WEST POINT, NY (May 13, 2016) - The West Point Museum will unveil a special exhibition entitled "American Presentation Swords." May 14.

Probably based on English precedent, the practice of presenting swords to military officers to recognize important service originated in this country during the American Revolution. Congress authorized such swords in 1777 for ten officers to recognize particularly important services, but these first presentation swords were made in France, and not until 1785. The first American made presentation sword dates to 1810, and was made in Baltimore, Maryland. Several swords commemorating actions in the War of 1812 were made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the late 1820's by the firm of Fletcher and Gardner.

By the 1830's, American made presentation swords began to appear on a larger scale, with most made by Nathan Ames of Springfield, Massachusetts. Ames had the design sense, talent and contacts to dominate the market. By the Civil War, about 25 firms, including Tiffany & Co., manufactured presentation swords, although imported foreign-made examples were still available. In many cases, local firms simply engraved names and presentation inscriptions on otherwise standard swords. The practice of sword presentation diminished after World War I, but has continued to the present day in much simplified and more mass produced form.

The swords in this exhibit are mostly custom pieces that date from the Mexican War through the end of the nineteenth century. We invite visitors to look closely at these swords and to spend some time absorbing their decoration and workmanship; they are full of symbolism and visual references to a recipient's service and accomplishments, and the sentiments of those who presented them.

The exhibition American Presentation Swords remains on view from May 14, 2016 to May 1, 2017 in the Foyer Gallery at the West Point Museum.

The West Point Museum is open at no charge to the public, seven days a week, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. The Museum is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.