Constitution Collectibles

The Story of the U.S. Frigate Constitution (Old Ironsides)

The Story of the U.S. Frigate Constitution (Old Ironsides)

John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, 1927

Robert Bachman Archive, Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

From stirring poems to publications to souvenirs made from material removed during restorations, USS Constitution has long inspired people to channel their sentiment toward the ship in creative ways. Commemorative USS Constitution collectibles first became popular in the 1830s, when Isaac Hull ordered all wood and copper removed during the restoration sent to Washington to be fashioned into souvenirs.

Interest in the ship remained strong throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. When Congress stipulated that the 1927-1931 restoration be funded primarily through popular subscription, the “Save Old Ironsides” campaign fashioned and sold souvenirs to raise funds for the repair. Individuals, fraternal societies, and public and private organizations joined the cause. Artist Gordon Grant was commissioned to create a painting of Constitution at sea, and lithographs of the work sold by the thousands. The US Naval Institute and the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company printed and sold commemorative souvenir booklets highlighting scenes in the ship’s history. By the end of the campaign, nearly $985,000 had been raised through donations, fundraising efforts, and the sale of souvenirs.

In 1947, the US Postal Service announced that it would issue a 3-cent stamp to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ship’s launch in 1797. Architect Andrew Hepburn designed the commemorative stamp, using plans, ship models, and archival sources in the final design, which featured a starboard line-drawing of USS Constitution under an arch of 16 stars (representing the 16 states at the time of her launch), and flanked by two cannon - a nod to the ship’s prowess in the War of 1812. Unveiled on board USS Constitution on October 21,1947, the stamp was issued on a series of commemorative first-day-covers, and featured a “First Day of Issue” cancellation.

Although Constitution has only been featured on two stamps - the 3-cent stamp from 1947 and a 2012 Forever stamp commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 - she has garnered longstanding interest from the philatelic community. During the 1931-1934 National Cruise, hundreds of thousands of commemorative cachets, or illustrated envelopes, were sent to Constitution’s Postal Clerk, Harry Moore, to be canceled on board!

Constitution Collectibles