Mirror from Spanish-American War

06/20/2014 12:00 AM

06/19/2014 5:35 PM

Q: This mirror was given to my dad by his dad. It is 18 inches by 18 inches and is embossed with the pictures of “Sampson,” “Dewey” and “Bolson.” Across the bottom it says “Remember the Maine” and has the embossed picture of a ship. It also has three hooks to use for hanging strops for sharpening straight razors. Any information about this mirror and its value would be appreciated.

A. M., Cincinnati

A: This charming turn of the 20th century mirror was made to commemorate “victories” and notable events during the 1898 Spanish-American War. This 10-week skirmish was fought in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and brought about the end of the Spanish Empire.

It was the result of the U.S. intervention in the Cuban War for Independence and the war cry was “Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain” (but that slogan is generally cleaned up a bit). This refers to the tragic sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, with the loss of about three-quarters of its crew.

The disaster was blamed on a Spanish mine, but in all likelihood was caused by a fire in the coal storage area that spread to the forward ammunition storage area with explosive results. The three men featured with the Maine are Adm. George Dewey, one of the main heroes of the war; Rear Adm. Richmond P. Hobson and Rear Adm. William T. Sampson, who were two other popular heroes of the conflict.

Hobson and Sampson are not names familiar to most modern Americans, but Hobson took credit (rightly or wrongly) for the utter destruction of the entire Spanish Caribbean squadron fleet of Spanish Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete at the battle of Santiago Bay. Many, however, gave the credit to Rear Adm. Winfred Scott Schley who was actually in charge of the American fleet during the victory, with Sampson on shore talking strategy.

Hobson, on the other hand, was practically the matinee idol of the Spanish-American War. He scuttled his boat, the collier Merrimac, in Santiago harbor to try and bottle in the Spanish squadron — but to no avail.

Sampson was captured and held as a prisoner of war. When he was released, he became the darling of the newspapers and many young American women. When traveling by rail, his train was often mobbed by women, and he became known as the “most kissed man in America.”

Adm. George Dewey is the hero of Manila Bay and is remembered for the quote, “You may fire when ready, Gridley.” Many objects were made to commemorate Dewey and his associates — and this mirror/hat rack is one of them.

This diamond-shaped mirror was also a hat rack and most households used it in the hallway, but A. M.’s family had another idea. They used it in the bathroom where the hooks held razor strops rather than coats and hats, and we suspect that worked just as well.

There are actually two versions of this mirror. This one is the more commonly seen (and less valuable) of the two. The other one has the Maine, Dewey, “Our Boys ‘98” and at 26 inches on a side is larger than the type of mirror in today’s question. As for value, the 18-inch piece with the three admirals has an insurance replacement value of approximately $125 to $175, the value of the larger 26-inch version with the two admirals is probably twice that much.

Write to Joe Rosson, P.O. Box 27419, Knoxville, TN 37927, or email treasures@knology.net. If you'd like your question to be considered for the column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus.

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