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Collector must turn over Civil War sword

A Norfolk federal court has ordered a private collector to return a Tiffany presentation sword to Brown University, from where it apparently was stolen prior to 1977.

In 1863, 50 prominent citizens of New York presented the Tiffany silver sword to Colonel Rush C. Hawkins, a lawyer who led a Civil War regiment, the 9th New York Volunteers, known as “Hawkins’ Zouaves.” The sword was part of a memorial collection the Hawkins family left to the university, in honor of Hawkins’ wife Annmary Brown, a descendant of the founders of Brown University.

After a years-long skirmish over the sword, Norfolk U.S. District Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Miller ordered Donald R. Tharpe, a renowned collector of Civil War antiquities who is based in Williamsburg, to hand over the sword.

Tharpe had purchased the sword in 1992 for $35,000 from another collector who showed it at an antique arms show in Gettysburg, and he claimed to be a bona fide purchaser.

But Brown established the Tiffany sword was stolen, Miller said, so Tharpe’s status as a bona fide purchaser would not defeat the school’s claim.

“Although Tharpe may have purchased the Sword for value in good faith, he did not obtain good title to it,” as the thief could not convey good title to anyone, the court said.

On June 5, Miller ordered the sword and ornamental scabbard returned to Brown University, as the “lawful owner, and custodian of Col. Hawkins’ legacy.”
–Deborah Elkins

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