Highly Hunted Sperm Whales Brought Wealth to Eastern Ports

Herman Melville The Whale In Three Volumes London Richard Bentley, 1851
A true first edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (The Whale, in three volumes, London: Richard Bentley, 1851), preceding the New York edition by about four weeks, realized $53,775 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In November 1851, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was published in the United States. It was based on a true story of a sperm whale that attacked and sank the whale ship Essex.

It was not successful until long after Melville died and even the eight or nine movies that followed were box office disappointments. My favorite movie, Moby Dick (1956), directed by John Huston and starring Gregory Peck, has yet to turn a profit.

Until the 18th century, the quality of lighting had remained relatively unchanged for 3,000 years. People had devised many low-tech, ingenious solutions to combat darkness without much success. But in 1783, Swiss physicist Aimé Argand invented a lamp that dramatically improved its use by feeding more oxygen to the flame. It even featured a knob to easily adjust the light output.

Thomas Jefferson was so impressed he brought several back from Paris in 1790.

However, the best light of all came from burning whale oil and the best whale oil was spermaceti from the head of sperm whales. Sperm whales even now are mysterious and elusive animals, but they produce and store great reserves of spermaceti – up to 3 tons – in a cavernous chamber in their skulls.

The sperm whale is also the largest of the toothed whales and the largest of any toothed predator. It has the largest brain of any animal – modern or extinct – on Earth. This combination produced a legendary battle between man and a highly hunted creature of the sea.

Whale oil became an American specialty and it was primarily whaling that brought so much wealth to New England and the key eastern ports. In 1846, America had more than 650 whaling ships, three times the rest of the world, combined.

Let there be light.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

There Might be a Reason We Haven’t Met Little Green Men

Al Feldstein Weird Fantasy #16 Cover Original Art (EC 1952)
Alien life forms as envisioned by Al Feldstein for the 1952 cover of Weird Fantasy #16. This original cover art realized $50,787 at a May 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

I was discussing with friends the famous Fermi paradox, which raises the question: Why haven’t we detected signs of alien life, despite high estimates of probability – such as observations by the Kepler telescope of planets in the “habitable zone” around a Sun-like star and calculations of hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy that might support life?

Now, astrobiologists from Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Earth Sciences say they have the best answer: Because life on other planets would likely be brief and would become extinct quickly from runaway heating or cooling.

“The universe is probably filled with habitable planets, so many scientists think it should be teeming with aliens,” said Aditya Chopra, lead author of a paper published in Astrobiology. In fact, “early life is fragile, so we believe it rarely evolves quickly enough to survive. Most early planetary environments are unstable. To produce a habitable planet, life forms need to regulate greenhouse gases such as water and carbon dioxide to keep surface temperatures stable.”

For example, about 4 billion years ago, Earth, Venus and Mars may have all been habitable. However, a billion years after formation, Venus turned into a hothouse and Mars froze into an icebox. Early microbial life on Venus and Mars, if there was any, failed to stabilize the rapidly changing environment, while life on Earth played a leading role in stabilizing the planet’s climate.

The authors name this near-universal early extinction the “Gaian Bottleneck,” which also leads to the prediction that the vast majority of fossils in the universe (found in future meteorites, for example) will be from extinct microbial life, not from multicellular species such as dinosaurs or humanoids that take billions of years to evolve.

So far, that is the case.

The aliens are silent because they’re dead.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

State of the Union Speeches Will Continue Evolving

Abraham Lincoln handwriting from last State of the Union
Twenty-three lines in Abraham Lincoln’s own handwriting from his last State of the Union address went to auction in June 2009.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 15, 1975, President Gerald Ford in his State of the Union speech said:

“The State of The Union is not good. Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more.”

“Prices are too high and sales too slow.”

“The national debt will rise to over $500 billion.”

“We depend on others for essential energy.”

These were remarkably candid admissions and atypical from most of his predecessors, who took great leeway with the facts to spin a nice story.

George Washington personally delivered the first State of the Union to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 8, 1790.

Then Thomas Jefferson abandoned the “in person” practice because it was too similar to what a monarch might do, something he was trying to avoid (i.e., a speech from the throne).

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson revived the practice and it has gradually become a major national event. It has also morphed into a presidential wish list rather than a practical, non-political assessment of national conditions … as designed.

Personal attendance by high-profile politicians is a “must,” except for one Cabinet member who is in the line of secession (a designated survivor) in the event of a major catastrophe.

In 1981, Jimmy Carter felt compelled to issue an “exit” State of the Union, but that lame-duck ritual has been discontinued.

