What is this?
Brass bound leather chest belonging to Gunner John Lord, USN
When is it from?
Why is it Important?
There is nothing intrinsically unique about the form or condition of this chest. Stylistically, it conforms to many other extant leather-bound chests of the 1820s. What is remarkable about this piece is the insight it gives into a shipboard friendship, a connection otherwise long forgotten. John Lord proudly proclaimed his ownership by placing a brass plate engraved with his name and his favorite motif- crossed cannons and a stack of balls- on the chest’s lid. But it is the small brass plate on the front that broadens the story. J.H. Ward was not some chest manufacturer, but rather James Harmon Ward of the US Navy. Ward entered the service as a midshipman in March 1823 and served on board Constitution from October 1824 until July 1828, the same period as Lord. In the close and personal confines of a frigate, the midshipman and the gunner had to know each other.
That Ward and Lord shared more than a passing acquaintance is evinced by Ward’s later career. He went on to become an expert in gunnery and ordnance and even authored an important work on those subjects. One suspects that Lord piqued his interest in the topic by long conversations during the lazy days of their Mediterranean cruise. Was the chest a parting gift between friends, or did Ward receive it after Lord’s untimely death in 1829? Either way, Ward clearly cherished the piece until his own death in 1861 (he was the first naval officer killed in the Civil War). He maintained Lord’s nameplate and added his own. They remain there today like a handshake between friends, frozen in time.
The chest (height 12 1/2 inches, width 27 inches, depth 14 inches) consists of black japanned leather tacked over a wooden core. The leather is in a deteriorated condition overall. Much of the original glossy black finish has flaked away from the lid and sides to reveal the russet colored leather beneath. The leather bail handles have torn away from the sides and are missing. The same is true of two leather straps that once wrapped over and secured the lid. Nearly all of the original decorative brass tacks remain, except along the bottom corners, where significant damage has occurred. Japanned iron L-brackets reinforce the sides and lid. The lid bears a slightly convex brass oval plate 2 inches high by 2 ½ inches wide that has been finely engraved with a crossed cannon and anchor over a pyramid of cannon balls. Beneath is inscribed “J. LORD/ US NAVY- all surrounded by a foliate border. A second brass plate, 2 5/8 inches long by 1 ½ inches high, is affixed to the chest’s front panel. It bears the engraved inscription “J.H. Ward/ HARTFORD, CON”. The iron lock and clasp are intact, but the keyhole has been blocked by an iron insert. The chest’s interior is entirely lined with fine linen or cotton muslin. The bottom interior features four 3 ½ inch long strips of leather secured with iron nails.