Presentation Silver: Past and Present

BY LORIN L. SCHEHL, NAVY PRESENTATION SILVER MANAGER,
NAVAL SUPPLY SYSTEMS COMMAND

Presentation silver has its beginnings with the gift of a silver tea service to Edmund Hartt by the citizens of Boston for the construction of the frigate Boston in 1799. In the fifty years following that first presentat ion, gifts of silver were given to other American naval heroes. It wasn’t until the late 1880s, when ships were named after cities and states around the country, did a ship receive presentation silver. The first was USS Chicago (CA 136) which received a 224-piece silver after-dinner coffee service in 1889. This service included engravings depicting the Great Chicago Fire and Fort Dearborn in Illinois. The silver set was designed by the Gorham Manufacturing Company and is displayed today aboard USS Chicago (SSN 721).

USS New Hampshire (BB 25) presentation silver punch bowl with pedestal base was donated to the Navy on behalf of the State of New Hampshire by Governor Charles M. Floyd in August 1908. The punch bowl contains etchings of the state capitol, Dartmouth College, summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire state seal and the Navy seal. The pedestal base contains two left-facing spread-winged eagles holding arrows and laurel sprigs in their talons. Photo provided by the New Hampshire Historical Society

 

As evidenced by the Chicago service, many early sets were highly detailed and engraved. Along with the presentation inscription, engravings consisted of local historical views, flowers, or prominent people and landmarks. Detailed iconography was often included to highlight local distinctions like etching of the state capital building and Dartmouth College on the USS New Hampshire (BB 25) punch bowl. These older sets are highly regarded for their historical value. Many have been loaned back to their donating localities, while others are on display in museums.

Once a widespread custom, ships commissioned today often do not receive the traditional gifts of silver. These ships rely on older silver sets reassigned to them from a ship that has been decommissioned. Regardless of the source, silver sets are highly treasured, displayed, and often used for special occasions by the ships that receive them. No matter what purpose it is used for, presentation silver still carries on a significant and important tradition in today’s Navy.

At present, the Navy Presentation Silver Program contains 9,336 assets having an approximate value of $17.8 million. Of the 480 collections within the silver program, there are currently 214 collections in storage at NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Norfolk and NAVSUP FLC San Diego. Some of these collections have been in storage for more than 40 years, while most of the collections have been stored 10-20 years. NAVSUP, through its reduction of storage initiative for presentation silver, is ready to transfer these treasures to proudly display aboard a Navy ship or submarine. NAVSUP has collections from A to Y from the USS Albany (CA 123) to the USS Yorktown (CG 48). If you are interested in showcasing a piece of history on your ship or submarine, request a current listing of silver collections from the NAVSUP Presentation Silver Manager at (717) 605-7580.

July/August 2017