News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 4, 2014

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Set sail with this toy room treasure

TERRE HAUTE — The “Ocean Wave” of Leominster set sail in the 1880s on a charter to be determined by the imagination of a child, who likely reveled in his or her Christmas wishes having been fulfilled. As a toy sailboat affixed to wheeled axles, it wasn’t meant to be played with in the water, but what good is a toy if it doesn’t leave a bit to the imagination? Little to no provenance remains about this toy. In other words, who donated this wonderful artifact? Thanks to some gingerly playtime that left it in rather superb condition, though, its details lent it well to a quick Google search.

Hand-crafted by the W.S. Reed Co. (est. 1874) of Leominster, Mass., hence the ship’s namesake, this particular toy was a reissue in May 1882 from an original patent in July 1877. Modeled after a typical ocean schooner, its details are lithographs laminated onto a wooden hull, with wooden dowels for the masts. Three masts retain their original sails, printed with images of tassels. An image of a lion adorns the figurehead at the bow, and three crew member standees are overlooking the port side, ready for the command “About ship!” I’m sure they are there to lash the jib, rig the gaff or batten down the hatches, if need be. Luckily, it seems this vessel saw only smooth sailing, as it shows little to no signs of wear. Some of the cargo even remains, as a few wooden barrels sit on the deck, likely to represent casks of drinking water.

Clearly, being a landlubber my whole life, my seafaring knowledge is next to nil. A fond memory that was jogged, though, when I gazed upon this boat was when I received a G.I. Joe hovercraft for Christmas. It too was equipped with wheels, which prevented it from ever being seaworthy. Lucky for me, that year we had a sheet of ice covering the back yard that made for a realistic hovering effect. It skipped and skidded all over, along with the depth charges I launched. Never mind why a hovercraft would ever be equipped with depth charges.

I am sure the owner(s) had just as much fun sailing the seven seas with this 19th-century gem. It can be found upstairs in the museum’s toy room, awaiting your visit come the re-opening in February.

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