Commemorative items made from Constitution‘s wood, copper, and iron.
Collecting bits and pieces of the past is a universal human impulse. First century Roman tourists eagerly carried home trinkets from Periclean Athens. Eighteenth century British travelers filled their country houses with relics of Imperial Rome. Nineteenth century Americans gave in to the same desire to cherish something connected with famous people, places, or events, however small.
When USS Constitution entered the newly completed dry dock at the Charlestown Navy Yard for the first time in 1833 she was already a famous ship. Throngs of Bostonians and dignitaries gathered as Constitution, once again under the command of her old captain Isaac Hull, gently glided into the dock. This dry-dock restoration was not the first time Old Ironsides had undergone a refit. After every cruise, carpenters, riggers, and shipwrights replaced some elements of the wooden vessel, but the major overhauls tended to produce mountains of wood, rusted nails, oxidized copper and twisted bolts.
Hull, who made the long trip from the Washington Navy Yard where he was commandant, ordered all the wood and copper removed from Constitution shipped to Washington for re-use, and he had canes, boxes and other “souvenirs” made from the materials. He sent these trinkets to friends and public officials throughout the United States.
In a way, Isaac Hull initiated the longstanding rage for items produced from the timbers and fastenings of the famous ship. Each of the Ship’s major refit was followed by a flood of souvenirs, ranging from the smallest sliver of oak to bookends and furniture, to an entire carriage made for President Andrew Jackson. The reuse of this discarded material underscores the importance of Constitution as an icon to Americans of the time. The Ship’s fame and the rage for collecting souvenirs made from her discarded parts continues today.
The USS Constitution Museum documents the significance of Constitution through time by collecting representative samples of souvenirs made out of USS Constitution materials discarded during restorations. The Museum also collects commercial souvenirs that use USS Constitution’s name, fame, and image, and souvenirs that were produced at various memorable occasions in her career.