Silver Urn Presented to Isaac Hull
This ceremonial silver urn was a gift from the merchants of Philadelphia to Captain Isaac Hull in honor of USS Constitution‘s defeat of HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812. Decorated with various classical motifs and an engraved scene of the battle between Constitution and Guerriere, the urn is inscribed:”The Citizens of Philadelphia, at a meeting convened on the 5th of Septr. 1812, voted/ this Urn, to be presented in their name to CAPTAIN ISAAC HULL, Commander of the/ United States Frigate Constitution, as a testimonial of their sense of his distinguished/ gallantry and conduct, in bringing to action, and subduing the British Frigate Guerriere,/ on the 19th day of August 1812, and of the eminent service he has rendered to his/ Country, by achieving, in the first naval conflict of the war [sic], a most signal and decisive/ victory, over a foe that had till then challenged an unrivalled superiority on the/ ocean, and thus establishing the claim of our Navy to the affection and confidence/ of the Nation/ Engraved by W. Hooker.”
Gratitude and patriotism were the primary motives of the 169 Philadelphia merchants who contributed to the payment of the urn, but they also sought to enhance their own reputations by association. Newspapers throughout the country proclaimed their generosity. The urn was produced by the Philadelphia silversmith firm of Thomas Fletcher (1787–1866) and Sidney Gardiner (1787–1827), and it was likely their own $20 contribution that ultimately swung the $3,000 commission in their favor. This piece transformed Fletcher & Gardiner into America’s premier makers of presentation silver, and they would later produce a set of silver tableware pieces as a presentation to William Bainbridge following his victory over HMS Java in 1812.
This urn, known as a vase when it was made, is an example of extraordinary workmanship. It is arguably the most significant piece from the most notable period of American military silver. Taller, heavier, and more ambitious than any other item previously created in the United States, the urn is 29.5 inches high, 22 inches wide, and 12 inches deep and made entirely of sterling silver. The workmanship exhibits a variety of techniques, including cast, applied, incised, chased, repoussé (hammered from behind), embossed, and engraved decorations. It is a superb example of the Empire style in the decorative arts, popular throughout the Euro-American world in the early 19th century. This style, popularized in Napoleonic France, drew on archaeological discoveries in Greece, Rome, and Egypt at that time.