Original U.S. Civil War Cartridge Box Sling Eagle Breast Plate - Unissued

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. Pattern 1826 Eagle Breast Plate with lead filled back. Both mounting loops are still attached. The front brass face has fantastic crisp details and has aged wonderfully. No major defects, dents, dings or issues. This example is about as nice as they come.

In the early years of the American nation, the need for a national symbol was acutely felt. The new nation appropriated many existing symbolic forms, but none were to become as pervasive as the eagle.

Before the eagle was officially sanctioned as the symbol for the United States, however, a partially clothed, indigenous woman wearing a feather headdress had served that function. This representation soon gave way to goddess-like personifications of the social virtues upon which the United States was founded. The most widespread example in the visual arts is Edward Savage’s print of his painting Liberty (46.67.85). Liberty, who appears in contemporary dress, gives nourishment to the bald eagle. The figure is a variation on the Goddess of Youth, yet the staff in the background, surmounted by Liberty’s cap, clearly signifies her new identity. This print was copied in paintings, embroidery, and Chinese reverse-painted glass for the American market. However, an emblem of a civic virtue such as Liberty was too complicated to serve as a national symbol. In Savage’s print, it is as if Liberty were passing the torch to the eagle to take up this purpose.

In 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to design an official seal for the country to accompany its newly minted flag. Finally, in 1782, a design was accepted. Its main feature was an eagle, the ancient symbol of Jupiter, king of the gods, and, therefore, a symbol of ultimate authority (69.141.1a–d). The young nation was eager to model many of its institutions on the Roman Republic, so the eagle, proposed by Pennsylvania scholar William Barton, seemed a natural choice despite Benjamin Franklin’s preference for the turkey. Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, modified the design by inserting an American bald eagle, which perfectly blended the classical symbol with a species native to the New World (62.256.3). The eagle holds arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other, symbolizing its birth in warfare but its hope for a prosperous, peaceful nation.

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