Sousa’s Pewter Ship Decanter Restored

This pewter ship decanter was given to John Philip Sousa by Chicago’s Civic Music Association on November 2, 1924 to celebrate his 70th birthday on November 6th.  The Sousa Band was on its second 1924 tour which began on June 21st with a concert at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania and ended on November 16th with an evening concert at New York City’s Manhattan Opera House.  This tour included stops in Chicago, Bloomington, Springfield, Decatur, and Urbana, Illinois between November 2nd and 5th.  During the band’s performance in Chicago, Chicago Mayor William Emmett (1923-1927) proclaimed November 2nd “Sousa Day” in honor of the March King’s birthday.  The inscription on the decanter reads, “To the young conductor, Lieutenant Commander, John Philip Sousa, as a birthday token from some of his Chicago friends, 1924.”  While very little has been written about this unique object, it is likely that Sousa appreciated the gift because he found the country’s 18th Amendment (1920-1933) prohibiting the manufacture and consumption of alcohol a silly legislative exercise.

For decades this decanter languished in many broken parts and could not be exhibited.  However, with special funding that was provided by the University of Illinois Library’s Preservation and Conservation Department, the decanter was sent to Ohio’s McKay Lodge Laboratory and Fine Art Conservation for restoration, and was returned to the Center in late November 2018.  The restoration work by this lab’s staff has been extraordinary given the original condition of this decanter, and plans are being developed for an exhibition of this very special museum object in 2019 to highlight Sousa’s disdain of America’s 18th Amendment during the final years of his life.

A very special thank you goes out to the staff of McKay Lodge Laboratory and Fine Art Conservation for a job well done, and the University Library’s Preservation and Conservation Department for their financial support.  For further information  about this ship decanter and Sousa’s 70th birthday please contact the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at either 217-333-4577 or

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