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Friday, January 28, 2011

Spanish American War Collectibles- USS Maine & USS Olympia Frosted Glass Windows

Spanish American War commemorative frosted glass window depicting the USS MAINE
A while ago an associate of ours brought in to our gallery this antique architectural window that they had bought for a room of a previous residence that they owned. The etched artwork of this famous U.S. Navy battleship is impressive and the window frame is a wonderful architectural piece from the turn of the last century. Though unquestionably a period window made around the time of the  Spanish American War, there's no provenance included concerning the maker or it's original use.

So here's a question for you American naval history buffs. What is the history of this etched glass window depicting the USS MAINE? Was it possibly a window panel from the ship itself? This is what we recently discovered about this rare Spanish American War item.

I was recently watching a re-run of the PBS program "The History Detectives," an episode that I had not seen before that certainly piqued my curiosity. The case was from season 6, episode 7 that originally aired on PBS August 11, 2008 titled "USS OLYMPIA GLASS."  The History Detective Wes Cowan had traveled to to a farmhouse in Fremont, Nebraska to examine an elaborately designed etched glass window of the USS OLYMPIA. The owner, Earl Pederson wanted to know if this fragile glass door once took part in a decisive battle during the Spanish-American War.

HISTORY: On February 15, 1898,  the battleship USS Maine exploded in Cuba’s Havana harbor killing 260 American officers, sailors, and marines. The U.S. government and media blamed Spain for the atrocity, giving expansionists a reason for war. A nation divided over expansion now united against a common enemy. On the morning of May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey steams into Manila Bay in the Philippines for a critical confrontation with the main fleet of the Spanish empire. For the next seven hours, the harbor is set ablaze in a barrage of exploding shells. When the battle is over, the world has been transformed. Ten Spanish ships have been destroyed, and the naval might of the once-great Spanish empire lies in ruins. Dewey’s victory in turn launches America onto the world stage. He returns home a national hero.

Now, on a salvaged door installed in an old farmhouse, the owner thinks he may have part of Commodore Dewey’s flagship –  a window salvaged  from the historic vessel.

Spanish American War commemorative frosted glass window depicting the USS OLYMPIA.
Earl had written a letter and sent it to the museum and got the reply back that this window was from Admiral Dewey’s quarters. In 1977 he made a rubbing of the window and mailed it to the Cruiser Olympia Association, a nonprofit group of veterans and enthusiasts who were then in charge of preserving the retired ship. The association told Earl that they believed the window had once been on the ship, and may even have seen action in the Philippines. They acknowledged that they couldn't pinpoint the exact date the window would have been installed onboard. Numerous alterations were made to the Olympia throughout its naval history. But they were confident that the window is authentic.

After meetings with USS OLYMPIA experts, the consensus is that this kind of a glass window could have been aboard the Olympia at that particular time. The Olympia was built specifically to be the flagship of the Asiatic squadron, the Captain’s and Admiral’s cabin particularly were replete with the finery of decoration that were all necessary for entertaining dignitaries.

This led the detectives to a meeting with Jesse Lebvoics, the  manager of the USS OLYMPIA now permanently docked at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia for his opinion. It’s possible. The ship has refit several times, most aggressively in 1901-1902 where a lot of the ornate wood work and various other pieces were removed.

Jesse referred to the original 1895 as-built blueprints and the spaces that are mentioned in that letter from the Cruisers Association: the Admiral’s cabin and the Captain’s cabin. The only window on the prints is located on the outside of the cabin. They measured the opening that turned out to be smaller than the 24 X 24 inch glass window. A second location not on the drawings was measured, but again the dimensions were wrong, concluding the there was no place on board that the window would have fit on this vessel.

So the mystery deepens. Craig Bruns at the Independence Seaport Museum was next on the list.  So History Detectives contacted him to see if he could help find an answer to the history of the window.

Craig explains that this was America’s coming out party as a world power, and Dewey was the face of
that glory. Dewey’s image became the hottest selling item…and in the postwar jubilation, even many of those
Americans once against war and expansion were caught up in Dewey-mania. Commemorative items of all types were produced in large numbers from dime store items to advertising products...everyone wanted to be on board. The window is just another piece of Dewey mania. From the smallest town to the biggest city, citizens had to have a Dewey artifact to express their patriotism: it was part of being American. But the glass window is an extremely rare Dewey memento. Most collectors haven’t seen anything like it, and remarkably, it’s survived intact for over a century.

M. A. Disbrow & Company, located at  1201 Nicholas Street, Omaha, Nebraska.
Since the airing of this episode of the "History Detectives" approximately six other examples of these windows have been reported to the staff at History Detectives. One person had some important information to share. He showed a catalog from M. A. Disbrow & Company, located at  1201 Nicholas Street, Omaha, Nebraska. This company specialized (as advertised on the sides of their attached buildings) "window & door frames, building & roofing paper, mouldings, sash, doors, blinds." Among a number of patriotic etched windows was the very same of the USS Olympia.

Etched glass window of the USS MAINE recently sold at auction.

Another etched glass window depicting the USS MAINE was recently sold  at auction. The description from the auction stated: C.1898 EXCEEDINGLY RARE ETCHED GLASS WINDOW USS MAINE
the glass is very detailed with etching of the USS MAINE that allows for a frosted and clear effect with period detailing. The window was purchased from the Rogers Bank Building in Nebraska which was built in 1894 and closed in the early 1930s after the depression years forced the doors to close.

Follow the link here to the architectural window with etched glass of the "USS MAINE" at Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery.

Follow this link here to watch the episode "USS OLYMPIA GLASS" on PBS "History Detectives."

Antique architectural window with frosted and etched glass
depicting the "USS MAINE" at Skipjack. 

 Skipjack Nautical Wares
& Marine Art Gallery
620 High Street, Portsmouth VA 23704 ~ 757-399-5012


  1. practical posts and more are the reasons why i always visit your website. So simple yet functional and interesting. Great!
    frosted glass

  2. I have an exact window of the USS Maine that was taken out of a door from our farmhouse in Iowa. It is beautiful!


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