ICONIC AND EXCEEDINGLY RARE GOLD FREEDOM BOX, COMMODORE STEPHEN DECATUR FROM THE CITY OF NEW YORK, 1812.
This important and historic American icon had been on display at the US Naval Academy Museum from 1940 until 2011. Gold Freedom boxes were used to confer honorary privileges on distinguished individuals which date from the mid-18th century. Freedom boxes in America presented by the City of New York were given to other notables such as General George Washington (1732-1799), Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Baron von Steuben (1730-1794), Governor George Clinton (1739-1812) and Chief Justice John Jay (1745-1829).
The box given to Commodore Decatur weights 100 grams, measures 3-1/2″ x 1-7/8″ x 3/4″ with clipped corners, top engraved with leaf motif, bordered by hatching round edges and center scored with an arc pattern; same motif and pattern on bottom and sides. Inscribed inside the top cover: “THE CORPORATION OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK / TO COMR. STEPHEN DECATUR IN /TESTIMONY OF THE HIGH SENSE THEY ENTERTAIN / OF HIS VALOR & SKILL IN THE CAPTURE OF THE / BRITISH FRIGATE MACEDONIAN BY / THE U.S. FRIGATE UNITED STATES. OCTR. 25. 1812”. 1″ x 4″ x 2-3/8″ red leather case, lined with white satin cloth, small silver unmarked medallion with clipped corners on top and paper and ink label glued on bottom reading “PROPERTY OF MRS. W. R. MAYO”.
Freedom box is made and hallmarked by goldsmith Jean-Baptiste Lizon (1757-1811), Paris. Box also has French proofs for 18k gold. Commodore Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) was a great naval leader and hero of the Barbary Wars and War of 1812. During his command of USS United States he captured HMS Macedonian, in the Atlantic west of the Canary Islands on October 25, 1812, in one of the major ship-to-ship actions of the War of 1812 against Great Britain. On December 4, 1812, he towed the captured ship into New York harbor amid tumultuous national jubilation over the spectacular victory. Decatur and his crew were lionized and received special praise from the President and Congress and many honors from Congress, states and cities. On December 17, 1812, the municipal authorities in New York City voted him “freedom of the city” recognized by a gold box and commissioned a life size portrait for city hall. On December 29, New York City gave a banquet in his honor.
This box is pictured in a February 1982 article in Antiques Magazine titled Gold and Silver Owned by Stephen Decatur, Jr by J. S. Brown, pg 401 “The City of New York resolved on December 17, 1812 that the freedom of the city should be presented to Stephen Decatur in a gold box. The key to the city has since been lost, but the octagonal box that contained it, made in Paris in 1798. Both were given to Decatur at an elaborate dinner in his honor on December 29, 1812. The inscription on the inside of the lid of the box acknowledges Decatur’s “valor and skill in the capture of the British Frigate Macedonian by the U.S. Frigate United States October 25, 1812.”
This is an extremely rare opportunity to own an American gold Freedom Box. We note only one previous sale of another and that was the John Jay box sold by Sotheby’s, June 26, 1991. PROVENANCE: A most historical and important collection from the estate of Maria Decatur Mayo Deyo (Lila) Garnett of Kittery Point, Maine, who inherited the box from her mother Mrs. Maria Ten Eyck Decatur Mayo Deyo of Kittery, Maine (widow of Vice Admiral Morton L. Deyo, 1887-1973); who had received it from her mother, Mrs. Wyndham R. Mayo, Jr. nee Maria Decatur; who had received it from her father Stephen Decatur of Kittery Point, Maine, who was descended from John Pine Decatur, younger brother of Commodore Stephen Decatur (1779-1820). A photocopy of Stephen Decatur’s hand written will dated 1874 and a photocopy of a typed version of Maria Decatur’s will dated 1892 accompanies this lot. CONDITION: Very fine. Box shows little or no wear being protected in its custom case since its presentation. 52714-157 (125,000-175,000) – Lot 2068
Auction: Fine Art, Asian & Antiques - Winter 2018
Please Note: All prices include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which is paid by the buyer as part of the purchase price. The prices noted here after the auction are considered unofficial and do not become official until after the 46th day.