Past Treasure of the Month – April 2019
During the month of April, Rosenberg Library exhibited seashells hand engraved by Galvestonian Horace P. Nettleton.
Ninety years ago this month, Frank Patten, the director of Rosenberg Library, received an unusual invitation from a local resident. Rather than being printed on paper, the invitation was extended in the form of an engraved tiger cowry seashell. On April 18, 1929, Horace Nettleton presented the shell to Frank Patten in the hopes that he would visit Nettleton’s personal collection of preserved marine specimens. Patten saved the engraved shell which is now preserved in the Rosenberg Library’s museum collection.
Born in Evansville, Indiana in 1869, Horace P. Nettleton moved to Galveston with his family around 1880. As a young man, he learned the art of engraving and become a professional engraver on the island. He married and had three daughters with his wife, Emma. Nettleton had been a collector of marine specimens since his childhood, and for many years his extensive collection was housed in a cramped room below the family’s raised cottage at 1613 19th Street.
Eventually, Nettleton was able to rent a more suitable space on the ground floor of the Buccaneer Hotel on Seawall Boulevard where he operated a curio shop and displayed his collection to the public. Although the museum was free to visitors, Nettleton earned income through the sale of engraved shells and other tourist souvenirs.
Horace Nettleton died at John Sealy Hospital in 1932 after a short illness. His family hoped to sell his collection to someone who would continue to operate a marine museum on the island. Nettleton’s desire was that the display of his collection would be continued free of charge, and that it would not be sold to a dealer or institution which operated outside of Galveston.
Reverend Edmund H. Gibson of Trinity Episcopal Church teamed up with Galveston educator Greta Oppe and other community members to continue the display of Nettleton’s collection to promote awareness about marine life. In 1934, the Galveston Marine Museum opened in a rented frame house at 2501 Sealy Street which had formerly been used by the Junior League as a tea room. The museum was maintained through membership dues and 10-cent admission fees. Unfortunately, the Galveston Marine Museum closed its doors just three years later due to a lack of funding.