Scenes on Board a Man-of-War. U.S. Flagship Tennessee.
Hatton & Hart, ( n.d.), New York
Oblong folio, 14 1/2 x 11 inches. 27 b/w albumen photos mounted on 20 leaves of card stock.
For years, on eBay and at book and ephemera shows, I’d see large-format albumen photographs of sailors on a 19th century warship, all mounted on the same sort of card stock. A few of them might have had some form of identification on the negative, but their source remained a mystery until one day I found a copy of “Scenes on Board a Man-of-War.” Mystery solved! Or, mostly solved. The “Tennessee” was a wooden screw frigate, originally named “Madawaska.” In 1869 she was overhauled, renamed “Tennessee,” and assigned to the Asiatic Station. According to American Naval Fighting Ships, “Her spaciousness and the comfort of her quarters as well as her handling characteristics made her a favorite duty station.” This also made her an attractive venue for photographs of shipboard life. Sometime in the 1880s, New York photographers Harron & Hart published a large-format book of mounted albumen prints which had been taken aboard her. It was titled “Scenes on Board a Man-of-War. U.S. Flagship Tennessee.” However, the date of publication and number of photographs remain iffy. Moebs assigns a date of 1887 and cites 20 mounted photographs. Harbeck dates it 188? and says it contains “33 views.” Worldcat says the author is Frank Guirke, and repeats the 1887, 20-photograph description used by Moebs. The copy on offer here has 27 photographs – a number that corresponds with description of the book in two recent auctions. The unique feature of this copy is that it was owned by one of the men aboard the “Tennessee,” Thomas Rutter, who has helpfully provided manuscript captions for three of the images, including a portrait of three men aboard ship, one of whom, according to Rutter’s caption, is Thomas Rutter himself. As far as the date goes, one of the images is marked in the negative “Capt: OF Stanton.” According to Hammersly, Stanton made captain in 1879, so this album was almost certainly created in the 1880s. The quality of the prints is generally good, with only a few showing serious fading. The card stock mounts are bound into the album on fabric hinges. Over time, these have become brittle and weak, making it easy for images to be removed. This accounts for the individual images I’ve seen over the years – pages fallen out of, or removed from, the book. Bound in publisher’s blue cloth with gold cover design. Backstrip repaired with black tape. some images coming loose. Overall a very good and complete copy of a rare book – Worldcat shows only the Navy Department holding a copy.