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Posts Tagged ‘New-York Historical Society’

Coney Island Seashell

Souvenir: Coney Island in a Seashell. New-York Historical Society Collection. Gift of Bella C. Landauer

Back in the early 1900s, the Shell View Syndicate sold seashells by Brooklyn’s fabled seashore. These scallop shells with accordion folded booklets of miniature photos tucked inside are one of the most charming souvenirs of Coney Island that we’ve come across. Tied together with red ribbon and measuring just 1-5/8 x 1 x 7/8, the seashells are in the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Souvenir New-York Historical Society

Miniature Photos Inside Souvenir Seashell. New-York Historical Society Collection. Gift of Bella C. Landauer

If you take a look at the photographs on the Society’s Collections page, you’ll see Steeplechase Park’s Ferris Wheel and Airship Ride, Luna Park’s Promenade, Circle Swing, and Elephant Ride, Stauch’s Restaurant and Dance Hall, and a Beach Scene.

A web search of “The Shell View Syndicate” turned up a few tidbits about the company. They had offices at 147 West 23rd Street in Manhattan in 1908. Their line of souvenirs included “New York in A Seashell, “Allentown in a Nutshell” and novelty postcards, but “Coney Island in a Seashell” is destined to remain our favorite.

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New-York Historical Society Collection

This gambling wheel was used at Coney Island in the early 20th century. Wood, glass, metal. New-York Historical Society Collection

As a child I believed that rich kids were born with silver spoons in their mouths and carny kids were born with wheels of fortune spinning in the background. One of my favorite objects on display in the New-York Historical Society’s Luce Center is this splendid 65-inch gambling wheel from Coney Island with carved dragon heads as spokes and a center surrounded by gems and electric lights. Purchased in 1994 at Sotheby’s auction of the renowned Smith Collection of arcade material, this unique wheel was used at Coney Island in the early 20th century. If it could speak, what tales would it tell of fortunes won and lost back in the day when Coney was nicknamed Sodom by the Sea?

The Coney Island wheel and the stories behind it come to mind because the New-York Historical Society’s blog has announced a “Behind-the-Scenes Writing Contest.” They are asking visitors to select a favorite from among the 40,000 objects on display and write a short story or essay about it. Here are the contest rules:

1. We’re looking for a story of around 1,000 words based on any object in the New-York Historical Society’s collections, whether it’s what one Women’s Suffrage marcher thought as she put on her “Votes for Women” pin, or the life of a silver spoon made by a slave and used in a rich family’s house. But don’t worry too much about word count; write as much as makes sense to your story! Entrants should be fifteen (15) years or older.

2. Please submit entries by April 30, 2012 to jaya.saxena@nyhistory.org, subject “Behind-The-Scenes Writing Contest.” Include your full name and e-mail address.

The winner will receive free admission for a subsequent visit to the New-York Historical Society, and a copy of When Did The Statue of Liberty Turn Green? and 101 Other Questions About New York City. The top three entries will be posted on the blog!

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