By Kyrsten Polanish, Collections & Exhibits Coordinator
When you work in a collections position, conducting inventories comes with the job. But by no means are these inventories boring! Through these routine inventories, you often have the opportunity to find interesting artifacts buried in storage, possibly ones previously thought to have been lost, or notice some new detail of a piece that brings further enlightenment to its historical value and nature.
The most recent inventory I have been conducting is of our Logbook collection. Logbooks are the official records kept on board a ship often by the first mate or another high ranking officer. These keepers write down the major events that occur on ship, weather patterns, coordinates of the ship’s location and, in the case of whale ships, records of where whales were spotted and how many barrels of oil were brought in. Our Logbook collection is not that large as compared to some bigger institutions so when seven logbooks were not able to be located in the process of the inventory this was puzzling.
After having attacked this dilemma from multiple angles and looking in every drawer and box possible, I was ready to put this aside to come back to later with fresh eyes, when a research request came in. This researcher just so happened to be looking for information out of two of the “missing” logbooks. Thus, this request forced me to keep pushing forward posthaste. Where did this eventually lead me? To 45 years of paperwork and a seemingly less than ordinary looking book.
I came up with the idea of trying to find the original donation documents which meant sorting through those 45 years worth of collections paperwork. The time was well spent, however, when I found the original documents which completely solved the mystery, all thanks to the description contained within. That description indicated that a burlap covered book, that had always remained a bit of a mystery, was indeed a logbook. On top of that, it did not just have one logbook within its binding, but seven!
Considering all other logbooks in our collection had one voyage in one book, this detail was extremely odd to us. We couldn’t quite figure out why this would be. Honestly, we still don’t. The running theory is that the unknown record keeper was the same person for all seven voyages within the book and that this man simply kept carrying around the same book out of convenience or financial necessity (paper was not cheap back then).
Was I able to finally finish the logbook inventory and account for everything? Yes! Will we ever know why this book has seven voyages? I don’t know, but I hope so. For now, it will continue to be a mystery waiting to be solved.