of last resort—but, it must be noted, one for which history records her longtime predilection.

For the investor and the seaman alike, the potent lure of privateering naturally was the quick dollar: “Any Seaman or landmen that have the inclination to make their Fortunes in a few Months May have an opportunity by applying to.…” read the broadside nailed to the tavern door. Grateful governments, eager to strike a blow against the wealth-bearing commerce of an enemy, granted letters of marque to all who met a few simple requirements. Inquiries into the character of the outfitters, if made at all, were casual. Bonding, if required to insure compliance with international law, was only casually enforced. Privateering, therefore, tended to attract the unprincipled, and therein lay the evils of the institution that often led its practitioners to the borders, and beyond, of outright piracy.

For the owners, a privateer armed, provisioned, and ready for sea might represent a heavy investment. If they committed their vessel to all-out commerce raiding, the risk to their capital was greater than if the letter of marque was used as an adjunct to normal cargo carrying, during which the seizure of a chance prize might enhance the profits of carriage. The commerce raider, on the other hand, could roam the seas at will, trimmed to her fastest sailing lines, uncluttered with cargo, and carrying a crew large enough to work the ship, handle the guns, and man the prizes she took.

Glorious single-ship actions and bloody resistance were shunned. The aim of the privateer was to capture, not to destroy, enemy shipping, and investors, captain, and crew worked together under the best of incentive plans—No prize, no pay! These men, no matter how highly they were motivated by patriotism, were far more horrified by red ink than by blood. For her part, the merchant ship, deeply laden and difficult to maneuver, and more than likely under-armed and short-handed, was seldom a match for a determined privateer. The merchant captain, aware of the futility of fighting or running away from such an adversary, often would fire a gun to windward to salve his honor and then haul down his colors. For the most part, the bringing to and surrender of a merchantman, armed or unarmed, was as formalized as a quadrille.

History affords examples of prizes of inordinate value, yet over the years the vast majority of privateers had indifferent success. Enemy merchantmen were not easy to find. Often they were under the protection of heavily armed men of war. As a result, a prize once taken was seldom released, even if her papers seemed to be in order. It was too well known that vessels might carry double or even triple sets of papers during times of war, and might sail under as many different flags as did the privateer herself as she worked into hailing distance of a strange sail.

Handling of the prize prior to adjudication of her case ashore varied from punctilious observance of international convention to acts of piracy. The prize's stores or cargo might be pilfered by the privateer crew, her papers might be tampered with or destroyed entirely to insure condemnation, and often her captain and officers were detained, or set ashore in some distant part, to make certain that no libelant would appear before the court to challenge the legality of the capture or to tie up the proceeds of the sale in endless legal red tape.

To walk the thin edge of legality, then, was the everyday lot of the privateer commander. Some fell off. Others, using forged papers and abetted by corrupt port officials, operated as little more than outright pirates—gens sans aveu.

The French-commissioned privateers sailing out of Charleston who are the subjects of this study exhibited all of these traits. And the emotional motivation of those who sailed aboard their vessels—the burning anglophobia of French and American alike—was important and accounted for much of the bravura, daring, and scoundrelism that characterizes their story.

This study develops a facet of a larger work in progress on the privateering wars in the Caribbean, 1793-1801. To those who read, corrected, and offered invaluable suggestions regarding it, I wish to express my gratitude: to Robert Greenhalgh Albion, who really started all this; to Dr. Ulane Bonnel, for her guidance in French maritime affairs; to my colleague Howard I. Chapelle, an inexhaustible source of information on the ships and shipping of the eighteenth century; to Donald Green and Terrence Murphy, for eliminating the worst of my outrages against the language of the law; to Peter F. Copeland of the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits, for his advice and assistance with the illustrations; to Welles Henderson, who graciously supplied photographs of a fine painting in his collection, showing a French privateer overhauling an American ship; to the late John Gaillard Stoney, for conjuring up for me the Charleston of the late eighteenth century; to Virginia Rugheimer, of the Charleston Library Society, for her patient help; to Mary E. Braunagel, for reading the galley proofs; and finally, to my wife Faith Reyher Jackson, who, although weary of privateering, never failed me during the long voyage.

Such errors in fact or judgment that may appear can only be my own.


