William L. Crothers Collection

Manuscripts Collection 282

Overview of the Collection

Repository: G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport
Creator: Crothers, William L.
Title: William L. Crothers Collection
Dates: 1984-2002
Extent: 500 pieces, 8 v.
Abstract: Papers and volumes resulting from Crothers extensive research into the history, use and details of flags as used by the American merchant marine. Includes a “Directory of Private Signals Flown by American Merchant Sail” which contains an index of colored flags. The collection also includes two illustrated volumes detailing the history of the flag hoist signal system, as well as the related correspondence and references upon which Mr. Crothers based his work.
Identification: Coll. 282

Biography of William L. Crothers

In 1935 William L. Crothers started employment in the Design Division of the Philadelphia Navy Yard (later named the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard). In the same year he joined the Philadelphia Ship Model Society. These two maritime organizations formed his life for the next 37 years until he retired from the shipyard in 1972. His membership in the Philadelphia Ship Model Society, however continued.

In 1941 William, along with a friend, started to produce plans for the use of ship model makers, using the logo SEA GULL PLANS. These plans, which are still available, were of American naval and merchant vessels of both the age of sail and modern steel construction. His interest in flag hoist signals and house flags originated as part of the plan production process. To develop a complete picture of any vessel seemed to demand inclusion of her flags and signals.

After the death of his associate in 1974, William continued production of their plans but slowly found himself drawn to the subject of flag hoist signaling in detail. Over the years he and his wife visited many museums along the east coast ferreting out the far-flung information that was tucked away in each facility. There was much to be found and, as is usually the case, the subject kept growing as new information was found and collected.

Between 1990 and 1996, he partially shelved the project. In that period he gathered together all the information accumulated over the course of fifty years and wrote a book titled “The American-Built Clipper Ship, 1850-1856” which was composed to a great degree of data used in the drawing of SEA GULL PLANS. Upon completion of the book, he turned again to the flag hoist signal project and completed the subject of house flags to the fullest extent that he was able. In 2001, the volumes were presented to Mystic Seaport Library in order to insure that they would safely survive for posterity as a convenient source of reference on the subject.

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Restrictions on Access

Available for use in the Manuscripts Division

Restrictions on Use

Various copying restriction apply. Guidelines are available from the Manuscripts Division.

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Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in the catalog of the G. W. Blunt White Library. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons or places should search the catalog using these headings.


Signals and signaling

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Coll. 282, Manuscripts Collection, G. W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc.

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Detailed Description of the Collection

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.


