A Rare Emblematic Eagle

It is interesting to trace the adoption of the eternal eagle as a national symbol for the United States in the first fifty years of its existence, and its adaptation in Europe and Asia by entities eager to take advantage of the new American market. The eagle has been used in heraldry since time immemorial, so it took more than baldness to make it American (remember, Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey for the national symbol, in part (I think!) because eagles were so universal). There’s a very informative essay on “Eagles after the American Revolution” at the Metropolitan Museum’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (a resource I use often) which commences its analysis with Edward Savage’s Liberty, reproduced on reverse-pained glass in China for the American market around 1800. The image shows the former American emblem, a native goddess representing Liberty, passing her torch to the new not-very-bald American eagle.


Chinese reverse-painted glass depiction of Edward Savage’s 1796 print “Liberty”, c. 1800, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

And after that, a veritable explosion of American eagles, appearing in all sorts of poses and forms before standardization occurs. There is a relatively rare eagle emblem from this era that seems so Salem to me: a triumphant seafaring bald eagle rides into a harbor on a shell boat, with shield and flag brazenly displayed. The harbor looks more romantic than federal, but still, the image seems to represent the commercial and maritime foundations of the American enterprise. This past weekend, I almost purchased a saucer bearing one of these “Eagle riding on/in a shell” images, but ultimately decided it was too dear. Manufactured by only one Staffordshire pottery firm, R. Hall & Son, in the 1820s and 1830s, it seems to be one of the few transferware patterns that has held its value over the past decade.








“Eagle Riding on a Shell” transfer-printed pottery in green, blue, rose and black made by the Ralph Hall Factory, Tunstall, Staffordshire, England, 1822-40, from the Collections of the Winterthur Museum, Skinner and Northeast Auctions–interspersed with some centennial textiles made by the American Print Works in Fall River, Massachusetts in the 1870s (another era of eagle creativity), collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum

3 responses to “A Rare Emblematic Eagle

  • Brian Bixby

    Your post got me wondering about how the eagle has been used on U.S. coins. The general rule turns out to be that the larger the denomination, the more likely it was to be used. See list following:

    Half cent piece (1793-1857): never.
    One cent piece (large and small, 1793-present): Flying Eagle, (1856) 1857-1858
    Two cent piece (1864-1873): never.
    Three cent piece (silver and nickel, 1851-1889): never.
    Five cent piece (half dime and nickel, 1794-present): 1794-1837
    Dime (1796-present): 1796-1837
    Twenty cent piece (1875-1878): always
    Quarter (1796-present): 1796-1998
    Half dollar (1794-present): always
    Dollar (all metals except gold, 1794-present): 1794-1935, 1979-2008
    Dollar (gold) 1849-1889): never.
    Quarter eagle (1796-1929): always
    Half eagle (1795-1929): always
    Eagle (1795-1933): always
    Double eagle (1849-1933): always

    Note that this table only covers standard issue coins for general circulation (no commemorative or bullion coins), and that there are often gaps in production.

    There are a number of different eagle designs represented here, as even the same denomination often used many designs, but to describe them without pictures would just be to load up your comment section with babble.

    • daseger

      Oh Dear, Brian, I hope I didn’t inspire you to lose your morning!

      • Brian Bixby

        It took a bit longer than I planned, but I started coin collecting in my youth, so I knew what to look for. Besides, I was curious myself, having never thought about the use of eagles as a specific issue. Maybe there’s a post in there for my history blog on the different styles of eagles used, and why they were used as they were. So, take no blame. 🙂

Leave a Reply