Navy Presentation Silver: Interview with USS Midway Library Volunteer, Bonnie Brown.

Bonnie was the first person I met when I interviewed to be a volunteer at the USS Midway (CV-41)  Museum Library.  Since then she has become a valued shipmate and friend.

 

Bonnie Wendy and Pat at the Archives 2018Mar14
L-r Pat,  Bonnie and Wendy at the Naval Academy Archives in Annapolis, MD.

 

 

  • What is Navy Presentation Silver? 

It is a silver service presented to the officers of a Navy ship usually on the day it is commissioned.  This practice was a tradition in the Navy, and many silver services were presented to ships between about 1890 and up to World War II.  Although, Sherry Langrock has identified over 500 ships with silver, I have limited my research to battleships.  All 50 states had battleships, and all those battleships had silver with the exception of West Virginia.

 

Navy Silver explanation, USNA
Navy Silver explanation from the USNA Museum in Annapolis, MD

 

 

  • How did you become interested in Presentation Silver?

How long have you been studying it?  In 2011, our Director of Exhibits emailed the library asking for the history of Navy presentation silver as the Midway was getting a loan of the partial set of the USS Toledo CA-133 to put on exhibit in our wardroom.  That was when I began collecting and reading books and articles about this tradition.

 

  • Did the USS Midway (CV-41) ever have any Presentation Silver?  If it did, do you know what became of it?

As far as I know, the Midway never had its own set of silver.   I read an article that mentioned that the USS New Mexico silver was on the Midway in 1946.  That silver is now at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.  Between 1970 and approximately the mid 1980s, we had the USS Michigan silver onboard.  The Michigan silver is currently in storage, and some of it is on the submarine, USS Michigan SSGN-727.

 

  • I understand you have seen Presentation Silver around the United States.  How do you know where the presentation silver is and how do you arrange to view it?  Which states have you visited to see the silver and which ship(s) did it come from?

I have a contact at the Navy Supply Corps headquarters in Mechanicsburg, PA,, and he  knows where all the Navy silver is located.  So far, I have seen and photographed the following:

USS Alabama—USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, AL

USS Arizona—Capitol Museum, Phoenix, AZ

USS Arkansas – Governor’s Mansion, Little Rock, AR

USS Florida – Governor’s Mansion, Tallahassee, FL

USS Louisiana—USS Theodore Roosevelt

USS Maine—Governor’s Mansion, Augusta, ME

USS Maryland—State House, Annapolis, MD

USS Mississippi – Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, MS

USS New York—US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD

USS Oregon—Oregon Historical Society, Portland, OR

USS San Francisco—USS Carl Vinson

USS Tennessee—Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN

USS Utah—One piece at the US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, MD

USS Toledo (CA-133)—USS Midway Museum, San Diego, CA

USS Wisconsin—Norfolk, VA

 

  • Is there such a thing as a Silver Presentation starter set?  What are the most common pieces a ship’s presentation silver might include? 

Each state had a private committee which usually solicitated private funds to commission a silver service. The number of pieces depended on the amount of money raised.  I think the most common piece is a punch bowl which after 1914 was called a soup tureen when the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels prohibited alcohol on Navy ships.

 

USS Maryland Soup Tureen
USS Maryland Presentation Silver–note the punch bowl/soup toureen in the first picture and the detail of the flying Canada geese in the last picture

 

 

  • What was the most impressive Silver Presentation service set you have seen to date? What made it impressive?

That is really a tough question.  I loved the badgers on the Wisconsin and the terrapins on the Maryland.  The Arizona’s beautiful landscapes and copper linings are gorgeous.  But I have to say my favorite is the USS Florida.  It has Pelicans, alligators, oranges, sea shells, the landing of Ponce de Leon on the punch bowl, along with portraits of Ferdinand and Isabella.

 

Badger from USS Wisconsin Battleship
Badger from the USS Wisconsin

 

 

Beavers from the USS Oregon silver.JPG
Beavers from the USS Oregon Silver

 

  • Is the Presentation Silver owned by the Navy or the donating organization?  Who usually donates the silver?  On the day that the silver is presented to a ship, the Navy assumes ownership.  A lot of battleship silver has gone back to the states on permanent loans.

 

  • If someone wanted to learn more about presentation silver, what sources would you recommend?  One of the best sources is the Library of Congress’ chronicling America.  Just put in the name of a battleship and silver and you usually come up with a good story.  https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

 

  • Does the Midway make use of your extensive knowledge of Navy Presentation Silver? I would like to write an article for the Midway Currents, and your questions are a good start!

 

  • Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself, the Midway, or Presentation Silver that we did not ask You? I love to study what each state has put on its silver.  Louisiana’s set included 58 goblets which represents the 58 parishes.  The Arkansas silver has a piece with a map of Arkansas with every county’s name.  The Mississippi has Jefferson Davis on one side and Hernando de Soto on the other.  The Utah, which I haven’t seen, has Brigham Young on the punch bowl.  The elevator in our condo will be down for three months beginning in January of next year, so my husband and I have planned to do more road trips.  You can bet that these trips will include stops to see and photograph Navy battleship silver.

 

  • What did you do before becoming a Midway volunteer?  My first job out of high school was in the library of my university.  I loved the work so much that I took an undergraduate minor in Library Science.  After moving to San Diego in 1968, I was hired as a librarian at an electronics engineering company.  And after 20 years of being a librarian, I decided it was time to get my MLS.  I applied and was accepted at UCLA, and two years later I had my degree.  The latest library job was with my friend, Maxine, at a mathematics research library.

 

For more information:

USS Tennessee, USS Wisconsin tea service, detail of badger from USS Wisconsin and USS New York – Some of Bonnie’s pictures.

USS San Francisco silver onboard USS Carl Vinson – More of Bonnie’s pictures.

Maryland State Silver—Additional information about the Maryland State Silver collection

USS Maryland Silver—In Annapolis, MD.