Guide to the Robert and Nina Hellman Collection on Nantucket and Whaling, 1771–1937

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Research Library at the Nantucket Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the internet.

Summary

The Robert and Nina Hellman Collection represents five decades of effort by a husband and wife team to amass one of the largest private collections of tools and artifacts related to world whaling. The documents and manuscripts in this collection were collected alongside numerous three-dimensional artifacts that are now cataloged as part of the NHA’s whalecraft, art, and fishing collections. The documents relate to a variety of aspects of Nantucket history, primarily whaling voyages. Of particular note are a sailor’s indenture from 1820, papers from Walter Folger Jr. about Halley’s Comet, and letters related to spoliation claims after the Quasi War with France.

Collection Details

Collection Number:
MS578
Title:
Robert and Nina Hellman Collection on Nantucket and Whaling
Date(s):
1771–1937 (bulk 1820–1876)
Creator:
Hellman, Nina, 1933–; Hellman, Robert, 1930–2018.
Repository:
Nantucket Historical Association
Language:
Material is in English.

Information for Users

Restrictions to Access: No restrictions. Open for research.

Restrictions to Use: No usage restrictions.

Copyright Notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation: [identification of item], in the Robert and Nina Hellman Collection on Nantucket and Whaling, Nantucket Historical Association.

Acquisitions Information:

Box 1 Folder 1: Gift of Nina Hellman.

Box 1 Folders 2-8, Box 2, OPF-578/1, OP-578/1: Partial gift of Nina Hellman, partial NHA purchase with funds from the H.L. Brown, Jr. Family Foundation in honor of Polly Espy Millard (Acc. RL2019.31 and RL2019.32).

Box 1 Folders 9-10: NHA Purchase with funds from the H.L. Brown Jr. Family Foundation in honor of Polly Espy Millard (Acc. RL2019.31/RL2019.55).

Box 1 Folder 11: Partial gift of Nina Hellman, partial gift of the Friends of Nantucket Historical Association (Acc. RL2019.32).

Sensitive Materials Statement:

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Nantucket Historical Association assumes no responsibility.

Related Collections

  • MS10 AB 581–584
  • MS220 Logs 419–421
  • Robert and Nina Hellman Collection (2009.38, 2019.15, and 2019.16)

Subject Headings

  • Personal Name
    • Hellman, Nina, 1933–
    • Hellman, Robert, 1930–2018.
    • Folger, Walter, Jr., 1765–1849.
  • Topical Term
    • Whaling vessels.
    • Whale oil.
    • Whales.
    • Whaling—Massachusetts—Nantucket—19th century.

Biographical Information

Robert (Bob) Edward Hellman (1930–2018) was born on 4 June 1930, and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned a bachelor’s degree in herpetology from the University of Florida. He worked as a fish and game warden in Florida and then joined his family’s electrical contracting business in New York City, where he worked for over 40 years. His wife, Nina, opened an antiques shop on Nantucket in 1983; the Hellmans moved to the island full time after he retired in 1997. Bob was a collector and scholar of the tools and artifacts of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century whaling, both in America and in Europe. On Nantucket, he gave lectures, wrote articles for the Nantucket Historical Association’s Historic Nantucket, and helped catalog the Whaling Museum’s whalecraft and scrimshaw collections. Hellman died on 23 October 2018.

Nina Hellman (1933–) is an antiques dealer who specializes in marine art and artifacts. She married Bob Hellman in 1955, and they raised their family in Westchester County, N.Y. She opened her marine antiques shop, Nina Hellman Antiques, in Nantucket, Mass., in 1983; she closed her shop in 2010 and now deals privately, online, and at the occasional show. With Norman J. Brouwer, she wrote A Mariner’s Fancy: The Whaleman’s Art of Scrimshaw in 1992, highlighting scrimshaw from the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City. She also guest curated an exhibition on scrimshaw at the South Street Seaport Museum. Nina is also the author of Through the Eyes of a Collector: The Scrimshaw Collection of Thomas Mittler in 2015.

Scope and Content

The Robert and Nina Hellman Collection represents five decades of effort by a husband and wife team to amass one of the largest private collections of tools and artifacts related to world whaling. The documents and manuscripts in this collection were collected alongside numerous three-dimensional artifacts that are now cataloged as part of the NHA’s whalecraft, art, and fishing collections. The documents relate to a variety of aspects of Nantucket history, primarily whaling voyages. Of particular note are a sailor’s indenture from 1820, papers from Walter Folger Jr. about Halley’s Comet, and letters related to spoliation claims after the Quasi War with France.

Contents

Arranged by acquisitions.

Box 1 Folder 1: Gifford Shipsmiths bill of sale, 1870
Box 1 Folder 2: Document related to the schooner William of Nantucket, 1771
Box 1 Folder 3: Letters from miscellaneous women about money, 1856–1864
Box 1 Folder 4: Letters and article related to the Planter mutiny, 1847–1937
Box 1 Folder 5: Letters to Eldridge about insuring fish in transport, 1870–1871
Box 1 Folder 6: Letters from George Macy to Swift & Allen, 1854–1856
Box 1 Folder 7: Memorandum of Whaler’s Outfits for Bark Sunbeam, 1818
Box 1 Folder 8: Scrapbook of pressed seaweed with whalebone covers, undated
Box 1 Folder 9: Receipt for oil shipped on the Islander from Talcahuano, Chile, to Nantucket, 1861
Box 1 Folder 10: Indenture between mariner Michael Belger and Elias Ceely, master of the Boston whaler Beverly, 1820
Box 1 Folder 11: Walter Folger Jr. papers on Halley’s Comet, circa 1832
Box 2: Stereoview cards on whales and whaling, circa 1868
OP-P-578/1: Photograph of the Eunice H. Adams, 1876
OPF-578/1: Documents related to whaleship Active and French spoliation claims, 1799

Items Separated

  • OP-P-578/1 Photograph of the Eunice H. Adams, 1876
  • OPF-578/1 Documents related to whaleship Active, French spoliation claims, 1799

Processing Information

Processed by Kelli Yakabu, March 2021.

Finding aid by Kelli Yakabu, June 2021.

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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