100 Years – 100 Objects: Sailor’s Valentine [Happy Valentine's Day]

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

Ca. 1850 – 1900
HMNS 1991.1085.1

This antique shell mosaic was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Preston.

During the mid 19th century, sailors to the West Indies often returned from their long voyages with mosaic shell boxes for their loved ones. Messages of affection spelled out in shells were included at the center of the designs, surrounded by additional colorful shells arranged in geometric patterns and compartments.

These shell mosaics were commonly fitted into octagonal hinged boxes with glass covers on each half and were known as ‘Sailor’s Valentines.’

Although the shell mosaic featured here is not specifically a Sailor’s Valentine, it dates to the same era. The photograph at the center is a hand-tinted ambrotype of an unidentified woman. This shell mosaic frame is thought to represent a fraternal order or family crest for the recipient. All the shells in this antique frame are from the West Indies which helps to date the mosaic.


Check back soon for more of the
100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Monocular Compound Scope

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

English, ca. 1820
HMNS #138
Museum purchase made possible with the support of the Junior League of Houston, Inc., 1990.

During the 17th and the first quarter of the 18th century, microscopes were made of wood, ivory and layers of paper covered with leather, vellum or fish skin, such as stingray. By the early 19th century, better microscopes were made almost entirely of brass.

This is a lacquered brass scope that is based on a design by Benjamin Martin, a teacher and instrument maker from the 1760s. This scope was designed to be portable and comes in a fitted wooden box with a variety of eye pieces and lenses to allow for various degrees of magnification. 

A feature of this type of scope is the freedom allowed to move the specimen being viewed.  [The item being viewed is held in place in the stage area by tweezers (shown below) or mounted to a slide.] This type of scope also provides increased illumination. The lens on the left is adjustable and works in combination with the mirror at the bottom, to focus light to the stage of the microscope.

Optical focus is achieved with a rack and pinion mechanism that moves the barrel up and down the pillar by means of the knob on the side.  Instrument makers had to have knowledge of optics, in addition to mechanics.

Check back soon for more of the 100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Mesolite with Fluorapophyllite

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Joel, the Museum’s President and curator of Gems and minerals. He’s chosen spectacular objects from the Museum’s mineralogy collection, which includes some of the most rare and fascinating mineral specimens in the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

Pashan Hills Near Khadakvasla, Poona, Maharashtra, India.

Mesolite in large crystals and large, spherical sprays like the one pictured here come from only one place in the world: the Pashan Hills quarries.

The 23-cm example shown here, on fluorapophyllite matrix, is probably the world’s finest example of the species.

This specimen is extremely fragile and was brought out of India by mineral dealer Rock Currier, who packed the specimen in powdered soap and bought for it a first-class airplane ticket from Bombay to Los Angeles in order to ensure its safe arrival.

Marvel at the world’s most spectacular collection of natural mineral crystals in the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Aluminum Wire Car

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

How do African children play? One answer is: with toys they make themselves. The aluminum–wire car is but one of many shapes rendered in this material. This particular car was made in 1999 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This car illustrates the creative genius of African children, who make these kinds of toys by recycling wire and tires. It shows the great flexibility and adaptability that makes humans such interesting subjects to study.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the photo gallery on hmns.org.