By Rachel Hudson
Keeping with the Civil War theme, the object of this week is a Tiffany & Co. non-regulation model 1850 infantry officer sword. This object was found in our collections a few weeks ago and I have been responsible for researching it and the story behind it. The name Tiffany & Co. doesn’t typically evoke images of swords and weaponry, but in a time of war in the United States, many custom jewelers became military outfitters. For the Tiffany Company to survive the war, it became necessary to produce weaponry in lieu of luxury goods and jewelry, but in the same high quality fashion for which they were known.
The handle of the sword, which you saw in last week’s teaser photo, is cast with elaborate oak leaf and floral patterns, alluding to the interest in nature that characterized not only Tiffany & Co. but the Victorian aesthetic of the time. The fine leather and twisted wire used for the grip demonstrates the attention to detail which proves that even in a time of war, this was an item of luxury. The blade, perhaps the most elegant and beautifully designed part of the sword, displays the regional motifs which differentiate this as a Union weapon. The large “U.S.,” the cannons and victory wreath, and the two roman helmets etched onto the blade exhibit not only the owner’s taste, but a bold statement to the Union cause.
The etching on the sheath gives the biggest clues to the owner and occasion for the presentation of this piece. It states, “Presented to Capt. John T. Alexander by his company Sept. 10 1862.” Although detailed information on Capt. Alexander was scarce, I discovered that he belonged to the 27th Regiment of the New Jersey Infantry, Company B. The date on the sword was seven days after that regiment was mustered into federal service. The group included volunteers from towns within Morris County and Sussex County, New Jersey. Documents from the New Jersey State Library revealed that despite making it through the Battle of Fredericksburg, Alexander died several months later, on May 6, 1963, while crossing the Cumberland River near Somerset, Kentucky. He was survived by his wife.
With the fine details on the blade and the owner’s name engraved on the sheath, this sword tells a story of a nation at war and of the people who played a role in the history of our country.
We seem to be on a roll with the Civil War items, because next week’s item is also from this time period: