MARBEL, William P., Captain (1819-1908)
“Ocean Gems” : an album of pressed seaweed specimens collected on the New England seaboard of the United States, 1860-1880.
Nineteenth-century album, small square quarto, 205 x 175 mm, original tooled morocco, upper board stamped with the name ‘Wm. P. Marbel’ and spine lettered in gilt ‘Ocean Gems’, original metal clasps (partially lacking); all edges gilt; containing  leaves with pressed specimens of marine algae mounted recto, tissue guards interleaved; most of the specimens are mounted in natural form, but several are arranged representationally (cross, bouquet, cornucopia, lyre, etc.), the first arrangement spelling out the album’s title, ‘Ocean Gems’; the specimens are not identified by scientific or vernacular names; the vast majoity are in an excellent state of preservation, with a small number showing some deterioration; the first page with a mid nineteenth-century newspaper clipping on ‘Sea-mosses’ tipped in, and the second page with Marbel’s manuscript copy of a short poem laid in, the opening lines of which are “Call us not weeds, we are flowers of the sea”; altogether an attractive example of the phenomenon that is the nineteenth century seaweed album.
The compiler of the present album, Captain William P. Marbel (1819-1908) of Fall River, Massachusetts, probably collected and mounted the specimens as a hobby following his retirement in the late 1850s from a career at sea that included numerous voyages on whaling vessels out of New Bedford. Fall River is located on Mt. Hope Bay, close to Rhode Island.
The frontispiece poem copied by Marbel from another source was well known to nineteenth century marine algae collectors, and is found in other albums of pressed seaweed of the same era. ‘The earliest known appearance of the poem is 1833: the first two lines are quoted, without attribution, in The Dublin University magazine (v. 1, p. 685). The poem subsequently appeared in Mary Matilda Howard’s Ocean flowers and their teachings (1847). It also appeared in Elegant arts for ladies (1856), where it was attributed Elizabeth L. Aveline, of Lyme Regis’ (Yale Center for British Art).
Biographical sketch of William P. Marbel, from Representative men and old families of southeastern Massachusetts, vol. 3. (Chicago : J.H. Beers & Co., 1912):
‘Capt. William P. Marbel, son of James and Mary (Tew) Marbel, was born Feb. 24, 1819, in Assonet, Mass. When he was nine years old his parents removed to Fall River, where the son grew to manhood and ever afterward lived. He had only an elementary English education, attending the common schools and public schools of his native town and Fall River, respectively. While yet in youth he began a seafaring life, in the coasting trade for a few years, sailing from Fall River. Subsequently he sailed both from the port named to the West Indies and from New Bedford on whaling voyages. He was gone on one of these voyages some four years, in the capacity of man before the mast for two years and for about that length of time as boat steerer, his brother, John Marbel, being in command of the ship. Retiring from the sea, Mr. Marbel married and settled in Fall River as a householder and permanent citizen. He not long thereafter invested his savings in local mill stock and real estate, all of which proved quite remunerative. One of the properties he purchased was located at Rock and Bedford streets, just opposite the site of the Metacomet National bank, and the wooden building there was occupied for some years by the Fall River post office. Mr. Marbel was a Christian gentleman, imbued with religion, reading much of religious and reform literature, and a man of reflection. He was a member of the First Christian Church, with which he united in youth, although in later life he was an attendant upon the services of the First Baptist Church, with which his wife was and is still connected. His life was a quiet and religious one, ever engrossed in the work of the evangelical churches of Fall River. He was a man of tender heart and benevolent sympathies. Mr. Marbel married Candace W. Hathaway, of Freetown, Mass., and they made their home at No. 284 Bank street, Fall River. She died some seven years later, and he married (second) Nov. 3, 1848, Sarah B. Davis, of Fall River, who survives him. His only child, William E., died in infancy. Mr. Marbel died Oct. 19, 1908, at his home on Bank street, where he had resided for fifty years, in the ninetieth year of his age’.