Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Collections of Eugenia Skinner Shorrock


Alton Bay, New Hampshire Reptile Zoo - Part 3.

The auction catalog, The Collections of Eugenia Skinner Shorrock - Session III from Michael Bennett Auctions that I found on eBay arrived the other day. I was happy to note that it contained photos in addition to some biographical information on both Eugenia and her father, Ernest Martin Skinner (1866-1960) who founded Skinner Organ Company in 1901.




Eugenia showed a keen interest in reptiles at an early age. She graduated from LaSalle College in 1917 and married Ernest Shorrock that same year. She became the corresponding secretary for the Boston Aquarium Society, a post she held for over 11 years. In the early 1930's she began to seriously collect snakes, reptiles and curios. She was in great demand as a lecturer at schools, social clubs and other societies.


Eugenia purchased a farm in Alton, New Hampshire in 1940 to house her ever-increasing collection of snakes and exotic animals and opened 'The Reptile Zoo' to the public. She also opened 'Worldwide Gifts' in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


Eugenia closed the shop in Portsmouth in 1960 and 'The Reptile Zoo' in 1967 but continued to operate her gift shop in Alton Bay until 1990. Eugenia Skinner Shorrock died on the 7th of December 1993.

My favorite item in the catalog has to be this miniature circus:


The detailed description reads as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages - It is our pleasure to offer at PUBLIC AUCTION a fascinating example of American Folk Art - THE EXCITING HOBBYLAND MINIATURE CIRCUS

On a scale of 1" to 1', the famous Edwards family began construction of this circus in the late 1920's. Their work continued for 20 years. Some of the miniature animals came from England, France, Germany and Italy years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In 1947, Mr. Edwards sold the circus to Mr. A. Randall Crapo of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. . . Mrs. Eugenia Skinner Shorrock purchased the circus in 1952 and displayed it for only one year in Alton Bay, New Hampshire. It has been hidden from the public eye for 40 years and was only recently brought to light.

The circus covers 288 square feet of table space and will be offered in its entirety. . .
Unfortunately, the famous pair of shrunken heads obtained by Ripley's Believe it or Not! are described in a separate Session IV catalog of African, North American, Oceanic and South American Ethnographica. Here's the advertisement printed in the Session III catalog:


There is a fascinating full text pdf article by Steven Lee Rubenstein titled "Circulation, Accumulation, and the Power of Shuar Shrunken Heads," originally published in Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 22, Issue 3, pp. 357-399. According to Wikipedia it has been illegal to import shrunken heads into the United States since the 1940's.

Read more about Eugenia Shorrock in two previous posts: Eugenia Shorrock's Snakes and Shrunken Heads, and Alton Bay, New Hampshire Reptile Zoo. If you liked the miniature Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus, here's another one to check out posted by Jim at Dull Tool Dim Bulb.

And to all of you visiting from Marie's blog, have a great Postcard Friendship Friday!

18 comments:

Postcardy said...

I wish I could have seen her collection.

Jim Linderman said...

Wow! What a post. Nice work!

Stacey said...

Looks like a fabulous collection- And so varied. She even appears to have had dolls and perhaps automatons (Im guessing that from the pictures). Thanks for sharing!

Snap said...

Great post and quite a collection. Happy PFF

viridian said...

wow. that's my response too. What a collector. Thanks for your post.

Mary said...

I'd love to see that miniature circus up close and personal. You'd definitely need a very large basement to house it!

Debs said...

a wonderful post - exhaustive in its research!

Beth Niquette said...

Wow--what an amazing woman--and a fabulous collection!

Nice post! Happy PFF!

Sheila said...

She was a pretty little girl and grew into an attractive woman.

Sidetracking slightly, it always interests me to read the town names in the US. I used to live in Hampshire in England and of course we have a Portsmouth. Not surprising that one, but we have a town called Alton, very small, so I have to suppose someone from Alton made the journey across the Atlantic all those years ago.

Irene said...

Great post, she was quite a woman. Imagine being her teacher on show and tell day.

AnitaNH said...

Thank you to everyone who left a comment on Part 3. I've already begun to set aside images for a collage tribute (working title: "Eugenia's Reptile Zoo") and will post an update on this new work in progress.

Marie Reed said...

Another humdinger of a post Anita! This subject along with your exhaustive research is bookworthy! Watch out Fritz Wetherbee!

Lyneen said...

It is so sad to see things like this collection spread all over the place. How many years to collect and how many minutes to disperse?

Thanks for the lovely history.

Tom said...

This is pretty interesting. Michael Bennett was my brother, and I actually worked on session three and four of this estate sale. I also remember attending the sale of the items from the house, and working with him briefly with his team as they were cataloging some of the items. I have a copy of the session IV catalog if you'd like to see it at some point. It includes the oceanic and tribal art (listings of the heads) and the rather incredible Native American art and artifact collection that she had.

Quite an amazing woman, no doubt.

AnitaNH said...

Tom, so nice to receive your comment on this post. I would love to get a look at the Session IV catalog! Are you in NH? You could stop by my shop in Wakefield if that is convenient. Let me know what would work for you.

Patti said...

I was married to Michael Bennett when we did the auctions of the Shorrock collection. It was an amazing adventure for us, the family was so helpful and we all had such fun discovering things that she had hidden away. Michael was a superb auctioneer and everyone enjoyed his sales. Working on the catalogs was a real journey around the world as her collections included so many unique items. Ripleys Believe It or Not bought the shrunken heads and have them displayed in their museums. Nice to see this tribute to an amazing woman. Glad that Tom wrote in and that you were able to see the catalog in person. I live in Tasmania, Australia now but would have made sure you had a copy. Lovely article. Brought back so many memories.

AnitaNH said...

Hello Patti, thank you for commenting. What an experience that must have been!

Actually, I never did connect with Tom so I did not get to see the Session IV catalog. Please contact me at anitaNH@roadrunner.com as I would love to do a follow-up article.

Tom B said...

Anita, not really sure what happened or why that never worked out. So nice to see Patti chime in! She was an integral part of these auctions, and could provide more information I'm sure. I Still do have the catalog you're looking for though if Patti has one in better condition it may be better to get one from her if you can. Let me know if I can be of any help.