Mystic - It could be called the best of the best.
On Saturday, Mystic Seaport will open a new exhibit in its R.J. Shaefer hall called "Treasures From the Collection" that brings together 149 objects from the museum's collection in one space.
"We do a lot of thematic exhibits, but this is just beautiful objects and artwork," said museum associate exhibits developer Mark Wilkins on Wednesday as staff members were putting the final pieces in place. "We wanted to let the artwork speak for itself instead of layering it over a theme. In short, this is our best stuff."
The exhibit includes oil paintings, artifacts such as scrimshaw and sailors' valentines, photographs, ship's models, plans and figureheads.
Some have been on display in other parts of the museum but many have been hidden away in the Collections Research Center, which is not open to the typical museum visitor.
All of the items in the exhibit were chronicled in the museum's 1998 book "America and the Sea."
The exhibit, which is housed in three large rooms, is a small sample of what the museum owns.
"I just wish we could show more of this stuff. There's an endless amount in the collection," Wilkins said.
Upon entering, visitors will see a large painting called "Castle William in New York Harbor" that was done in 1830. The painting shows boats between Governor's Island and the tip of Manhattan.
In a display case below the painting is an example of a sailor's valentine that mariners brought back to their loved ones from the West Indies.
Some other highlights include an elaborate Mandarin robe from the Manchu dynasty, an example from the China trade.
There are several paintings by famed maritime artist James Buttersworth, including one from 1855 of the celebrated racing yacht America.
Also on display are ships' models, including one of the sandbagger Annie, the first vessel in the museum's collection, which now numbers about 550.
There is a series of daguerreotypes and ambrotype photos of sailors and their families from the 19th century. The photos are contained in velvet-lined cases that sailors carried with them while at sea.
In the 30-odd photos, no one is smiling, which is often the case in photos taken during that time period. Wilkins said that's not because the people were miserable or had bad teeth, but because it took so long for a photograph to be exposed that it was difficult to hold a smile that long.
The exhibit also has examples of meticulously built ship models as well as ships' plans that are typically stored in the Collections Research Center.
Among the ones on display are plans for two ships in the museum's collection, the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan and the fishing boat Roann, along with the 1859 lines for the racing yacht America.
One of the most striking paintings on display is one by Buttersworth called "Ship in a Gale" from 1855. Among the photographs are examples from the museum's famed Rosenfeld collection. One of the photos not from the Rosenfeld group shows a small open boat passing docks along the Mystic River with a load of salt in 1899.
Figureheads on display include one of two sisters side by side and a massive bust of Sir Francis Drake. In cases around the room are ships' logs and sketch books, and one with examples of scrimshaw, including intricate drawings of Gen. William Sherman, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Lady Liberty.
Wilkins said he hopes the exhibit will excite visitors about the "compelling and iconic images and objects we have in our collection."
"And there's something here for everyone," he said.
Saturday's opening of the exhibit also marks the museum's return to its normal operating hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The exhibit will remain on display through 2013.