Never had Richard Doctorow thought his study of whaling history could involve postcards, stamps and a dodo bird.
But ahead of the exhibition “Mailing Whaling,” the Sag Harbor Whaling & Historical Museum curator is, borderline, swimming in piles of the first two — and mulling over the third.
This particular story begins in 1907, when two washed-up Amagansett whalers were craving the thrill of the chase and spotted two whales off the coast of East Hampton. They raced out to sea and caught them, lending the skeleton of the smaller baby whale to the American Museum of Natural History in New York — until it was moved to the Natural History Museum in London and traded for a dodo bird skeleton.
The exchange got Doctorow thinking.
“It’s one of those things about studying whaling history,” he said. “The industry was so vast that you begin with, ‘Oh, I’ll look at whaling and whaling captains, and how much oil they brought home,’ and you find yourself taking these strange turns. So here I am, with postcards and stamps.”
The 1907 scene is depicted on one of the postcards included in the exhibition— on view from Friday, June 21, through Sunday, July 21 — as is 20th-century paraphernalia from Norway, Greenland and Canada to Japan, South Africa and South Georgia, all featuring whaling men, whaling ships, whaling tools or whaling scenes of some kind.
“What I discovered is even just using postcards and stamps, I can really tell the story of the American and worldwide whaling industry. It’s pretty fascinating,” Doctorow said. “You wouldn’t think you would have enough different images, from enough different places, to do that with just postcards and stamps. Come to the show; you’d be amazed.”