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1864 DATED SPRINGFIELD ARMORY PRESENTATION PITCHER – PRESENTED TO SHOP FOREMAN & ARMORER GEORGE H. HUBBARD BY HIS WORKMEN – VERY RARE NATIONAL ARMORY HISTORICAL PIECE:  A very rare historical artifact, this heavily engraved pitcher was presented during the Civil War, on October 17, 1864, by workers at the National Armory at Springfield, Massachusetts to one of the shop foremen, Armorer George H. Hubbard. 

George H. Hubbard was born in 1828 into a Springfield family of gunsmiths and machinists, so it was a natural evolution that he sought employment at the National Armory at Springfield.  He spent the majority of his working life at the armory, with the exception of a short period when he lived in New Haven, Connecticut, working at the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  Copies of select Springfield Armory pay records beginning in 1859 were located which reflect Hubbard’s employment, first as a piece worker milling and finishing sling swivels and, according to his obituary, eventually being promoted to Shop Foreman during the Civil War.  Several census records list his employment as “US Armorer”, as do the Springfield City Directories of the 1860’s.   

Given the years of Hubbard’s service, it gives one pause to consider the development and production of so many of the key models of Springfield Arms which crossed his work bench and were finished by the workmen under his supervision.  These men were not merely witnesses to the history written within the walls of the Armory; rather they wrought that history through the power of their spirit and skill in their hands.   

While no specific incident or event could be located in the local Springfield records to attribute to the date of the presentation described on the pitcher, Hubbard’s importance in the Springfield community was well documented during his life.  Recognized as an accomplished musician, Hubbard founded, and led, the Springfield Armory Band, and was known for his musical arrangements for the band and for other orchestras with which he was associated.  In fact, the only photograph of Hubbard that we could locate was of him seated with the Armory Band in 1866.  His reputation as a musician was such that one newspaper headlined his obituary with “WELL KNOWN MUSICIAN [Dies], rather than a banner acknowledging his years of service at the armory.  Due to his reputation as a musician, I suspect the presentation of this pitcher was somehow related to the Armory Band.  

The United States Census of 1900 recorded Hubbard still living in Springfield and apparently retired.  Hubbard remained an active and well known resident of the city until his death in 1907 at the age of 78.  As late as 1896, in reporting on a Militia basketball tournament, the March 3RD edition of the Worcester (MA) Daily Spy wrote that “Armorer” George Hubbard was offering an “elegant” silver punch bowl and ladle as the trophy – evidence not only of his civic involvement, but also that the practice of using “silver” presentation pieces was still in vogue.   

The significance of this presentation to Armorer Hubbard is evident as the workman obviously purchased the highest quality and greatest extent of engraving their meager salaries would allow.  The pitcher is engraved with three broad bands of detailed floral designs – each a different pattern than the other two.  The engraving was very well executed by a skilled hand, with each leaf, flower, and scroll highlighted with considerable fine detail and much of it is executed in relief.  The floral patterns terminate on the front of the pitcher below the spout and in the resulting open space is engraved the presentation legend,

Geo. H. Hubbard

from the

Night

Workmen

in the

Spgfd. Armory

Oct. 17, 1864. 

Fashioned with a gracefully executed spout and handle, the pitcher also has a hinged lid formed with concentric rings.  The exterior of the pitcher has naturally aged from the original bright silver to a deep blued patina that has been left undisturbed.  The interior of the pitcher, and the underside of the lid, both retain the original bright polished silver finish, and the exterior of the pitcher could be polished out as well, if the new owner so desired.  There are four dents in the exterior as can be seen in the photos below and again, a professional silver smith could probably eliminate these if you so choose, but as they present, they do not detract from the overall appearance of the pitcher.  All of the seams are solid with no breaks, splits or weak points.     

Measuring 11 ½” tall and 7 ¼” across the base, this impressive pitcher is manufactured of Britannia metal (also called britannium or Britannia ware), a pewter-type alloy favored for its silvery appearance and smooth surface, and composed of (approximately and typically) 92% tin, 6% antimony, and 2% copper.  Dating from as early as 1769, Britannia has been used for making various utensils including teapots, jugs, drinking vessels, candlesticks, and urns, and for official maces.  Similar in color and feel to traditional pewter, but lacking the dangerous lead component, Britannia metal is harder, stronger, and easier to work than other tin alloys in that it can be worked from sheets like silver, or spun on a lathe, and in the mid-19TH Century, Britannia metal pieces had gained popularity as an affordable “working man’s” silver service.   

While the pitcher lacks any maker’s identification mark, the distinctive features, particularly the shape and style of the handle and the spout, are consistent with other similar pieces which are attributed to mid-19Th Century American silver and metal smiths.  The size of this piece, and the positioning of the spout high on side, is consistent with other pitchers identified as water or milk pitchers – a serving vessel which would have been present on any well appointed table of the period.  

I won’t belabor the obvious rarity or historical significance of a Springfield Armory presentation piece nor the unlikelihood that such a piece is offered on the collector’s market.  This would be a “one-of-a-kind” addition to any collection of Springfield arms, or a collection of Civil War identified pieces, and in either case, is a piece with few, if any, peers.  A binder with all of the research, genealogical records and photographs which was gathered for George H. Hubbard, the Armory, and his residences in the City of Springfield will be included in this sale.  (0012)  $3500

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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