September 18, 2014

Restoration Project Update!

The Old State House has been full of activity in the last two weeks. After the scaffolding was finished the first week in September, work immediately began on cutting the old mortar joints. Our contractor, Commodore Builders, had the crew from NER Building Restoration moving at a solid pace throughout the cutting process, even though most of the work is done by hand. The mortar cutting is done with a single saw blade cut through the center of the joint and then the mortar is chiseled out by hand to avoid damaging the historic brick. During the work a very interesting line of lead flashing was found buried in the old mortar joints along the floor level of the second floor. Reviewing historic photos, it is currently believed that the flashing is a remnant of a small balcony located on the west façade during the mid 19th-century.

Last week, the carpentry crew from M&A Architectural was on-site to remove the balcony doors and balustrade for restoration. The removal of the wooden elements from the balcony went smoothly and although deteriorated wood was easily spotted on the removed pieces, the urns that adorned the balustrade posts were in great shape. Over the next two weeks, the carpenters will be back at the Old State House to remove some windows and other building elements for restoration.

The biggest news was the removal of the iconic Lion and Unicorn statues on the east façade. On Sunday, Commodore Builders team from NER and Marr Rigging successfully removed, crated, and delivered the two large animals. Made from hollow copper, the statues are being restored by the staff at Skylight Studios, the same place the statues were restored in 1991. The first step to the restoration of the statues is to find whether there is truth behind the documentation of a 1901 time capsule in the Lion’s head. Finding out if a capsule has been residing in the Lion is not a simple task and the exploration must be done carefully. Skylight Studios and the Bostonian Society will examine the Lion and hopes to have a very exciting announcement in the next couple of weeks.

During the next couple of weeks, the re-pointing of the west façade will begin, more information will be gathered from the wooden elements taken from the balcony, and of course more news on the Lion and Unicorn. Stay tuned to the blog and our website for updates.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

September 11, 2014

A Notice to Towns: Committee of Correspondence broadside on display

If you stop by the Old State House this month, you'll have the chance to view an original Committee of Correspondence broadside that was issued in Boston in September 1774. A facsimile of this document is always on display in our Colony to Commonwealth exhibit, but we don't often have the opportunity to display the original due to the sensitive nature of 18th-century documents.

MS0119/DC 973.3116.1774
But first things first - what exactly was a broadside? Broadsides were large pieces of paper that were only printed on one side and were often posted in public places. They were used as a way to pass on announcements and advertisements, and were ephemeral in nature, meaning that they were printed to serve a specific purpose and weren't necessarily meant to be saved. As a result, some broadsides were printed on poor quality paper and it can be difficult to preserve them into the 21st-century.

The Committee of Correspondence of Massachusetts would issue broadsides from their headquarters in Boston and distribute them to towns throughout the area. For example, a few in our collection were sent from Boston to the town of Medway. Committees of Correspondence were organized in each of the thirteen colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution. As its name suggests, the committees served as a way to maintain communication within Massachusetts as well as with other colonies. The broadside that is currently on display was issued by Boston and surrounding towns on September 27, 1774 and is signed by the clerk, William Cooper. The broadside calls upon citizens to withhold from [British] troops every article except provisions necessary for their subsistence. The notice goes on to urge all citizens to participate, stressing that “unanimity in all our measures in this day of severe trial, is of utmost consequence.” This broadside gives insight into the sentiments of Boston and Massachusetts residents on the eve of the American Revolution. Click on the image above to see an enlarged version of the broadside and read it in its entirety.

As this document turns 240 this month, we are excited for the opportunity to share it with our visitors and blog readers!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

September 4, 2014

Old State House restoration has begun!

The long wait is over! Our much anticipated West Façade Restoration Project is officially underway. Last weekend Commodore Builders delivered and set up the scaffolding on a busy Saturday. The project includes full re-pointing of the façade, repairs to the chimney, restoration to the windows and some wood elements, and repainting of the woodwork.

While the majority of the work is focused on the west façade, there will be work taking place on the east end of the building as well.
The Society has also been fortunate enough to have raised funds for the restoration of the balcony and the Lion and Unicorn statues. The work on the east façade will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks and will include a crane for the removal of the statues for their restoration at Skylight Studios in Woburn.

The Old State House will be open throughout the work and readers of this blog are encouraged to stop by and see preservation and restoration in action. We will be posting updates here throughout the project, so check back often.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

August 28, 2014

The Art of Scrimshaw: pieces from our collection and a how-to guide to make your own

Whale's tooth with view of Amsterdam, MB0282
Sometimes the best part of learning can be getting your hands dirty. That’s exactly what we have been doing on Summer Saturdays at the Old State House! One of my favorite hands on activities is one designed around the art of scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw is pieces of carved and colored whale tooth or bone. Although whale tooth and bone were the most common materials for scrimshaw, examples can also be found of tusk, ivory or bone from other sea or land animals. Carving animal tooth and bone is a practice that goes back centuries, but the term scrimshaw came into use in the 19th century- as the whaling trade was exploding worldwide. Whaling ships would embark on trips that lasted years and the whalers often had ample time on their hands. The act of creating scrimshaw, called scrimshandering, was a detailed art that could easily occupy many hours and whalers could then bring the finished products home to their families and friends as souvenirs from their time abroad.

