Maritime Museum Adds 243-Year-Old Maritime Dictionary to Collection

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NC Maritime Museum Collections Manager Lynn Anderson, left, and Curator David Bennett, center, look over the original 1776 edition of 'An Universal Dictionary of the Marine' donated to the museum by Robert and Linda Stedje-Larsen of Wingate, NC. The book had been in Robert Stedje-Larsen's family for more than a century. (NCMM photo)

A rare gem of maritime memorabilia as old as the Declaration of Independence has found a new home at the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort.

The book, a 1776 edition of An Universal Dictionary of the Marine by Scottish sailor and poet William Falconer, was donated to the museum by Robert Stedje-Larsen of Wingate, NC.

Read an online copy of the dictionary

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The book had been in Stedje-Larsen’s family for more than a century, but only recently did he realize its importance. When Stedje-Larsen first looked up the value of the book, he saw it listed for $90. 

“So I put it back on the shelf,” he said.

The restored 1776 edition of ‘An Universal Dictionary of the Marine’ by William Falconer that was donated to the Maritime Museum Nov. 6.

But curiosity took over, as it so often does, and Stedje-Larsen took the tome to a book appraisal fair at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.

“I had the expert look at it, and he said, ‘This is worth fixing,’” Stedje-Larsen said.

Turns out, those $90 copies of An Universal Dictionary of the Marine were printed much later than his family heirloom.

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As time passed, Stedje-Larsen began to worry about the book’s condition. He reached out to preservationist Jim Williams of UNC-Charlotte and took the book to him last fall.

“It was in pieces,” Williams remembered. “ … I said, ‘I don’t want to touch this thing.’”

After some convincing, Williams decided to take on the project. For the restoration and stabilization, he had to scrape off the old glue on the back of the paper, restore the pages, put them together, sew them and then bind the book. 

“It’s taken me until now to get it done,” he said.

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Hand-marbled paper from Spain, Nigerian goat leather and Japanese tissue helped repair the book.

Plate II from An Universal Dictionary of the Marine by William Falconer shows various maritime items described in the book.

NC Maritime Museum Collections Manager Lynn Anderson said An Universal Dictionary of the Marine will be part of the museum’s rare book collection, which is not accessible to the general public.

“We want to minimize the handling of this 200-year-old book,” Anderson said.

However, she added, she will work with the exhibits department on opportunities to put it on public display within the current gallery.

“We also plan to pick up a modern facsimile to have in our library for research,” she said. “ … It is an important resource to use in researching 18th century maritime terms in English and French.

“I think it will be jewel in our rare book collection.”

Via Cyndi Brown, NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort