William Bainbridge’s Dressing Case
This elegant dressing case was reportedly made from the shattered wood of USS Constitution’s captain’s cabin following the ship’s battle with HMS Java. Gunnery fire in battle often left extensive wood debris that was occasionally repurposed into personal items and souvenirs. This case belonged to Constitution’s victorious commander, William Bainbridge, but the maker is unknown.
Dressing cases were designed to carry toiletries for travel and became popular among upper-class men in the late 18th century. In the 19th century, the cases grew increasingly popular with women and became known as vanity cases or toilet cases. Like many such cases, Bainbridge’s has a lift top that opens wide for placement of large, deep items such as cologne bottles. Although no contents remain in this box, faded lines and spill stains inside testify to its storage of liquids. On the bottom half of the box is a drawer that slides out for storage of combs, razors and other flat objects. Both the drawer and lid lock shut. This case was handed down through the Bainbridge family for generations until 1934 when James Barnes, William Bainbridge’s great-grandson and the president of the Naval Historical Society of New York, offered it for display on USS Constitution.