February 1969

Catalog of Meteorological Instruments in the Museum of History and Technology
W. E. Knowles Middleton
128 pages, 124 figures
1969 (Date of Issue: 4 August 1969)
Number 2, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.2.1
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This catalog contains a short summary of the history of each type of instrument, accompanied by descriptions of the more interesting or important specimens in the collection, introduced at appropriate places, but set apart typographically so that the narrative can easily be read through by itself if the reader prefers to do this. At the end of each chapter will be found a list of the other instruments in the Museum that have not been discussed in the text. While most of the instruments described are in the collections of the Museum of History and Technology (MHT), a few are in the collections of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). The Museum of History and Technology is naturally rich in apparatus of American origin, and an attempt has been made to cover such specimens in some detail without overemphasizing their importance in the history of meteorological instrumentation. It is thought that the typographical arrangement will contribute to this end.

The King of Desks: Wooton's Patent Secretary
Betty Lawson Walters
32 pages, 28 figures
1969 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1969)
Number 3, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.3.1
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Three Wooton desks that are in the national collections at the Smithsonian Institution were the inspiration for this paper, which traces the history of the Wooton Desk Company and its products. Wooton desks were purchased by prominent persons in Europe and South America, as well as in the United States. They became a kind of status symbol, reflecting high Victorian appreciation for flexibility in furniture. Their varied exterior trimmings made them available for persons with different incomes and preferences.

Eighteenth-Century Ceramics From Fort Michilimackinac: A Study in Historical Archeology
J. Jefferson Miller, II and Lyle M. Stone
130 pages, 56 figures, 9 tables
1970 (Date of Issue: 31 December 1970)
Number 4, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.4.1
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The primary objective of this publication is a detailed description of the Fort Michilimackinac ceramics collection (1959-1965), including comments on the manufacture, importation, use, and dating of each ceramic type described. The term “ceramics” as used in this report excludes aboriginal ceramics and kaolin pipes. It is hoped that the descriptions will contribute to the research of the following specialists: (a) the historical archeologist, by providing a documentation of datable ceramic types for comparative purposes; (b) the artifact historian, by providing data derived from a region and period relatively unknown from the standpoint of ceramic importation and use; and (c) the cultural historian, by providing evidence indicating the level of socioeconomic life maintained at Fort Michilimackinac and presumably at other comparable frontier military posts.

A second objective is to illustrate the interpretative value of historical sites ceramics. By presenting several interpretative problems to which ceramics data may be applied, we hope to faciliate the evaluation of historical sites upon which ceramics are found. The relationships between ceramic change and changing patterns of social life through time in view of different historical and geographical factors must also be studied. For example, ceramic data may reflect diverse functional activities on a site, the presence of various status or socioeconomic groups, and the locus and importance of different trade routes. Information from sites in addition to Fort Michilimackinac has been presented to support many of the interpretations posited.

In consideration of these objectives, this study has been organized as follows. Chapter I: outline of the history of Fort Michilimackinac and the program of archeological research. Chapter II: description of ceramic types from the site. Chapter III: interpretation of historical sites ceramic data.

The Constellation Question
Howard I. Chapelle and Leon D. Polland
152 pages, 53 figures, 1 table
1970 (Date of Issue: 30 October 1970)
Number 5, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.5.1
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This unusual volume has an unusual history. It began as a monograph by Mr. Howard I. Chapelle—essentially the present Part 1—and as a paper by Mr. Leon D. Polland—presented before sections of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers on 7 May 1966—which forms the basis for the rebuttal contained in Parts 2 and 3. Mr. Chapelle's manuscript was accepted for publication by the Smithsonian Institution Press in the spring of 1968. In this manuscript Mr. Chapelle, who is as straightforward as he is learned, set forth his reasons for questioning the authenticity of the present day Constellation. When, in July 1968, a Baltimore newspaper announced the forthcoming publication under the headline “Constellation Now Under Fire From Smithsonian Historian,” the Institution began to hear from those who disagreed with Mr. Chapelle. Some of our correspondents, misunderstanding the nature of the Smithsonian, argued that publication of Mr. Chapelle's manuscript by the Smithsonian Institution Press would constitute official government sponsorship of the author's conclusions. Many urged us to abandon the whole project on the grounds that publication would constitute a kind of desecration of a precious national shrine.

