“A Stamped Whale or a Stove Boat: On Whalers’ Stamped Logs and Journals”

(This is a guest post by Mark Kelley, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego, who has been working with our Nicholson Whaling Collection in the past weeks. Follow him on Twitter @MarkBKelley. Thanks, Mark!)

“My stamps are poor and they look more like straddlebugs than porpoises.”

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So notes Henry DeForrest, second mate during an 1852-1853 voyage from Massachusetts to the Atlantic and Pacific whaling grounds. During this fourteen-month journey aboard the William Rotch, DeForrest faithfully recounts his home on the water in daily journal entries. “It is written from the impulse of the moment,” he affirms eight months into his voyage, “just as I feel at the time of writing, so goes down.” Like many whalers and sailors, DeForrest augments this power of description with stamped pictures of the creatures whose lives (and deaths) ordered his daily life. Sailors created these stamps by cutting bone, ivory, or wood into the shape of whales or other marine animals. These stamps aided bookkeeping and also added interest to logbooks or journals that recount thousands of whaling and merchant voyages throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much like scrimshaw (the carved and colored whalebone, ivory or shells that may also be found in the library’s collection) stamps are the product of maritime artistry as well as a deep engagement with marine materials.

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Though DeForrest laments the quality of his porpoise stamps by comparing them to long-legged insects, he apparently had access to more materials than most. His journal’s back page reveals a wealth of figures that included sperm whales, dolphins, porpoises, and even ships. One sees evidence of this variety throughout his journal. DeForrest’s personal stamps may be lost to history (though maybe not!), but the library’s Nicholson Whaling Collection contains dozens of authentic stamps that match his description, in addition to hundreds of authentic logs and journals.

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For example, this ivory stamp is in the form of a whale’s tail, or fluke. DeForrest used a similar stamp when the crew attacked but failed to catch a whale. The grooved and detailed handle shows that whoever crafted this artifact had some skill. The ink-soaked head also shows that the stamp got some good use. Artic bowhead whales may live to be over 200 years old, so some of the lucky escaped animals represented by this stamp could still be alive today!

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In an equally poetic and dark twist, the bones of a captured whale could be refashioned as a stamp used to represent the death of another whale! The whales that DeForrest captured could also have been be noted using a wooden stamp much like the one above. This artifact lacks the detailed handle of the ivory example, but the careful carving of the whale’s features is impressive nonetheless. The portrayal of a smiling whale is certainly the result of artistic liberty, as sailors like DeForrest knew them to be ferocious creatures who could just as easily kill as be killed. As Herman Melville affirms in Moby Dick (1851), “A dead whale or a stove boat!” Or, one could say, “a stamped whale or a stove boat!”

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A whaling ship’s thirty or so sailors relied on one another to stay afloat, but also welcomed the opportunity to see new faces. Ships that met at sea exchanged letters, news, or books. According to DeForrest, “The usual practice among whale ships is when they speak each other, to have a Gamm as it is called__I.E. visit each other.” DeForrest always mentioned the ships he had a “gamm” with, and often marked the event with a stamp much the one above. If whale stamps represented a time of hard labor, a ship’s stamp could mark a time of relative leisure. “Many of these Gamms end in a drunken spree,” DeForrest quips, “_ and many do not.”

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If you have the chance, stop by the Special Collections Department for a “gamm” and hold whaling history in your hands!

Congratulations to June Shin, Winner of the 2016 Updike Prize

On Monday evening we celebrated student type design with four talented finalists for our Updike Prize for Student Type Design. Here they are (with typeface names in italics):

June Shin, Ithaka (First Prize)

SooHee Cho, The Black Cat

Cem Eskinazi, Mond

Íñigo López Vázquez, Erik Text

If you didn’t get a chance to attend the event on Monday you can still see examples of the students’ work on display in our third floor exhibition area.

And if you’re an aspiring student type designer, it’s never too soon to start working on your entry for the 2017 prize. Contact us or stop in to ask about the contest.

Thanks to our sponsors, Paperworks, for making the prize possible. And thanks as well to Fiona Ross, this year’s guest speaker, who enlightened our audience on the topic of non-Latin type design.