However, I suspect presidents will increasingly remind us … one more time … about everything that was accomplished, in case we forgot. It provides an excellent chance to combine a farewell with the start of a memoir … and not leave a legacy assessment in the hands of less gentle hands.

I would.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Coolidge’s Quiet Demeanor Was No Hindrance to a Winning Campaign

Calvin Coolidge - Deeds Not Words Button
This four-inch Calvin Coolidge “Deeds Not Words” political button alludes to his taciturn nature. It realized $3,346 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1924, incumbent President Calvin Coolidge (R) squared off against Democrat John W. Davis. As vice president, Coolidge assumed the presidency as a result of Warren G. Harding’s odd death in 1920 and voters were still trying to assess this quiet, taciturn man born on July 4 in Plymouth Notch, Vt. He favored U.S. participation in the World Court, but opposed any involvement in the League of Nations.

Although in opposing parties, Coolidge and Davis shared similar conservative views on the role of the federal government: lower taxes, less regulation and a small, focused agenda (some things never change … just the individuals espousing them).

In fact, their views were so similar that historians call this election “the high water mark of American conservatism.”

Naturally, this didn’t sit well with Liberal Progressives, so they formed a new Progressive Party (it only lasted for one election) and then ratified the nomination of Wisconsin Senator Robert M. La Follette for president.

Although La Follette represented this minor third party, he managed to snag 4.8 million votes and 13 electoral votes … probably just as well since he died several months after the election of heart disease (a common malady for men of this era).

The third party divided the Democratic Party rather badly and allowed President Coolidge to keep his job.

Coolidge’s vice president, Charles G. Dawes, had written the music in 1911 for a tune which eventually became a big hit in 1958 for Tommy Edwards. “It’s All in the Game” is the only number one hit co-written by a VP.

The election of 1924 was also the first presidential election in which all American Indians were recognized as citizens and allowed to vote.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

How an ‘Oops’ Turned Into a Popular Magazine Feature

Charles Lindbergh Signed Photograph
This signed Charles Lindbergh photograph realized $3,883 at a September 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1928, Time magazine was chagrined when they realized they had left Charles Lindbergh off the cover after he made his historic transatlantic flight.

So the editors came up with a novel provision and literally created a new feature: “Man of the Year.” Naturally, the first was Lindy, and it started an exciting new trend that also boosted sales.

●●●

In 1920, The New York Times wrote a scathing editorial that scoffed at the idea of rockets being launched into space. They opined that “they would need something better than a vacuum against which to act.”

Forty-nine years later, after Apollo 11’s 1969 launch, the Times published a retraction. “It is now definitely established a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.” The Times regretted the error.

●●●

On Jan. 1, 1902, Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in what would later become the Rose Bowl. This first game was called the “East-West” and Stanford was so beat up (physically) that they quit with eight minutes left to play.

The attendance was so poor (8,500) the promoters dropped football for the next 14 years. They switched to polo, chariot races, ostrich races and even an elephant-camel race.

The first official Rose Bowl was 1923.

That first Michigan team, dubbed the “Point a Minute Team,” won all 10 games with combined scores of 555-0.

I suspect this may have included the first serious college recruiting efforts. (Do you think?)

●●●

In 1973, a Florida shipbuilder by the name of George Steinbrenner bought the New York Yankees from CBS for $10 million. Four years later, he paid right fielder Dave Winfield $20 million for one season.

Last year, the team franchise was valued at $3.2 billion – second only to the Dallas Cowboys at $4+ billion.

In his initial press conference, Steinbrenner promised he would not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the team. (However, he did not specify how long this would last. My guess is sundown on day two.)

In Texas, that’s called the Golden Rule – “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

There May be a Ninth Planet (Not You, Pluto)

CHESLEY K. BONESTELL Solar System
This oil on board by Chesley K. Bonestell titled Solar System realized $7,170 at a June 2007 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“There might be a ninth planet in the solar system after all, and it is not Pluto.” — The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2016

Our solar system consists of the sun and a family of planets and other bodies trapped in orbit around it by the force of gravity.

Our sun formed 4.6 billion years ago. Vast amounts of matter were attracted by the developing star, but not all of it was absorbed. A tiny fraction of leftover material – a mere 0.14 percent of the solar system’s mass – formed a disc of gas and dust encircling the newborn star. Over millions of years, the grains of dust in this disc clumped together, growing into ever larger bodies.

Eventually, they grew to the size of planets, pulled into spheres by their own gravity.

In the inner solar system – where the sun’s heat was too intense for gases to condense – planets formed from rock and metal. In the outer solar system, gases condensed to form much larger planets.