Faced with these suggestions, which occasionally seemed almost to be demands, the Institution found itself in somewhat of a dilemma. Since the Smithsonian Institution Press has always been a publisher of scholarly manuscripts, more akin to a university press than to a government publication office, its standards and procedures are those appropriate to any scholarly publisher. Given Mr. Chapelle's towering reputation in his field, and given the enthusiastic reports of the outside scholars to whom his manuscript was referred, the Press felt an obligation to stick by its original decision. In reaffirming our determination to proceed with Mr. Chapelle's manuscript, we stated that: “In publishing it, the Institution certainly does not presume to guarantee the correctness of everything in the manuscript. The Institution does, however, believe that the manuscript represents a serious contribution to scholarship, that it deserves to be made available to interested scholars and laymen, and that its reception by other competent authorities in the field over the years will be the best test of its validity.”

On the other hand, we recognized that the debate between Mr. Chapelle and Mr. Polland—highly technical though it may be—was not quite the same as a dispute between scholars about, say, the interpretation of a Babylonian text. Various agencies of the federal government and of the State of Maryland had been involved in the restoration of the ship; numerous private citizens had contributed their time and money to the restoration; and the ship herself had indeed become a national historic landmark. In view of all this, it seemed to us that the mere publication of Mr. Chapelle's controversial manuscript might not adequately discharge the Institution's obligation.

It was in this context that we began discussions with the Constellation Restoration Committee, and particularly with its Chairman, Mr. Gordon M. F. Stick. To our great delight, we learned that the Committee shared our concern for the freedom of scholarly expression and was not unalterably opposed to the publication of Mr. Chapelle's manuscript. Rather, the Committee urged that it be given an opportunity to review the manuscript and to provide a rebuttal for publication along with it. Mr. Polland, Technical Advisor and Chief of Construction and Repair for the Constellation Project, was chosen to prepare the rebuttal. With Mr. Chapelle's gracious consent to the delay this necessarily involved, and with the Committee's agreement that his manuscript would be subjected to the same rigorous standards that are applied to all Smithsonian Institution Press publications, the present volume was born.

If I may be permitted a personal observation, I would say that as a layman I find the question of whether today's Constellation is the original Constellation by no means the only interesting part of this book. I recall the laconic words of Captain Joshua Slocum (or his ghostwriter) as he described the rebuilding of the extraordinary sloop Spray in Sailing Alone Around the World: “Now, it is a law in Lloyd's that the Jane repaired all out of the old until she is entirely new is still the Jane. The Spray changed her being so gradually that it was hard to say at what point the old died or new took birth, and was no matter.” As a layman, I find this book fascinating in a number of respects quite different from the question which it sets out to discuss. It is a privilege and a pleasure to watch two scholars as erudite as Mr. Chapelle and Mr. Polland set out to prove their respective sides of so complex a controversy. In the process, one learns an enormous amount about shipbuilding techniques, about naval architecture, and even about government procurement procedures through the centuries. It is conceivable that some readers may finish the book and still be unable to answer The Constellation Question. But I venture to say that they will agree with me that their time has been well spent.

Charles Blitzer

Assistant Secretary

for History and Art

Smithsonian Institution

February 1970

History of Letter Post Communication Between the United States and Europe, 1845-1875
George E. Hargest
234 pages, 126 figures, 34 tables
1971 (Date of Issue: 10 February 1971)
Number 6, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.6.1
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It is the purpose of this book not only to describe the postal services between the United States and Europe, but also to explain their development. The period considered begins with the subsidization of United States steam mail-packets in 1845, and ends on 1 January 1876, when France, the last of nineteen European countries to do so, placed in force the provisions of the treaty of Berne and became an active member of the General Postal Union. In order to keep the size of this work within reasonable bounds, it was necessary that its scope be in some way limited. Rather than narrow the limits of the period covered, it was decided to consider only letter post communication. Interesting as are the arrangements for the exchange of newspapers, printed circulars, and registered mail, they are not included in this work.

A table of United States postal rates to foreign countries is presented in the appendix. While this book confines itself to letter post communication between the United States and Europe, the scope of the appendix is broadened to include rates to all parts of the world. Since information regarding the broadened scope was available, it was felt that it would be of value to collectors to include it.

