Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1020: Hunting Knife Masterpiece Presented to President T. Roosevelt

Auction Date: September 10, 2016

Family Descendant Documented Historic J. Russell & Co. Hunting Knife Masterpiece Presented to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt by James W. Gerard with Elaborate Platinum Raised Relief and Gold Sculpted Eagle Head Handle by Dreicer & Co. A Nearly Priceless Piece of American History

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $150,000 - $300,000

Family Descendant Documented Historic J. Russell & Co. Hunting Knife Masterpiece Presented to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt by James W. Gerard with Elaborate Platinum Raised Relief and Gold Sculpted Eagle Head Handle by Dreicer & Co. A Nearly Priceless Piece of American History

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Catalog Page: 20
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Manufactured by the famed cutlery firm J. Russell & Co. of Massachusetts with a handle crafted by a top New York luxury jewelry retailer, Dreicer & Co., this knife was presented to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt "to carry with him on his African hunting trip" by his friend James W. Gerard, New York Supreme Court Justice and later Ambassador to Germany. Leading the Rough Riders during the Spanish American War gained Roosevelt national fame, and his combat exploits are now legendary, part of the national metanarrative taught in high school history classrooms across the country. His war record helped propel Roosevelt to the New York Governor seat in the 1898 election, which he won by a margin of one percent. Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States after the assassination of President William McKinley and was a steadfast leader of the Progressive movement in the United States in the early 20th century. He served as President from 1901 to 1909, and later failed to win the presidential nomination in 1912 while running under the progressive party he founded called the Bull Moose Party. He was an avid outdoorsman and conservationist, setting aside land for national parks while President. James W. Gerard is a name that does not initially come to mind in the national consciousness of America. In fact, he is probably forgotten, nevertheless the historical record shows that Gerard played an important role in national and foreign affairs. Like Roosevelt, Gerard was born in New York and served in the Spanish-American War. But the two men were on opposite sides of the political spectrum: Roosevelt a member of the GOP (originally) and Gerard a member of the Democratic Party. Gerard served as a justice on the New York Supreme Court from 1907 to 1911. In 1914, Gerard defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt (fifth cousin to Theodore Roosevelt) in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, but lost the Senate race to GOP candidate James W. Wadsworth, Jr. In 1913, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson appointed Gerard as the American Ambassador to Germany, a position he served in until 1917 when relations were broken between the two countries due to America's entry into World War I. Ambassador Gerard played a delicate act of diplomacy during a time when Europe was at war. He assumed the role of protectorate of British interests in Germany while maintaining the official stance of U.S. neutrality. He visited British prisoner of war camps and did much to lessen their suffering. Diplomatic relations became more complex as the American embassy in Berlin assumed the interests of France, Great Britain and Russia. Gerard authored two books about his experience in Germany: "My Four Years in Germany" and "Face to Face with Kaiserism," with the former becoming the inspiration for a Warner Brothers movie of the same name that was released in 1918. Roosevelt praised Gerard's diplomatic efforts, calling Gerard "one of the best fellows." According to a period newspaper, the knife was presented to Roosevelt in March 1909, around the time Roosevelt was leaving the White House and Gerard was serving on the New York Supreme Court. The two men were reported as being "old friends," a relationship that likely dated back to when both men entered the New York political scene. The knife was said to have cost $1,250 (about $33,266 in today's money). "Old friends" indeed. Gerard proposed that Roosevelt should carry the hunting knife while on African safari, a reference to the 1909 African hunting expedition that was outfitted by the Smithsonian Institution. (About 11,400 animals, ranging from insects to elephants, were captured or killed during the hunting excursion that helped to cement Roosevelt's image in popular culture.) A more detailed account of the knife presentation comes from Thomas Herbert's "Theodore Roosevelt: Typical American." On March 3, 1909, Gerard sent U.S. Marshal Thomas D. McCarthy to Washington to present the outgoing president with the knife. McCarthy recalled: "After ten minutes of conversation during which time he gave me an autographed photograph for myself and a book for my father who always admired him, the President suddenly reached into his pocket, withdrew the coin and said, 'Mr. McCarthy it gives me great pleasure to hand you in return for Judge Gerard's gift this one cent coin.' I always have been proud of the fact that a President of the United States owned me a penny." The spear point blade is 6 inches long. The etched presentation inscription is on the left side of the blade. The inscription is a lined border with the rounded ends artistically shaped in the form of a letter "T". It reads, "PRESENTED TO/THEODORE ROOSEVELT/BY HIS FRIEND/JAMES W. GERARD." The left ricasso has the J. Russell & Co. marking: "J. RUSSELL & CO./GREEN RIVER WORKS." The "T" guard is sculpted bear heads in gold. The sculpted gold handle showcases the craftsmanship of a true period master that excites admiration. The pommel is a highly detailed eagle head with red garnet eyes. The left side of the handle features a full length frontier scene on a platinum background. The right side of the handle features tree branches at the top intermixed with a nearly full length bird furcular or wishbone. Inside the wishbone is the U.S. Presidential eagle above a "TR" monogram. The eagle wings and letter "T" are white gold. The background is platinum. The handle is signed "DREICER & CO." on the bottom edge. Overall length is 11 1/2 inches. The knife is pictured and described in R.L. Wilson's book "Steel Canvas: The Art of American Arms" (page 210). Through correspondents with the consignor who wishes to remain anonymous he detailed how this knife has been passed down for 107 years within the Roosevelt family which goes as follows: When Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919 the knife became part of the estate of his widow, Edith C. Roosevelt. She gave it to her eldest daughter, Ethel Roosevelt Derby, probably upon Mrs. Roosevelt’s death in 1948. In August, 1976 Mrs. Derby brought it from Oyster Bay to Seattle as a gift to me as I was about to marry her granddaughter. We were already acquainted, as I had known Mrs. Derby for about a dozen years at that point. So it was a special thrill for me (and my wife) to receive the knife. Mrs. Derby, who was 85 at the time, told us of carrying the knife in her purse as she attempted to board the plane at Kennedy Airport, thereupon setting off the alarms and bringing guards running. They apparently were amazed when they examined the knife and learned its story. In the end, the knife was handed to the pilot, who kept it in the cockpit and returned it to Mrs. Derby after they landed in Seattle. At the home of her daughter and son-in law on Vashon Island, Mrs. Derby gave me the knife. At our wedding a couple of days latter, with Mrs. Derby present, my bride and I used the TR knife to cut our wedding cake, a very happy and appropriate ceremony. Also included with the rifle is an appraisal from Stuteville Antiques & Appraisals valuing the knife at a quarter million dollars in 2013 and detailing some of the history noted above.

Rating Definition:

Fine. The blade has a mottled gray patina. The etching is clear. The blade maker marking is light but legible. The gold and platinum grip are excellent. This masterpiece of cutlery made by a propionate Massachusetts knife maker and a top New York luxury jewelry retailer that was presented to a consistently scholarly ranked one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, Theodore Roosevelt, would be the centerpiece to any advanced knife or early 20th century American political memorabilia collection!

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