Today, our solar system has eight planets, more than 100 moons, an unknown number of dwarf planets (e.g. Pluto) and countless millions of comets and asteroids.

The four small, inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Our home planet is the only place known to support life, thanks to the liquid water on its surface and its PRECISE distance from the sun that provides just the right amount of heat.

Four gigantic planets dominate the outer solar system, very different from the rocky inner planets. These strange worlds are huge globes of gas and liquid, with no solid surfaces.

Mighty Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and the largest in the solar system, so big that it is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets put together (1,300 Earths could easily fit inside Jupiter’s volume).

Its strong gravitational pull greatly affects the orbits of the other bodies in the solar system.

In 1665, a great red spot was first noticed that turns out to be a giant storm (bigger than Earth) that has been raging for over 350 years. Several craft have visited Jupiter, including Galileo, which orbited from 1995-2003.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

Our White House Friends Have Proved Fascinating for Decades

Franklin D. & Eleanor Roosevelt Photo Signed by Both
This Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt photo, signed by both, realized $2,868 at a June 2008 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1913, Franklin D. Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Eleanor hired a pretty, bright young lady, Lucy Page Mercer, to be her personal social secretary … a highly desirable position. However, in 1918, Eleanor discovered a batch of love letters between Lucy and her husband. She issued an ultimatum to Franklin that required an abrupt end to this close relationship.

At some point later, the relationship was resumed and continued for an extended period of time. Lucy Mercer was actually with FDR in Warm Springs, Ga., when he died in 1945. Eleanor was not, a fact that did not go unnoticed.

By then, rumors had been circulating about a “close relationship” between Eleanor and Associated Press reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok. It was not a common practice for the press to dig too deeply into First Family personal affairs and most simply viewed it as innuendo and looked the other way.

That changed in 1978.

Lorena Hickok died in 1968 and had carefully kept her personal correspondence under a 10-year seal of confidentiality. However, curiously, she had also willed all her personal papers to the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y.

There were 18 sealed boxes under close supervision. When they were finally opened, there was a stunning collection of over 3,500 letters between Hick and Eleanor that removed any vestiges of doubt about the true nature of their relationship.

What’s good for the gander is good for the goose? (The original quote was, “What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”)

So it goes for our friends who occupy that big White House and continue to provide us with interesting reading.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

 

Early Explorers Sailed a Vast Emptiness That Today Plays a Big Part in Our World

Pacific Ocean
Abraham Ortelius’ Maris Pacifici map, circa 1589, called the first printed map to be devoted to the Pacific Ocean, sold for $6,875 at an October 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

An author I have met (twice), Simon Winchester, just published a book, Pacific, which I was eager to read … until I saw the book review last October in The Wall Street Journal by Roger Lowenstein (ugh). However, a local critic judged it “superb,” so I may yet take a look.

My primary interest is due to the major role the Pacific Ocean has played in the history to date of our world and the growth in importance as Asia begins its dominance over the West in this century.

For starters it is big … very big.

Through the use of modern technology, we now know that it occupies 63.8 million square miles, 46 percent of Earth’s surface and it’s larger than all of the land areas combined. The Pacific Ocean also has slightly more than 50 percent of the world’s water by volume.

These are facts that were not known in the 15th or 16th centuries or even imagined by the bold sailors who ventured out in search of treasure (e.g. gold, spices, etc.).

In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan set off in five leaky boats in an effort to find a western route to the Spice Islands east of India, hence the name East Indies.

What he discovered was that between the Americas and Asia was a vast emptiness, more than anyone had ever imagined, or that was even thought possible on our “little planet.”

Today, we simply call it the Pacific Ocean.

It is likely that no one suffered more than Magellan and his crew as they sailed and sailed … in growing disbelief … across the Pacific in 1521. Since no one had anticipated just how vast this “endless ocean” really was, they had totally underestimated the provisions that were required.

As a result, they devised some of the most unappetizing meals ever served, à la rat droppings mixed with wood shavings. “We ate biscuit which was no longer biscuit, but powder of biscuit swarming with worms,” and “We also ate some of the hides that covered the mainyard … and often we ate sawdust from boards.”

According to the ships’ logs, they went three months and 20 days without fresh food or water. In the end, only 18 of 260 men survived the voyage, and even Magellan was killed in a skirmish with natives in the Philippines.

Eventually, they made it home – Juan Sebastian Elcano led the expedition back to Spain – and in the process they became the first people to circle the planet.