An attempt has been made in the book to retain the language of the sources from which information has been drawn. This is particularly true in regard to the names of countries and places of which mention is made. Many of the names are subject to a variety of spellings, especially those of the Turkish towns. Places in the appendix follow the spellings given in the tables of postages to foreign countries presented in the U. S. Mail and Post Office Assistant, and the names are sometimes misspelled in that source. The difficulties the Americans had when dealing with foreign languages are occasionally brought to the fore. For example, the port of Rivière-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence River is spelled, in the English version of the United States-French postal convention of 1861, as the Americans pronounced it, “River du Loup.”

While I have largely drawn from primary sources for information relating to mail arrangements, the history of the steam-packet lines has been authoritatively presented in seveal works, and I have, therefore, relied upon these secondary sources for this information. Individual ship sailing and arrival dates have been taken from original sources.

It must be recognized, however, that much original source material that should be available no longer exists. The letterbooks of the Post Office Department in the National Archives contain copies of outgoing letters only. Nine of these letterbooks were examined in 1963, and not one letter relating to the foreign-mail service was found. Fortunately, many matters were referred by the Post Office Department to the Department of State, and correspondence on these matters exists. Congress occasionally requested that correspondence relating to certain matters be published, and postmasters general sometimes published correspondence to Congress in support of their requests for legislation. These letters are found in the House and Senate Executive Documents. While many changes in the original postal conventions were made by signing additional articles, changes were also effected through correspondence between the post offices of the countries concerned. Postmasters general sometimes made reference to these changes in their annual reports, but some that are known to have taken place cannot be supported by documentary evidence. The cover is to the postal historian what the artifact is to the archeologist, and in the absence of other evidence, the cover has been relied upon to supply the missing information.

Postal markings are considered only in relation to the function they performed. No attempt is made to present various types of markings performing the same function. This subject has been definitively covered for Boston in Boston Postal Markings to 1890, by Maurice C. Blake and Wilbur W. Davis, and, for the United States in United States Postal Markings, 1851-1861, by Tracy W. Simpson. Some postal markings, however, domestic or foreign, that are unique to a particular mail service, are illustrated and described.

The Copp Family Textiles
Grace Rogers Cooper
65 pages, 68 figures, 3 tables
1971 (Date of Issue: 27 July 1971)
Number 7, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.7.1
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At the time this exhibit was proposed, the Copp collection of textiles and other family memorabilia, although unique in its scope of everyday household textiles, had received little exposure since its receipt in the late nineteenth century. The nature of household linens, however, made it imperative to take a considerably more-than-superficial look in order to distinguish one white piece from the next. Consequently, studies were made on each textile item in the collection which are now being published for the first time in this catalog.

In preparing textile items for exhibition, the historical information as to how, why, and where each textile was made is not the only element involved in considering them for exhibition. The physical handling of textiles must also receive serious study. Although, unlike ceramics, textiles do not break, their preservation is a complex problem. Old textiles that are in seemingly good condition can deteriorate from strain in handling, or too much light, or dust. Acid transferred from the hands of people touching the fabrics (as in hanging or mounting them), improper finishing of exhibition cases, overexposure, and heat are additional hazards. Unfortunately, many rare and irreplaceable museum textiles have been “lost” in the museum due to any one of these factors. Therefore, the methods used to meet the problems of cleaning, mounting, and exhibiting the Copp Family Textiles have been described in an appendix.

A Snetzler Chamber Organ of 1761
John T. Fesperman
56 pages, 20 figures
1970 (Date of Issue: 15 December 1970)
Number 8, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology
DOI: 10.5479/si.00810258.8.1
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The chamber organ described in this booklet was acquired by the Division of Musical Instruments in 1968 from descendants of the original owner, Dr. Samuel Bard (1742-1821) of New York and Hyde Park. Signed and dated “John Snetzler fecit Londini 1761,” it is both a fine example of the work of England's most famous eighteenth-century maker and a splendid musical artifact associated with one of New York's leading citizens of the Revolutionary period. Despite its age and travels, the instrument retained its original pipes, wind-chest and bellows, mechanical action, and mahagony case. Alterations by earlier repairers were for the most part minimal, making restoration relatively uncomplicated.

Of the five Snetzler organs known to have found their way to North America before the Revolution, this one, belonging to Dr. Bard, surgeon to George Washington and founder of the Medical School at King's College, New York, in 1767, is the only one still in existence with a traceable history.

After an introductory discussion of chamber organs and their uses, there follows a description of the Bard organ, its restoration to playing condition, and its historical context.

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