November 04, 1999
Ship was setting for tea service
By LISA ANN MYERS
Silver tea pitcher set from the USS New Jersey's tea service. Pieces of the collection are on display at Drumthwacket.
He's only 9, but Elijah Hamilton considers himself a history buff. In class, the Parker Elementary School fourth-grader pays close attention to his lessons and imagines himself living in various periods in history.
But history books could not compare to the history lesson he received recently at Drumthwacket, the governor's official residence in Princeton. While standing inside the formal dining room, the Trenton boy and 39 of his classmates were privy to an extravagant piece of history that few people know about.
“I didn't know there was a tea service on a battleship,” Elijah said while pointing to the custom-made silver tea service that was once aboard the USS New Jersey.
Drumthwacket offers tours of the grounds and the history behind the tea service.
“I learned a lot today,” Elijah said. “The tea service was made by Tiffany and Co., and important men in the military used it. It's pretty nice and it sparkles, too. It's got a lot of stuff on there about New Jersey. I like learning about New Jersey it's where I live.”
In 1902, long before Elijah and his classmates were born, construction of the first battleship USS New Jersey began. And with the construction came the $10,000 commission to purchase a silver dining service for commanding officers aboard the ship.
Traditionally, states with naval battleships purchased tea services to be used by ships' commanders.
Hand-crafted by Tiffany, the service was used aboard both the original battleship and its World War II successor.
“The set itself is absolutely amazing,” said Daphne Townsend, executive director of the Drumthwacket Foundation. “Each piece tells a story about New Jersey.”
The punch bowl, the largest and most opulent piece of the 101-piece set, bears symbols of the state and the national flag engraved on its sides. At the base of the bowl, female figures symbolizing liberty and prosperity sit on intricately carved waves.
A candelabra with nine candles bears the seal of New Jersey. At its base are four eagles' claws. Smaller items include goblets, urns, bowls and a gold-lined salt bowl known as a salt cellar.
The tea service was in use on the original battleship until the pieces were moved to the cruiser USS Trenton in 1923, when the battleship was purposely sunk during a bomb test.
For the next 67 years, the tea service would be aboard several different ships and survive World War II and the Korean War until it finally found a home at Drumthwacket.
Today, most of the pieces are in storage. But a few pieces sit on the residence's dining room table.
Jacqueline Pinchom of Trenton is responsible for polishing each piece by hand.
“It takes about three days to do everything,” Pinchom said. The set is polished three times a year. “I've been polishing the silver since 1990 but I don't get tired of it. I'm happy that New Jersey has such a beautiful piece of history.”