Just in time for Halloween
Witchcraft was an extreme clipper ship designed by Samuel Pook (see below) and built in Chelsea, Mass. By Paul Curtis. She was wrecked off Hatteras in 1861. According to Fairburn (p. 3946) this card was produced for her fifth voyage. He calls it a “slow and unfortunate passage and the worst sailing performance of any of the ten clippers that cleared east coast port for San Francisco in March.” – Bad Witch! The card measures 3 ¼ x 5 ¾ inches. There is a stain along the top edge, and very light oxidation toward the bottom edge. $1500
All clipper ship sailing cards are scarce, but those sailing from Boston for San Francisco are much less common than those sailing from New York. Here are a couple of other examples, just in, of cards for ships sailing from Boston.
The romantically named Pocahontas was built in Charlestown, Mass. In 1855 by Joshua Magoun. She burned at sea in 1874. The image features the princess herself, paddleboarding a canoe, with John Smith nowhere in sight. This card is dated Feb. 25, 1863. Except for some light oxidation along the bottom edge, it is in very good condition. $1000
White Swallow was a 1192 ton clipper ship built in 1853 in Medford, Mass. by Hayden and Cutworth. She was owned by Boston firms throughout her career, which ended in 1871, when she was abandoned off Fayal. This delicately designed card measures 3 ¼ x 5 ¾ inches. It shows a sailing date of March 3, 1860, from India Wharf. Very good condition. $1000
And here is the book by Samuel Pook (mentioned above), designer of Witchcraft, about designing clipper ships.
Pook, Samuel. A Method of Comparing the Lines and Draughting Vessels, Propelled by Sail or Steam, Including a Chapter on Laying Off on the Mould Loft Floor. NY. 1866. 14 b/w folding plans. 70 pp. with tables in text. This is a rare and important book on American marine architecture, written by the father of the great clipper ship designer (also named Samuel) and containing some of the son’s clipper ship plans, as well as the method father and son developed for generating perfect hull forms. Brewington p. 95. (Even 75 years ago he noted that this work was “scarce.”) McDonald 335. Old tide mark on outer edges of all pages. One tear at the gutter end of the large folding frontispiece, repaired with no loss. Wear to spine ends, but a good copy of a rare book. $1250
Clipper ship sailing cards were originally little more than paper advertising fliers. As the volume of shipping increased they became more vibrant in color and striking in design, with each shipping firm, vessel, and voyage hoping to outdo the other.
Paper handbill $750
Sailing card for the same ship. Sold
Broadside poster advertising a clipper ship
Fair Wind Broadside. Folio, printed in display type in two colors. 20 x 14 inches. The Fair Wind, 1299 tons, was built by Briggs in South Boston in 1855. According to Howe and Matthews her prime San Francisco years were 1855-1858, under captains Allen and Strout. She was sold to the British in 1866. Bruce Roberts rightly points out that broadsides advertising ship sailings pre-dated sailing cards. This hitherto unknown example is evidence that broadsides were also used simultaneously with cards, at least since 1855 when the Fair Wind was launched. They probably failed to survive because they were cheap, flimsy and common. How many McDonald’s hamburger wrappers will survive in 2150? Certainly rare; possibly a singular example. (The Peabody-Essex Museum has an 1852 broadside printed on cloth advertising a sailing to Panama. Nothing else from this era comes close.) No copies reported on Worldcat. None in LC, NYPL, AAS or NYHS collections. $15000
Clipper ship sailing cards cards saw their greatest use in the 1850s and 1860s, as firms competed to attract freight. Their bright colors and alluring designs were aimed at catching the eye of brokers and prospective shippers. In fact, these cards are historically significant as the earliest form of multicolor business advertising in America.
In maritime history, they represent the golden age of wooden sailing ship technology. Since each card refers to a particular vessel, each is also a document of specific history pertaining to that vessel, listing such information as sailing time, port of origin, and captain. It has been estimated that only about 3000 clipper ship cards survive today, and most of these are in institutional collections.
Fortunately for the collector, different images and designs were used for different voyages by the same ship. Thus there might be three or four different versions of cards for a popular ship. The Lookout, pictured above, was advertised in several cards and also in a paper broadsheet.