Sousa’s Ship Wine Decanter

John Philip Sousa Music and Personal Papers (November 2, 1924)

with Scott Schwartz, director and archivist

John Philip Sousa was given this pewter Brig sailing vessel decanter as a 70th birthday gift in 1924 by the Chicago Civic Music Association. His birthday celebration in Chicago, which took place in the Florentine Room of the Chicago Hotel, was part of a two-week celebration in several Midwestern cities including Milwaukee, St. Louis, Urbana, and Cleveland.  November 2nd was declared “Sousa Day” by Chicago’s Mayor William Dever, whose office also sponsored an afternoon of concerts in honor of the band leader that was held at the Auditorium Theater. The day before the birthday festivities were to occur, an image of the decanter was published in the Chicago Tribune with the photograph captioned, “It sails for Sousa. Trophy with loving cup implications (note rudder) to be given [to] March King at tomorrow’s birthday banquet by Civic Music Association.” The inscription on the ship reads: “To the young conductor Lieut. Com. John Philip Sousa as a birthday token from some of his Chicago friends, 1924.”

This Brig ship decanter is loosely modelled after a two-mast square-rig sailing vessel that was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries.  These type of sailing vessels were fast and very maneuverable when running with the wind, and were used both as naval war ships and merchant carriers.  However, they were difficult to tack into the wind and required a relatively large crew for the ship’s small design.  This model has two sets of square-rigged mainsails and a single gaft-rigged spanker as its foresail which was commonly used for these type of vessels.  The hatch compartment at the bow of the ship was the place where you would fill the decanter with either wine or other distilled spirits, and the rudder at the stern of the model is where the liquid was poured out.  

Special thanks to Thomas Podnar of McKay Lodge Laboratory and Fine Art Conservation for restoring the decanter to its original condition in 2018.