Updike Award Ceremony 2016, Featuring Fiona Ross

I’m excited to announce that our speaker for the next Updike Award Ceremony will be Fiona Ross. Dr. Ross will be visiting us from the University of Reading, and she’ll be discussing her work on non-Latin alphabets.
 Fiona Ross is a pioneer in the field, beginning with over a decade at the helm of Linotype’s non-Latin font division. She recently received the Society of Typographic Aficionados’ Typography Award, among other honors.Dr. Ross’s lecture will take place as part of the ceremony to celebrate the finalists of our Updike Prize for Student Typography. The event, which will be accompanied by an exhibition of materials from our Updike Collection, begins at 5:30 PM on Monday, October 17th at the Providence Public Library.The event is free, but we request that anyone interested in attending RSVP at:

http://updike2016.eventbrite.com/

(Thanks to our fantastic sponsors, Paperworks!)

A Christmas Present from Japan

This is a long overdue post about a terrific gift we received in early January.Japanese specimens

Big thanks to Akira Yoshino and Taro Yumiba (and others) who sent in a cache of great 20th-century Japanese type specimen books and ephemera. If you’re interested in taking a look, stop in during our open hours, or set up an appointment to visit.

 

Your Portals Syllabus

We’re hard at work on our spring exhibition and event series, “Portals: The History of the Future,” and in the process we’ve been coming across books, movies, and other stuff that gets us in the Portals spirit. So we decided to share some suggested reading (and listening, and watching…) here. We’re also going to post this (and update it) on the Portals website, which should be live soon.

Portals: Recommended Reading (And Watching, and Listening)

Short Reads

  • William Gibson, “The Gernsback Continuum” (1981). Available in the collection Burning Chrome. Ocean State Libraries (Text can also be found online.)
  • Wikipedia entry for Charles Piazzi Smyth, particularly the “Pyramidological researches” section. For a sense of the range of schemes proposed during the debate over unified time.
  • Edmund Arthur Engler, “Time-Keeping in Paris,” Popular Science Monthly, vol. 20 (1882). Online

Long Reads

  • Paul J. Nahin, Time Machines: Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1999). For the nitty-gritty details of how to keep your time machine in working order. WorldCat
  • I.F. Clarke, The Pattern of Expectation, 1644-2001 (New York: Basic Books, 1979). WorldCat
  • Joseph J. Corn & Brian Horrigan, Yesterday’s Tomorrows: Past Visions of the American Future (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). Ocean State Libraries
  • Peter Galison, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps: Empires of Time (New York: W.W. Norton: 2003). PPL
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014). PPL

Podcasts

Music

  • Sun Ra Arkestra – The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra
  • Joseph Haydn – Il Mondo della Luna
  • Joe Meek – I Hear a New World
  • Bjork – Biophilia

Film & Television

Updike Prize 2016

This is just a quick note to help you plan your calendar for the upcoming year, especially if you’re someone who plans way ahead. We just crowned our first Updike Prize winner this past February (congrats, Sandra!), and it was a great event, with a terrific lecture by Tobias Frere-Jones. But one thing we learned in the process is that February in New England is a month best left to hunkering down with warm beverages and hoping for spring.

That’s why we’re moving the Updike celebration to October from now on. Not this October, though: October 2016 will be our next date. That also means that students working on their typefaces have a bit of extra time to do their work. The new deadline is now September 16th.

And there’s one more change: We’re now doubling the size of first prize to $500! So get to work and plan your visits to use the collection. (As a reminder, we have open hours, no appointment needed, on Tuesdays from 10-1pm and Wednesdays from 3-7pm.)

And now, for no particular reason, here’s a picture of some folks from an 1886 German type specimen book:

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Valerie Lester discusses Giambattista Bodoni: His Life and His World

Remember this guy?:

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It’s been a year and a half since we celebrated Giambattista Bodoni and the 200th anniversary of his death. In all those years, no one has written a full-length English biography of the great printer and type designer – until now.

Join us at 6:00pm on Wednesday, October 7th for a lecture by Valerie Lester, whose biography of Bodoni is being published this month. Copies of the book will be available for purchase, and refreshments will be served. We’ll also have a selection of items from our collections of Bodoniana on display.