Treasures of the Sea

Written by Donna Brandolisio, manuscript cataloger

What do you collect from the sea?  Days at the beach let us wander along the coast and discover the bleached bones that once housed mollusks or crustaceans.  We bring home remnants of our journeys to the coast: seashells, stones, rocks, driftwood, feathers, and sea-glass small tokens reminding us of ocean sights, sounds, and smells.  These objects lived in a realm of another place and time other than our day-to-day lives. The objects serve as a remembrance of a past event or journey and end up displayed at home on a table, a shelf, or in a glass jar becoming small mementos of time spent with the vast ocean.

Sometimes we stumble upon living objects like starfish, sand dollars, or coral left stranded on the sand.  Seaweed also drifts its way on shore in tangled clumps of various colors.  These flora from the sea can be pressed and dried like wildflowers or plants transforming them into vibrant keepsakes.

Here at the Kislak Center is an example of beautifully preserved ocean life from a seaside journey; a scrapbook containing carefully collected seaweed.  Who created the album is unknown to us, but clearly much care was taken to save and keep these treasures of the sea. The specimens contained in this book are in fact entitled Album of Beautiful Seaweeds, Souvenir de Torquay and dates from between 1860 to 1870 (for more information on this scrapbook see the finding aid).

Dried seaweed on title page.

Below the hand written title is a specimen that at first glance appears to be a pressed hydrangea bloom with a pinkish hue.  The color was so vivid I wondered if it had been dyed, but on further inspection it appears the original color has been preserved!

These seaweeds were carefully pressed and preserved and their scientific names recorded.  This collection of botanical specimens from the sea gives us a glimpse of what the creator held dear from his or her journey.  The variety of seaweeds (see below) have retained their colors ranging from pale to dark green, shades of burgundy, and almost black.  There is also an array of leaf type from singular wide strands, fine short wisps grouped like a bouquet, and sparse evergreen-like strands.

There are other souvenirs in the album, botanical postcards and pressed ferns and leaves. One curious memento laid into the scrapbook is a flying fish wing mounted on a small slip of paper with the note “captured in Oct. 1861.”  Was this vacationer on a boat?  Did he or she catch the fish stranded on the sand as the tide was going out?


In addition this keepsake album of seaweeds are Ships’ logs, sailors’ diaries, and travelers’ scrapbooks are all mementos of treasures preserved from the sea you can find at Kislak Center.





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