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Eagle Signboard

1821-1841
Origin: America, New England (probably)
Overall (Including iron rings at top of object at time of receipt): 31 5/8 x 21 3/4 x 2 1/2in. (80.3 x 55.2 x 6.4cm) and Sign proper (excluding iron rings at top of object at time of receipt): 29 7/8 x 21 3/4 x 2 1/2in. (75.9 x 55.2 x 6.4cm)
Oil on panel
Gift of Juli Grainger
Acc. No. 2008.707.1
A double-sided hanging sign, the design the same on each side: a spread eagle set within a circle of 13 red stars connected with one another by double green lines, all on a white ground. The eagle bears a red and black vertically-striped shield in front of him and 4 arrows in one claw, a laurel branch in the other. A green-painted molded wood frame surrounds the whole, a strip of molding running horizontally across the work near the bottom to form a lower section of the panel on which is painted a year date. Two modern iron rings support the work from the top.

Artist unidentified.
Label:Nineteenth-century signboards usually combined symbols and texts, but many lacked wording altogether. Strictly pictorial signage was far more effective than present day travelers and shoppers might imagine. Inns, taverns, and other businesses depended heavily on word of mouth. Anyone who needed this proprietor's services or goods would have been directed quickly and readily to "the sign of the eagle." Business owners' names usually appeared in broadsides and newspaper notices but often ran last, in small size typeface, almost as afterthoughts, with primary focus being given to the businesses' symbols. Wordless signage had a distinct advantage, too: when the business changed hands, costly re-lettering was unnecessary. The eagle sign does bear an alteration, however. The date at the bottom once read "1821." For whatever reason, the operation's 1841 owner must have wished to signal a new beginning.

Obviously, the owner of the eagle sign was a patriot, proud of that fact, and eager to attract a like-minded clientele. A spread eagle bearing a striped shield on its chest was the central motif of the Great Seal of the United States of America adopted in 1782; rapidly thereafter, the image gained recognition as a symbol of the new nation. As in many other cases, the eagle here is surrounded by thirteen stars standing for the original thirteen colonies.

Provenance:G. W. Samaha, Milan, Ohio; Stephen-Douglas Antiques, Rockingham, Vermont; purchased from the last by AARFAM's donor in 1989.
Inscription(s):On each side of the sign, at the bottom in each case, is lettered "1841." The date appears to have been painted over a pre-existing date of "1821."