They were also the first people to realize just how big this planet is, and the dominant role played by the Pacific Ocean.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Edward Bernays’ ‘Torches of Freedom’ Stunt Still Reverberates Today

Carole Lombard for Lucky Strikes advertisement
Lucky Strike recruited Carole Lombard for this 1937 magazine advertisement.

By Jim O’Neal

Donald Trump continues to baffle the political pundits who sincerely believed his presidential campaign was a “stunt” that would fizzle out once the media buzz stopped. However, he is still dominating the polls and has demonstrated what a remarkable campaigner he is. With the first primary elections only a few weeks away, we will have a chance to find out if it translates into votes.

Only time will tell, but it brings back memories of Edward L. Bernays, who many believe was the father of Public Relations, Spin, PR and other euphemisms.

He was born in 1891 in Vienna. The family came to the United States in 1892. He graduated from Cornell and then started his business … Edward L. Bernays Public Relations in New York. His clients included Procter & Gamble, General Electric, General Motors, Time, CBS and NBC.

One of his most memorable campaigns was for the American Tobacco Company, the largest in the industry. In 1929, their No. 1 seller was Lucky Strike, and it was a big hit … with men.

A major issue was that most women did not smoke. One brilliant insight was that male taboos on women smoking had convinced women that smoking was unladylike.

So Eddie concocted an elaborate event that involved recruiting a bevy of beautiful women to participate in an event called “The Torches of Freedom Parade.” On Easter Sunday 1929, right on cue, a dozen of these elegant women … lit up a cigarette and marched down 5th Avenue holding “Torches of Freedom.”

The next day, virtually every newspaper in America had a picture of them with cigarettes dangling from their mouths or in their hands. After this historic event, women started lighting up more than ever before.

Bernays had created this event as “news” and then proceeded to convince industries that news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public.

Eddie Bernays had a long career that included many similar strategies. He died in 1995 at age 105.

Women have not fared so well.

Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in women and surpassed breast cancer in 1987… 28 years ago. Every five minutes in the United States, a woman is diagnosed with lung cancer and 72,000 will die in 2015.

“You’ve come a long way, baby.”

Virginia Slims brand was introduced in 1968 and marketed to young, professional women.

Addendumb (not a typo):

► Chinese men now smoke more than one-third of all the world’s cigarettes.

► One-third of all young Chinese men will die from the effects of smoking (not smog)

► By 2050, 3 million of these men will die annually.

► Only 1 percent of middle-age Chinese women smoke, but there are SHARP increases in teenage girls.

“You have a long way to go, baby.”

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

‘Tricky Dick’ Challenged Glamour and Won

Richard Nixon 1950 Senatorial Poster
Richard Nixon’s 1950 Senatorial poster sold for $812.50 at a November 2015 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

After Richard Nixon graduated from Whitter College in California, he accepted a scholarship to the Duke University law school. He finished third in the class of 1937.

His application to the FBI was accepted, however he was never notified (one of life’s little ironies). So he decided to return to California and passed the bar exam. Then he turned his sights to politics.

In 1950, after three years in the House of Representatives, he had an opportunity to run for the U.S. Senate, and it was simply irresistible.

The Democratic candidate was Helen Gahagan Douglas, who had the distinction of being the first Democratic woman from California elected to Congress in 1944 (things DO change). After three terms, she decided that the Senate was going to be her next step, as well.

As an actress and opera singer married to actor Melvyn Douglas, she was already well connected politically in Washington, D.C. Her social life included an open love affair with a future U.S. President … Lyndon Baines Johnson.

For perspective, one has to remember that in 1950, Margaret Chase Smith from Maine was the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate without first being appointed to finish an unfinished term (typically after their husbands had died).

So here was this glamorous, charismatic woman pitted against a shy, introverted individual who had gained a modicum of notoriety chasing communists, most notably Alger Hiss.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given what we know now, Nixon launched a truly vicious attack campaign, even challenging her basic loyalty. He dubbed her “The Pink Lady” and it worked. He won the election with 59 percent of the vote, becoming the youngest Republican senator at age 32.

This was the campaign that earned him the well-deserved sobriquet “Tricky Dick.”

Helen Gahagan Douglas died on June 28, 1980, at age 79 from breast and lung cancer – a deadly duo that was largely untreatable in those days.

Senator Alan Cranston of California eulogized her on the floor of the Senate, comparing her to the grandest, most eloquent 20th century leaders, rivaling even Eleanor Roosevelt in stature and simple greatness.

Tricky Dick’s career came to a different end, although two recent biographies with totally different tones and content were recently published.

I suspect there will be more in the future.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].