Maritime museum correspondence; 1984-1999
Box Folder
1 1 Columbia River Maritime Museum; 1999
2 Herreshoff Marine Museum; 1999
3 Mariners Museum; 1995-1999
4 Maritime Museum of Monterey; 1999
5 Maritime Museum Association of San Diego; 1999
6 Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum; 1999
7 North Carolina Maritime Museum; 1997-1999
8 Peabody Essex Museum; 1984-1999
9 Penobscot Marine Museum; 1984-1999
10 South Carolina Historical Society; 1999
11 Thomas Cooper Library; 1985
12 United States Merchant Marine Academy; 1986
13 United States National Park Service; 1995-1996
Miscellaneous correspondence; 1985-1999
Box Folder
1 14 Individuals and companies; 1985-1999
References; 1856-1999
Box Folder
1 15 Ref. 1 – “Flags Through the Ages, a General Reference”
16 Ref. 2 – “House Flags of New York, 1800’s”. Booklet, Seaman’s Savings Bank, NY; 1944
17 Ref. 3 – “Greyhounds of the Sea”
18 Ref. 4 – “House flags of Boston”, 1856. Litho by Kramer & Co., Boston
19 Ref. 5 – House flags described in “The Clipper Ship Era” by Capt. Arthur H. Clark
20 Ref. 6 – House flags from “The Lore of Ships” by Tre Tryckare
21 Ref. 7, 8 – Ships refs
22 Ref. 9 – Yankee sailing ship cards, Allen Forbes & Ralph Eastman for State Street Trust Co., Boston
23 Ref. 10 – House flag sketches by T. Hornsby, Cheltennam, Pennsylvania
24 Ref. 11 – House flag shown in oil painting by J. & F. Tudgay (British), Oliphant & Co.
25 Ref. 12 – 19th Century oil painting of the ship St. Mark
26 Ref. 13 – “American Sail” by Alexander Laing, flag and ship data
27 Ref. 14 – House flags of New York, 1800’s poster in the “The Clipper Ships”
28 Ref. 15 – “The Atlantic Crossing” by Melvin Maddocks
29 Ref. 16 – House flags shown in “Ship Models Illustrated”; 1943
30 Ref. 17 – House flags from painting in Independence Seaport Museum, Philadelphia
31 Ref. 18 – House flags on sailing ship cards, etc. Peabody Essex Museum, Salem
32 Ref. 19 – Picture in Maryland Historical Society, Monument Street, Baltimore, MD
33 Ref. 20 – House flag from a painting dated 1847
34 Ref. 21 – Copy of a painting by S. Walters which is in the J. Welles Henderson Collection, Independence Seaport Museum
35 Ref. 22 – Painting in CIGNA Corp, Philadelphia Pa.
36 Ref. 23 – 19th Century painting by Lai Sung, China. American Heritage, Vol. XIX, No.1
37 Ref. 24 – “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships”
38 Ref. 25 – “Ocean Life in Old Sailing Ships Days” by Whidder
39 Ref. 26, 27, 28 – Ship Refs.
Box Folder
2 1 Ref. 29 – Painting by Frederick Roux, Marseilles, 1824 in Mystic Museum
2 Ref. 30, 31 – General refs
3 Ref. 32 – Sailing ship prints, Shelburne Museum. Library v. to
4 Ref. 33 – House flags of New York and other, Litho by Cowperthwait, Philadelphia; 1854
5 Ref. 34 – House flag of ship JOHN RAVENEL, Charleston, SC. Charleston’s Maritime Heritage, P.C. Coker III
6 Ref. 35 – House flag data from New Bedford Whaling Museum, Pennsylvania paintings, etc.
7 Ref. 36 – House flag taken from Michael Mjelde’s plan of GLORY OF THE SEAS
8 Ref. 37 – Oil painting by Thomas Birch in possession of Norris S. Barratt, Jr., Philadelphia
9 Ref. 38 – Oil paining in possession of Norris S. Barratt, Jr.
10 Ref. 39 – Manuscript sketch of Marryat signal numbers, Norris S. Barratt, Jr.
11 Ref. 40 – Oil painting by M. Renault. Vessel entering port of Leghorn, 3 October 1857
12 Ref. 41 – Ship owner list by T. Hornsby compatible with Ref. 10
13 Ref. 42 – “History of the Confederate States Navy”, by J. Thomas Sharf
14 Ref. 43 – “Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean.” Applies to Grinnell, Minturn & Co.
15 Refs 44, 45 – American merchant ships by Howe & Matthews
16 Ref. 46 – Painting by D.A. Teupken, Amsterdam, 1840, in Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Me.
17 Ref. 47 – House flag flown by Bark LINCOLN. Painting by Rafael Corsini, mid 1800’s
18 Ref. 48 – Unidentified newspaper articles from Mid-1800’s, subject ship ALLIANCE, 1777, owned by U.S. government
19 Ref. 49 – “The Search for Speed Under Sail” by Howard I. Chapelle
20 Ref. 50 – Clipper EAGLE WING, 1853, photo negative 10396B, Peabody Museum, Salem
21 Ref. 51 – “Shipping House Flags” by H. Percy Ashley
22 Ref. 52 – “Shipping House Flags” by Capt. H. Percy Ashley
23 Ref. 53 – “House Flags of the Merchants of New York, 1800-1860” by Frank Gray Griswold; 1926
24 Ref. 54 – House flags books unpublished, Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine
25 Ref. 55 – House flag info from Mystic Seaport Museum Library
26 Ref. 56 – “South Street: A Maritime History of New York” by Richard C. McKay
27 Ref. 57 – House flag in oil painting, artist unknown. Richard A. Bourne & Co., Hyannis port, MA.
28 Ref. 58 – House flag in oil painting, artist unknown. Richard A. Bourne & Co. Hyannis port, MA.
29 Ref. 59 – House flags in paintings by Antonia Jacobsen
30 Ref. 60 – Bark J. E. DONNELL, 1844. Owned by John E. Donnell, Boston, 1840
31 Ref. 61 – Ship AMERICAN CONGRESS, 1850. Owned by Grinnell, Minturn & Co., NY. Oil painting by unknown artist
32 Ref. 62 – “The Shipbuilders of Essex” by Dana A. Story, published 1995 by Ten Pound Island Book Co., Gloucester
33 Ref. 63 – Wm H. Webb, shipbuilder
34 Ref. 64 – Signals belonging to the port of New London
35 Ref. 65 – House flags of Baltimore, Maryland Historical Society
36 Ref. 66 – Private signals of the merchant of New York and San Francisco, South Street Seaport Museum
Box Folder
3 1 Ref. 67 – House flags – Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore Observatory
2 Ref. 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74 – Baltimore House flags
3 Ref. 75 – Norfolk house flags from Mystic Seaport Library
4 Ref, 76 – House flags from Mystic Seaport Library (Part 1 of 2 – part 2 is in Mystic)
5 Ref. 77 – Hargous – Special house flag
6 Ref. Material not used
House flag articles; ca 1995
Box Folder
3 7 House flags – Ships and merchants of Salem; 1800-1860
8 Articles from “Flags and Funnels”
A Directory of Private Signals Flown by American Merchant Sail: One Thousand House Flags of Ship Owners, Shipping Merchants and Shipping Agents; 2001-2002
1 Illustrations and identification flags
2 Illustrations and identification burgees, swallowtails, pennants
3 Index of owners, reference
4 Index of vessels
5 Index of plates, ship historical data
6 House Flags required, names of owners, and vessels arranged alphabetically
Flag Hoist Signal Systems Pertaining to American Merchant Vessels; 2001-2002
7 Volume I
8 Volume II

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