Scrimshaw clothespin, MB0070
These examples from the Bostonian Society’s collection show how diverse scrimshaw can be. Some show familial scenes, while others are more artistic or depict places the men traveled to. The shape of the scrimshaw can vary. Frequently scrimshaw took the shape of the original tooth, but sometimes it would be shaped into useful tools like this cribbage board and clothespins.  Busks were also common scrimshaw gifts, brought home to wives and sweethearts. Busks were a component of the corsets worn by women in the 19th century, the vertical piece lying against a woman’s sternum. A very intimate souvenir!

Whale's tooth with
family scene, MB0036

Whalers used whatever tools they had at their disposal, such as jackknifes, files and India ink. As scrimshaw became well known some men brought special tools with them on the ship in anticipation of the pieces they would work on. Tools that resembled a dentist kit were some of the most popular tools! The small picks worked well on the tooth and bone. Our hands on activity uses materials that are more readily available in the 21st century. We are doing this activity in the museum this summer, but it can easily be done at home as well, or even in the classroom.

Scrimshaw Activity

  • Block of white soap
  • A ball point pen
  • Black washable poster paint
  • Wooden carving tools (such as this one available at craft stores)
  • Sponge, cut into small pieces
  • Paper plate
  • Newspaper or craft paper to cover work space

  • Smooth off soap surface with wooden tool
  • Use point of wooden tool or the point of the pen to carve image (the pen will not make any marks on the soap). Carve whatever image you want. It can be a meaningful representation of something you love or a beautiful design. It’s up to the artist!
  • When carving, be careful not to press too hard, the soap may split.
  • If the soap is dry, the soap particles can irritate your throat, so don’t breathe too deeply!
  • Use sponge to apply paint. Use enough to get into the carving to make the entire image appear. Wipe away excess paint, using the sponge as well as paper towels to get the desired look.
  • Let the paint dry.
  • Share your art with friends and family- regaling them with tales of your time on the high seas!
Resource note: A great resource for more information on scrimshaw (and the history of whaling) is Leviathan, by Eric Jay Dolin.

By Alexa Drolette, Museum Programs Manager

August 20, 2014

Not that Samuel Adams! -- Chasing a Revolutionary Patriot across Boston (Part II)

As we learned in last week’s post, Samuel Adams bounced from job to job, but his engagement with radical politics was a constant in his life and his political inclinations likely influenced his steady resolve to preserve the flag. Adams always involved himself in local politics and was an outspoken fixture at town meetings. He supported Thomas Jefferson and the Whigs, and he was written about on one occasion as a great orator of Boston. He was a regular attendee at the anniversary celebrations of Thomas Paine’s birthday, where he made toasts decrying political and religious tyranny. Like Thomas Paine, he was an atheist. In his later years he became a radical abolitionist, allying himself with men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Liberty Tree, Boston Common.  1983.0003.011.144
In the 1850s, newspapers recognized him as one of the last surviving “relics” of the Revolutionary period and reported that he had an incredible memory of those times. At the 75th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence in 1851, he was one of three Revolutionary veterans riding in a carriage for the procession. By his own account, he witnessed the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the British departure from the town, and Washington’s entrance into Boston. He claimed to have been one of the “Boston boys,” young men who acted as sentinels for the Sons of Liberty when they had their secret meetings, and that he even served as the confidential messenger of the patriot Samuel Adams. He stated that he served as a privateer during the Revolution. Thus far it is difficult to confirm these impressive stories.

Adams began displaying the flag for various public occasions in the 1850s, including the anniversary celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday in 1851 and a meeting of the Free Soil Club in 1852. He evidently wished that the flag continue to be used to support radical politics. In his will, he left it to his granddaughter, and then intended it to pass to Abby Folsom, another abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. He called it the “Flag of Freedom of yore hoisted over Liberty Tree so called in Boston,” though one wishes that he might have mentioned how he came to own it. This question still remains to be answered.

The impression that emerges from the details of Adams’s life is that of a man who lived through an incredible period of American history: from the last years of British colonial rule to the years leading up to the Civil War. He preserved the Liberty Tree Flag as a living emblem of the radical politics he was caught up in as a young man, and of the reforms he still hoped to bring about. In this effort he had a strong sense of history, evinced by his remarks at Boston’s last town meeting before it became a city:

“ ‘Names is nothing. Only let us have Boston, and I care not what you call it.’ ”

By Kathryn Griffith, History Department Intern