The Appraiser’s Diary: American Eagle Emblem of Our Republic

By Rachel Hoffman
   The American eagle is the emblem of our republic and one of the most beloved collectibles to be found in every state. The collecting of American eagles promotes an interest in the history of the United States and unites us as a people.
   In 1782 the United States Congress chose the bald eagle as the national emblem. It is on many of the nation’s coins, seals, and medals. The American people adopted this emblem because the bald eagle is strong and proud and free. It represents power, courage, and dignity. The talons of the eagle have enabled it to defeat mountain lions in battle.
   The bald eagle is a majestic bird. Its wingspan may measure more than six feet from tip to tip. It is best known for its keen sight and strong beak and claws. Bald eagles eat mostly fish, which they catch by diving into the water from great heights. They usually place their nests in the top of tall trees.
   The bald eagle is represented in many wonderful artifacts. It has been carved in many types of wood from our native trees. The emblem has also been fashioned in metals. It is featured in jewelry, and it is printed or sewn on fabric. It appears in scenes on ceramics, porcelain, china, and glass, especially hand-painted dinnerware.
   Folk artists have created many remarkable items inspired by the eagle. Fine artists have taken the bald eagle as a theme in beautiful paintings. (John J. Audubon spent years painting the eagle in its natural habitat.) Commercial artists have often used it in advertising. Children are fond of the exquisite image of the eagle so it has been a decorative device in children’s rooms and used on toys and on instruments.
   The bald eagle is also well represented in American heraldry. It has been dramatically painted in the colors of red, white, and blue, so dear to the hearts of our people. Antiques depicting the bald eagle are plentiful and great to collect.
   One popular depiction of the American eagle has it bearing a ribbon in its beak that reads E Pluribus Unum. Another popular depiction has the eagle carrying a laurel wreath and a palm branch. Variations and details of each depicted eagle make it special. When we visit various museums across the country, we see how often and how cherished the emblem of the eagle has been throughout our history.
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