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Past Treasures

"Such a library as ours would not only contain books and current periodicals,
but there would be...articles of historic, scientific, and artistic interest."

~ Frank C. Patten, Head Librarian of Rosenberg Library, 1904 - 1934

The Library accepted its first museum piece shortly after it opened in 1904. Since then, thousands of rare and interesting objects from around the world have been added to the collection. Displayed in these pages are the Library's "Treasures of the Month."

December 2006 "Treasure of the Month"

WWII Trench Art
Cigarette lighter
"Trench art" refers to decorated objects, souvenirs, or mementos made by soldiers, civilians, or prisoners of war during World War I. Many examples of trench art were crafted by soldiers in exchange for food, cigarettes, or money; others were made by the wounded and convalescent in hospitals. Objects commonly used to make trench art were artillery shell fragments and casings, enemy helmets, and military uniform buttons. Shell fragments were often painted or embossed and used as vases. Jewelry such as lockets and rings were fashioned from aluminum cans. Wood from airplane propellers was used to carve clocks and picture frames.
Model submarine

Prisoners of war produced a number of decorative artifacts for sale to the soldiers and civilians living near the internment camps. Items like matchbox covers, cigarette cases, and lighters were purchased by the prisoners of war captors. Other objects such as wallets, napkin rings, and painted boxes were sent home to family members as souvenirs. For the most part, trench art pieces bear no signature or maker’s mark. Even today, the identity of these anonymous artisans remains a mystery.

The Rosenberg Library has several examples of trench art from World War I in its museum collection. These include two brass cigarette lighters, a model submarine made from shell cartridges, a letter opener decorated with a copper pfennig (German coin), and an ashtray featuring a miniature Prussian helmet called a “pickelhaube.”

Photo Captions:
1. This ca. 1918 cigarette lighter is made from two brass roundels of the same type found on Imperial German military uniform belts. The roundels bear the motto “Gott Mitt Uns” meaning “God is With Us.” It was sent to the donor by her brother, Capt. Herbert A. Robertson, while he was in Europe during WWI (donated by the Estate of Mrs. Z. L. White).
2. Model submarine crafted from cartridge shells, ca. 1918. This model submarine was made by a German prisoner of war and was collected by John W. McCullough while he was serving in the US Army of Occupation (donated by Dr. Edward and Mrs. Sally Futch).


The Treasure of the Month is located on the library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance. It can be viewed during regular library hours, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, please contact the Museum Office at 409-763-8854 x 125.

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