News

NYC’s Seaport Museum Lays Off Staff, Closes 19th C Design Treasure Trove

by Hrag Vartanian on February 18, 2011

A view of the South Street Seaport Museum by Claire Schmitt (via flickr.com/rockinfree)

A cornerstone of what was designed to be New York’s equivalent of Baltimore’s Harbor Place and Boston’s Quincy Market, the South Street Seaport Museum in lower Manhattan is in trouble. The museum has put 32 members of its staff on unpaid furloughs, over half of the museum’s total workforce, reports the New York Times. The news comes after the museum had already laid off at least five workers earlier this month, including the institution’s historian, Jack Putnam, and the captain of the historic ship Pioneer. The museum’s ships will lay empty in the harbor and its Bowne & Company Stationers letterpress studio, exhibition and collection has also been closed.

In statements from a spokesperson, the museum has called the furloughs “an interim, emergency measure” and has stated that “the museum expects to be able to recall these employees in the coming months.” The prospects don’t look good for the museum, which continues to grapple with chronic financial problems. In 2004, the museum eliminated several major staff positions to save money.

DNAinfo reports that the museum will now be operating with a skeleton staff, having cut down on the education, visitor services, grant writing and curatorial departments. “Most of the remaining employees [are] either top-level managers or low-level docents,” an anonymous museum source told the website. Museum President Mary Ellen Pelzer remains with the museum at present.

A Treasure Trove of 19th C Design Closes

Images of the now closed Brown & Co. Stationers, which was part of the South Street Seaport Museum. Top left, the street view of the shop, bottom left, a type specimen book at Bowne & Co., right, an example of vintage "typo-tecture" and one of the many historic design specimens at Bowne & Co. (all image via flickr.com/nicksherman)

Of significant cause of dismay for New York’s design and letter-press printing fans will be the closing of Bowne & Company Stationers, a space that is part historical exhibit and part working studio.

The 211 Water Street shop opened in 1975 as a fully functional 19th C. letter-press print shop with an exquisite collection of 19th C. letterpress machines and type. What will happen to this historic collection that will no longer be accessible to the public is not known.

For a post-1960 history of the South Street Seaport and surrounding area, read this concise history on the Fordham University website.

For a concise history of Bowne & Co. Stationers, visit the South Street Seaport Museum website. There are also some good interior photos of Bowne & Co. Stationers here, here and here.

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