Jeff Bridgman Antique Flags
Home  /  Sold Antiques

Dimensions (inches): 4" tall x 23" wide x 1.5" deep
Carved wooden eagle, attributed to the shop of the most renowned, American, 19th century carver of the form, John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914). A prolific artisan and entrepreneur, who considered himself more the former than the latter, Bellamy was employed by the U.S. Navy as a Civilian, during the Civil War, serving as the leading carver at Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston. Post war he continued to work for the Navy, then opened a shop in Boston in a building that also housed a Masonic Hall. Here he made all sorts of things for a fraternal audience, as well as others. Eventually he left for New Hampshire. Renting bench space at first in Portsmouth and working alongside other carvers, before relocating to his own space at 17-18 Daniel Street.

Although Bellamy’s career as a carver began in his boyhood town of Kittery, Maine in the 1850’s, he appears to have carved his first two stand-alone eagles (meaning those not a part of something else) in the fall of 1872, when working in Portsmouth. One of these he produced as a commission for a man by the name of Oscar Leighton, who lived on the Isles of Shoals, an archipelago bridging the border between New Hampshire and Maine. The other he carved in order to have one on hand to sell. He then began producing others and selling them all over the greater Portsmouth area. He established production-line methods in order to turn out carvings in quantity. Smith describes them as being “like snowflakes in a storm, alike but different” (p. 37). By 1873, Bellamy had carved so many that, according to author Yvonne Brault Smith, he exclaimed, “If I stay here a short time longer [I] shall have them [eagles] over every door.” * (p. 21).

Many of Bellamy’s eagles are gilded. Some are painted white and some are of natural wood. I acquired and sold a grey example, which was an unusual variant. Most are decorated in red, white, and blue paint, sometimes including black. Many had streamers, often with patriotic text. Because his works were both commissioned and produced for open stock, anything was plausible.

Diminutive in scale and delicate, this is one of Bellamy’s graceful, elongated forms, made in miniature. Carving of this sort, intended for mounting on a flat, vertical surface, were his bread and butter. Sold as decoration for ships’ stern boards, for over doorways, or to decorate the fronts of private homes, organizations, businesses, government offices, etc., they were produced in an array of styles, and have been documented in a wide scope of lengths, among which this particular example is the smallest that I am aware of.

One of the largest and most memorable Bellamy eagles, perhaps 14-16 feet in length, adorned a fire hall in Portsmouth. The wall-mounted varieties were produced for any location, really, indoors or out, wherever patriotic decoration was desired.

At just 23”, this particular eagle seems even smaller. In spite of being pretty good at estimating scale, without stopping to think or measure, at a glance I would have declared that this example had a wingspan of 16” – 18”. Having had 26” eagles, I would have never believed this was just 3” shorter. Something about the sleek and narrow design is deceiving with regard to the perception of length. The trait is both unusual and endearing, and the carving is particularly great for above an early painting or a small, framed, antique American flag. Except for the sweeping shield, decorated with a small amount of blue and red, and some red used to highlight the eye and tongue, the remainder of the bird is natural, with beautiful, golden brown patination and great, early surface.

* Smith, Yvonne Brault, “John Haley Bellamy Carver of Eagles,” (1982, Peter E. Randall, Portsmouth, NH).

Condition: A break in the beak was at some point repaired. Though well done, I sought to improve its appearance and was successful in making it less visible.
Primary Color: brown
Earliest Date: 1875
Latest Date: 1910
For Sale Status: Sold
Price SOLD
Page Views:... 190