Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1146: Civil War USS Monitor Crewman's Tiffany Presentation Sword

Auction Date: September 12, 2020

Historic Documented National Treasure U.S. Navy Presentation Tiffany & Company Sword Inscribed to Civil War Union Hero Lieutenant Louis N. Stodder, Acting Master Aboard the USS Monitor During the Battle of Hampton Roads, the First Ironclad Warfare Duel

Estimated Price: $110,000 - $180,000

Historic Documented National Treasure U.S. Navy Presentation Tiffany & Company Sword Inscribed to Civil War Union Hero Lieutenant Louis N. Stodder, Acting Master Aboard the USS Monitor During the Battle of Hampton Roads, the First Ironclad Warfare Duel

Manufacturer: None
Model: None
Type: Other
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Catalog Page: 134
Class: Other

This beautiful Tiffany & Co. gilt officer's sword and scabbard is documented in “American Swords from the Philip Medicus Collection” and "U.S. Naval Officers: Their Swords and Dirks" and is truly one of the finest Civil War naval officer's swords in existence in terms of both its outstanding overall condition, its impressive overall ornamentation, and its historical inscription to heroic Union naval officer and ironclad veteran: Lieutenant Louis N. Stodder (1837-1911). The stunning etched 29 inch blade is adorned with extensive floral and scroll patterns surrounding standing figures of Constitution, a naval officer with sword and mortar, and a sailor flying the American flag. Under the figure of Constitution is the etched Tiffany of New York marking. The ricasso is marked “1861” on the right and “COLLINS & CO/HARTFORD/CONN” marked on the left. The gilt brass hit features oak leaf wreath, anchor and 13 star American shield cap. The rope guard features a pierced “USN” adorn with oak leaves, flying American eagle finial and presentation inscription. The inscription reads, “Presented to/Lieut. Louis N. Stodder/By his/Boston Friends/Feb. 9th 1863/’Monitor.’” The silver grip is adorned with twist silver wire. The black leather scabbard features gilt brass mounts with high relief oak leaf and anchor pattern, a chape with engraved dolphins and an anchor drag. The throat is marked “TIFFANY & CO.” in a banner over the letter “M.” Without a doubt, a true work of art by Tiffany & Co! This sword has stellar provenance, formerly in the highly regarded collections: Lieutenant Louis N. Stodder, Philip Medicus Collection, Norm Flayderman, and Thomas S. Halpin, Jr. The sword is one of two Stodder presentation swords pictured and identified in “American Swords from the Philip Medicus Collection” on pages 260-261. While less ornate, the second sword was also presented to Stodder by Bostonians. The sword is also pictured and identified in Peter Tuite's "U.S. Naval Officers: Their Swords and Dirks" on pages 174-175. The USS Monitor was the first iron hulled steam powered ironclad warship commissioned by the U.S. Navy. Designed by Swedish born engineer John Ericsson for the astonishing price of $275,000, the Monitor was the U.S. Navy’s response to the Confederacy’s own ironclad, the CSS Virginia (formerly the captured USS Merrimack). Boston native Lt. Louis N. Stodder volunteered to serve aboard the Monitor and was there during the ship’s construction. He, like many others, was skeptical about the ship’s ability to float. “She was rather a hasty job, was the Monitor,” remarked Stodder. “You had better get a good look at her now as you won't see her after she strikes water. She's bound to go to the bottom of the East River and stick there, sure.” Its unusual design made almost entirely of iron, sitting mostly below the waterline and a prominent revolving cylindrical gun turret made it easy for critics to dub the ship "Ericsson's folly", "cheesebox on a raft" and the "Yankee cheesebox." But when the Monitor was successfully launched on January 30, 1862, the critics, including Stodder, were silenced. Stodder served aboard the Monitor as acting master during the ship’s entire short career. On March 8, 1862, CSS Virginia engaged the Union flotilla blockading Hampton Roads and destroyed the Union sail frigates USS Cumberland and USS Congress. A third Union ship, USS Minnesota, ran aground while attempting to engage the Virginia. The Virginia clearly demonstrated the advantages of iron over wood ship construction. The U.S. Navy’s worst fear, an unchallenged Confederate armored vessel wreaking havoc on the Union’s vital naval blockade, was coming true. All hope was not lost as the Monitor arrived that night. The next morning the Virginia returned to finish destroying the Union flotilla but in her way was the Monitor. For over four hours the Virginia and Monitor exchanged fire, mostly at close range but neither delivering a decisive blow. This was the first time two ironclads met in combat. In the end, the Virginia withdrew. During the Battle of Hampton Roads, as it would be called, Stodder was at the wheel that turned the turret when he was knocked unconscious by a shell strike. He regained consciousness several hours later. At the time both sides claimed victory, but modern day historians consider the battle a draw and emphasize, as the former curator of the USS Monitor Center Anna Gibson Holloway put it, “This first meeting of two ironclad warships in battle forever changed naval architecture, battle tactics, and the very psychology of the men who served within them…While ironclads had certainly existed before the Monitor and Virginia, their meeting on March 9, 1862 ushered in the next phase of naval warfare, where machine and armament become paramount and the graceful wooden sailing ships of the age of fighting sail became forlorn relics of the past.” Nevertheless, the Monitor saved the flotilla from further destruction. The Union continued to cutoff international trade to some of the Confederacy’s largest cities and industrial centers, and because the blockade remained unbroken, Norfolk was of little strategic value for the Confederacy. Plans called for the Virginia to sail up the James River near Richmond. The draft of the ship, however, would not permit the Virginia to pass up the river, so it was destroyed before the Union could capture it. By year’s end, the Monitor had also met its end. While being towed by the USS Rhode Island up the cost of North Carolina, the Monitor was sunk during a violent storm on New Year’s Eve 1862. As the storm winds increased, so too did the waves. The ship took on water faster than the pumps could handle, and the order to abandon ship was given. Stodder successfully cut the tow line, a task that had already killed two others, thereby saving the Rhode Island. For his actions the commanding officer of the Monitor, John P. Bankhead, gave Stodder a commendation. In a report to the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Bankhead mentions Stodder’s conduct: "I would beg leave to call the attention of the admiral and of the department to the particular good conduct of Lieutenant Greene and Acting-Master L.N. Stodder, who remained with me until the last, and by their example and bearing did much towards inspiring confidence and obedience on the part of others." Following the sinking, Stodder transferred to the ship he helped save, the Rhode Island. Before the war was over Stodder went on to command the USS Release, USS Adela, USS Niphon and USS Calypso. Following President Lincoln’s assassination, he was assigned to the flotilla protecting Washington, D.C. He eventually joined the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and was commissioned a captain.

Rating Definition:

Exceptionally fine. The excellent blade has some typical minor scratches, a slight attractively aged appearance and all of the highly detailed, crisp etching remaining. The grip has a highly attractive aged silver appearance. The inscription is clear. The hilt retains 90% original gilt and the scabbard hardware retains 80% original gilt, otherwise the brass has an attractive mellow appearance. The scabbard leather shows minor flaking. The chape has a museum type collection number. This is an absolutely outstanding Civil War Tiffany presentation naval sword with condition, ornamentation, and historical interest. As one of the finest Civil War presentation swords we have had the pleasure of cataloging, it is sure to add value, beauty, and interest to any public or high quality private collection. A true piece of history and art!

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