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19th Century Bald Eagle American Yacht Tiller Arm

This finely carved mahogany and brass tiller arm would have been used to steer one of the great American yachts of the period. This is of a size and quality as those found on the America's Cup schooners like AMERICA and COLUMBIA.

The striking head of a bald eagle sits above the brass collar which would have been used as a grip. The eagle's eyes are set in a fierce expression and his mouth sits open to show the sharp curves of his beak. The arm curves up gracefully into a column motif and then sweeps down with the final section adorned by a large stylized leaf shape, perhaps that of a stylized olive branch. Each section is deeply carved with excellent detail and decorative touches.

The arm has been French polished to bring out the deep, rich patina in the wood, a process which took an expert more than a week to complete. The last three photos included here show the arm before it was polished.

One of the finest tiller arms we have ever seen, this is a unique example of the work of a 19th century master of ship carving.

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A.J. Morse & Sons Dive Helmet
Serial No. 1846, Distributed by Mussens Ltd. of Canada

SOLD

This nice, early commercial diving helmet bears two plaques: the maker's plaque- "A.J. Morse & Son, Inc., Boston, Mass." and beneath it the distributor's plaque, "Supplied by Mussens Limited Agents, Montreal, Canada".

The helmet is in excellent condition with a nice patina, very clean and complete.

The helmet bears matching serial numbers 1846 on the front and rear brails, and on the bonnet and breastplate. The front and rear brails are also stamped with additional maker's marks, "A.J. Morse & Son, Boston". Interestingly there are additional hand tooled marks on the brail the diver must have added for his own reference: RF, LF, RR and LR for right front, left front, right rear and left rear.

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AJ Morse Shallow Water Dive Helmet and Bronze Pump
with Serial Numbers on Helmet and Pump

This Morse Shallow Water Dive Helmet and the pump were used by the Warwick, Rhode Island Fire Department to teach diving to the officers.

The tag and style on both pieces place the date of manufacture from the mid-1920's to the early 1940's when the Morse company name was changed. The helmet is numbered on the top of the faceplate 217 3785. The faceplate is glass.

The pump also bears the A.J. Morse & Sons Plaque and the serial #2294. Besides the wood handle the pump is all bronze.

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American Ship's Figurehead of a Young Boy Holding a Dove
with Period Polychrome Detail

This finely carved masthead figurehead of a boy with dove is a reference to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. After the great flood Noah released a dove in order to find land. The dove came back carrying an olive leaf as a sign of renewed life and heralded the safe return of all aboard to land. Many artists have depicted this return with the dove landing in the hands of a child, another nod to new beginnings.

Birds have been the friends of sailors for millennia. The use of doves or birds by ancient navigators to find land are mentioned in the traditions of many cultures, as far back as ancient Mesopotamia (20th-10th century BCE) and include many others such as the Vikings and the early Polynesians. Additionally, the dove has been used as a symbol of the divine both in the bible and earlier, throughout many cultures of the ancient world.

Those who sailed aboard the ship bearing this figurehead would have also hoped for divine assistance in a safe return to land and calm on the waters making this a powerful symbol of the hopes of every person to set out upon the seas throughout history.

The carving is well done, with excellent detail throughout. The boy wears fine clothing- a long jacket over black breeches trimmed in red. At his waist the jacket is gathered in a twisted rope belt with tasseled ends, highlighting the excellent carving of the flowing, folded fabric which appears to sweep backward, caught in the wind just as the clothes of a real boy would be aboard ship.

Under the jacket he wears a white shirt with black buttons and a small red tie around the neck. The face is particularly well carved, and given that it is inset may have been contributed by a more skilled carver. His dark brown hair is trimmed in a boyish style of the period, bobbed with a slight curl at the ends. His bent arms end with upturned hands cradling a white dove. On his feet are sturdy brown boots over red and black socks.

The figure has a nice patina and retains many touches of original paint. His arms can be removed at the shoulder- a common feature in figureheads to save more delicate elements from damage in rough seas. The figure is attached to a later wood frame which allows it to tilt at the same angle it would have been aboard ship. In very good condition with no dry rot.

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American Woman Ship's Carved Figurehead
Ruffled Dress and Coiled Hairstyle

A finely detailed carved wood figurehead, diminutive with classic features, the origin of this womanly ship icon is American. Telltale clues include that her regency-style, just-above-the-shoulder dress sleeves that “poof” and the modest neckline, especially when matched to the upswept, comb-held, coiled hairstyle and carved oval earrings. All these fashion elements are suggestive of American fashion, circa 1820s. The leading figurehead historian England and a distinguished maritime museum curator in America both concur.

Properly attired, she looks quite reserved. Set on a carved plinth with a geometric pattern and rolling scroll, it blends into a sash-ribbon tied around her torso. The detail of the hair tightly bound in an upswept coiled bun. Prim and poised, the woman figure is fairly vertical in position, indicating an installation on a smaller vessel, possibly the bow of a schooner or small brig from the first quarter of the 19th Century. It has the correct wood plugs to have been properly mounted. The simple white paint with the sea-foam green dress is most likely very close to her original color and just freshened up a bit over time.

It is recorded that the piece was salvaged from a sailing vessel that broke up in Stomness on Orkney in the 19th Century, and entered a British collection and passed through the family for three generations before being sold. It is a classic American ship’s figurehead of a quality, type and size seldom found.

A full report on this antique, carved figurehead by leading figurehead historian Richard Hunter of England is available.

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Bronze New England Darting Whaling Harpoon

This bronze whaling harpoon is similar in style to the Provincetown Toggle Harpoon, though without the toggle action, so it may have been a precursor in design. With its smaller head and narrow shaft it was likely used to hunt smaller Cetaceans like Pilot Whales.

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