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.

For the Love of Chocolate

Truffles
Creative Commons License photo credit: Frank_BB

In light of the upcoming Valentine’s Day festivities, I thought we should all take a moment to learn something new about a traditional Valentine’s Day gift. I’m talking about chocolate, of course! Did you know…

Chocolate syrup was used as the blood in the famous shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Psycho.”

A quote for you (I think this soldier liked chocolate a little bit): “Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.” – Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, a surgeon in the Spanish army, 1796.

A chocolate history legend states that the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl brought cacao to earth and was thrown out of paradise for giving it to man; it was believed that only the gods were fit to drink chocolate!

In the 1500s, when chocolate first made its way in to Spain, it was considered a health food and a medicine! Many doctors of the time prescribed it for curing fevers, cooling the body, aiding in digestion, and alleviating pain.

DANGER! Chocolate is poisonous to dogs (and other domestic animals); the Theobromine found in chocolate is a stimulant, especially affecting the heart muscles, and can be too much for small animals. So be careful if you have pets.

The melting point of chocolate is just below normal body temperature, so it literally melts in your mouth! Mmmmm…tasty.

Smarties: Inverted Double Spiral (-1,2)
Creative Commons License photo credit: gadl

In 1940, M&M’s were invented by the MARS Company for soldiers going to WWII.

The biggest bar of chocolate ever made was made in Italy in 2000 and weighed over 5,000 pounds. The largest slab of fudge weighed over 2,000 pounds and was made in Canada.

Currently, 40% of the world’s almonds and 20% of the world’s peanuts are used by chocolate manufacturers. One pod from a cacao tree (the plant from which chocolate is derived) contains about 30-50 almond-sized seeds. This is enough to make about 7 milk chocolate bars.

And, finally, 63% of Americans buy chocolate for themselves when buying it for someone else. So go splurge on your sweetie! But don’t forget to grab a treat for yourself, while you’re at it.

This Valentine’s Day, be sure to pick up some chocolate for your special someone, and don’t worry if you don’t have any extraordinary plans. Come on down to Love Bugs, the Museum’s Valentine’s Day bash!

And if, perchance, you are spending this February 14th alone, you should still go out and grab your favorite chocolaty treat; studies show that chocolate has anti-depressant qualities and mood-boosting goodness.

Founder Jimmy Wales loves Wikipedia Loves Art

Wikipedia Loves Art has caught the eye of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (you can check out his bio on – of course – Wikipedia).

In the video below, he shares his thoughts on the contest, and how the public perception of Wikipedia has changed, even over just the past few years.

In case you missed our announcement last week, Wikipedia Loves Art is a world-wide, museum-based, photo scavenger hunt. It’s a take-off on Valentine’s Day that shares the love among photographers on Flickr, anyone who’s ever used Wikipedia (read: everyone) and museums across the globe.

You can participate by shooting pictures of the items on the HMNS goal list any time in the month of February – but we’re also hosting a Wikipedia Loves Art meetup on Sunday, Feb. 15 from 6 – 9 p.m. The meetup will include free access to the permanent exhibition halls as well as conservatory and entomology exhibits at the Cockrell Butterfly Center for all registered Wikipedia Loves Art photographers. Before coming to the meetup, please be sure to register online. Check in will be at a table in the Grand Hall.

More details: the Wikipedia Loves Art Flickr page; the Brooklyn Museum’s announcement; and the HMNS meetup post in our group poolon Flickr.

Hope to see you there!

Shutterbugs, unite: Wikipedia loves you! [free stuff]

the trigger
This could be you, at
Wikipedia Loves Art at HMNS.
Creative Commons License photo credit: karlrobin

The always spectacular Brooklyn Museum has an all-new round of awesome for us in February: Wikipedia Loves Art – a world-wide, museum-based, photo scavenger hunt. It’s a take-off on Valentine’s Day that shares the love among photographers on Flickr, anyone who’s ever used Wikipedia (read: everyone) and museums across the globe.

The goal: to create free content that can be used to illustrate educational articles across an almost unimaginable range of topics in everyone’s favorite online encyclopedia. If your photos are chosen for use on Wikipedia, you’ll get full credit in the caption – even better, you can win great prizes!

As it turns out, Wikipedia loves science, too – and your friendly local science museum is participating! Check out our goal list as well as our photography guidelines and get ready to start shooting! All that’s required is the ability to identify an object and take a snapshot that shows it off – anyone with a point and shoot camera and a free Flickr account can participate. (To sign up for Flickr, go here and click “Create Your Account.” You can also take a tour first to explore.)

love is in the air
Creative Commons License photo credit: GcD^3 pictures

More details: the Wikipedia Loves Art Flickr page; the Brooklyn Museum’s announcement; and the HMNS meetup post in our group pool on Flickr.

You can shoot at HMNS any time in the month of February – but we’re also hosting a Wikipedia Loves Art meetup on Sunday, Feb. 15 from 6 – 9 p.m. The meetup will include free accessto the permanent exhibition halls as well as conservatory and entomology exhibits at the Cockrell Butterfly Center for all registered Wikipedia Loves Art photographers. Before coming to the meetup, please be sure to register online . Check in will be at a table in the Grand Hall.

Hope to see you at the meetup! And Happy Valentine’s!