Press Releases

Mystic Seaport Museum Receives IMLS Grant to Recover and Improve Access to its Rosenfeld Collection

Mystic, Conn. (September 13, 2022) – Mystic Seaport Museum was awarded a three-year Institute of Museum and Library Services Collections Stewardship grant totaling $236,788, to recover and improve access to selected cellulose diacetate negatives from the Museum’s Rosenfeld Collection of Maritime Photography that have been affected by a form of severe deterioration known as vinegar syndrome.

The Rosenfeld Collection, acquired in 1984 by Mystic Seaport Museum, is one of the largest archives of maritime photographs in the United States. The Collection contains nearly one million pieces from 1881 to 1992. This irreplaceable photography collection represents the evolution of photographic technology and documents the golden age of American yachting – an era of intensive recreational and competitive activity widely recognized for its impact on the preservation of American sailing knowledge, skills, and traditions.

The project team, which includes two grant-funded positions, will evaluate, select, recover/treat, digitize, rehouse, and catalog 5,000 images. The goal of the project is to create a sustainable model for the ongoing in-house treatment of negatives affected by vinegar syndrome and to freely share project results with the broader museum/archive community through professional conferences and digital/social media.

Approximately 150,000 Rosenfeld Collection negatives, dating from 1927 –1950s, are cellulose diacetate (safety film) and are prone to or already affected by vinegar syndrome. This grant will dovetail with another active federal grant and ongoing private support to recover a combined 8,500 images and enhance the sustainability of the project.

Improved digital access to the collection will benefit current and future exhibits of Mystic Seaport Museum and encourage research that brings a new lens to the Collection and our national maritime heritage. Connecting the photographed vessels to the stories of their crew members, voyages, or shipyards of origin will illuminate perspectives beyond the traditional view of yachting as an elite interest.

Mystic Seaport Museum will continue these preservation efforts well beyond the grant period. Recovering, digitizing, and cataloging these images speaks to agency-level IMLS collections stewardship goals of supporting collections care and management and promoting access to museum collections.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. The agency advances, supports, and empowers America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant-making, research, and policy development. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov or follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Media Contact

Sophia Matsas
Director of Marketing & Communications
Mystic Seaport Museum
860.572.5317 (o)

About Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic Seaport Museum is the nation’s leading maritime Museum. Founded in 1929 to gather and preserve the rapidly disappearing artifacts of America’s seafaring past, the Museum has grown to become a national center for research and education with the mission to “inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.” The Museum’s grounds cover 19 acres on the Mystic River in Mystic, CT, and include a recreated New England coastal village, a working shipyard, formal exhibit halls, and state-of-the-art artifact storage facilities. The Museum is home to more than 500 historic watercraft, including four National Historic Landmark vessels, most notably the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan. For more information, please visit mysticseaport.org and follow the Museum on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Instagram.


Letters From the Colored Sailor’s Home in the Mid 19th Century

The G.W. Blunt White Library manuscript collection at Mystic Seaport Museum recently offered up an exciting find in the form of reports and correspondence relating to the Colored Sailors’ Home(s) run by the American Seamen’s Friend Society in the mid-19th century. As the name suggests, these were boarding houses specifically for sailors of color; the one referenced here was located in New York City, and run by abolitionist William Peter Powell, Sr.

Colored Sailors Home Letter 1
Figure 1

These letters are striking in terms of Powell’s frankness regarding the state of racism in the United States during the mid-19th century, as well as his dedication to advocating for his boarders. In one letter from April 15, 1862 (fig. 1), he writes to the Board of Trustees of the Sailors’ Home Committee to ask for financial help in securing a building to open a new Colored Sailors’ Home. He cites his success in operating one many years before, and pointedly states that he only left it to take his children to England in 1851 for their schooling, since “…owing to the prejudice against Color they could not acquire [an education] in this their native Country.” In another letter accompanying a financial report in December 1862 (fig. 2), Powell describes the harrowing circumstances encountered by Black sailors arriving in New York before they found safe quarters in the Sailors’ Home; in many other letters, he takes care to detail the sailors’ exemplary behavior despite having faced these difficulties. He seems to be working hard to demonstrate to the Board that even the “free” northern U.S. is not a welcoming place for sailors of color, and that it is worthwhile to provide safe, secure places for them to stay while on land. 

Letters for the Colored Sailors Home 2
Figure 2

These are just two letters out of 28, and the whole collection gives us the opportunity to view the Civil War era from this compelling perspective. They are especially meaningful during Black History Month and the continuing work on the “Just Futures, Reimagining New England” project, funded by the Andrew C. Mellon foundation, both of which spur us on to examine our understanding of history through the lens of racial justice.

Written By Emma Burbank, Registrarial and Research Assistant