DANIEL BUCK SOULES examines documents relating to Crooker shipping at his auction house in Lisbon Falls. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD

DANIEL BUCK SOULES examines documents relating to Crooker shipping at his auction house in Lisbon Falls. NATHAN STROUT / THE TIMES RECORD

LISBON FALLS

A piece of Midcoast Maine’s deep shipping tradition is up for grabs — hundreds of pages of historical records left behind by Bath’s Crooker shipping family.

The collection of letters and records document the company’s shipping interests all over the globe, from San Francisco to Europe.

“It took me about 6-7 hours just to sort it all out, unfold them, bring them out,” said Daniel Buck Soules, leafing through piles of records splayed over a table at his Lisbon Falls auction house.

Decades worth of ship manifests, bills of sale, business letters and other records reflecting one of Maine’s traditional industries. Soules touts this as the largest collection of Bath shipping-related items to ever come on the market.

“This all tells this huge story,” said Soules. “I think it’s a great piece of history.”

Soules, president of Daniel Buck Auctions, Inc., is working to find a new home for the collection of documents left behind by the Crooker shipping empire.

“This is all the history of the Crooker family shipping,” said Soules. “The earliest letters date 1802. They go all the way up to 1868.”

Soules is dealing with the collection on consignment, after the documents were discovered by family members in a recently deceased person’s home.

“This is why this is such an amazing story — there’s so much here,” he said, pointing to a document from the London Ballast Office from 1847 showing what ballast was on the ships, and a stock certificate for the Merrymeeting Bridge.

However the items originally came together, Soules was impressed with the sheer volume of documents.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been this quantity of Bath shipping history that’s come onto the market in one big clump, so to speak, and all from the Crooker family,” he said.

While many know the Crooker family name from Crooker Construction, the documents relate to the family’s earlier successes in shipping in the 19th century. Crooker brothers Charles and William launched a small shipping company in Bath in the early 1800s, which would reach its zenith in the middle of the century.

Bath is a relatively quiet city these days, with the exception of commuters dashing in and out of town around Bath Iron Works shift changes, but the Crooker documents speak to a different time, when Bath was a vibrant trading hub.

“What you have to realize is other than Boston and New York, Bath was the third largest shipping port in the country in the late 18th, early 19th centuries,” said Soules.

“What surprised me more than anything else is the amount of shipping, and this is only the Crooker family,” he added. “Can you imagine all the other shippers that were in Bath at the time?”

A western Massachusetts native, Soules has lived in Maine for nine years, and has had his gallery for four. His business has everything from a shrunken monkey head to Norman Rockwell paintings to an old eagle sculpture that fell off the Capitol well over a century ago. Soules has been an auctioneer since 1976, and used to be a regular on “Antiques Road Show.” He says the Crooker collection would have been a hit on the show.

Soules estimates the value of the collection at between $6,000-$12,000, and says he would like to find a new owner for the documents who would keep them together.

“I think it needs to go as a whole,” said Soules. “I don’t feel like I want to put this out to auction. I would really like to see someone who’s interested in it come in and we could work out something.”

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