An historic lot belonging to Captain Philo Norton McGiffin, West Point legend and founder of the Imperial Chinese Naval Academy
Lot 9133
An historic lot belonging to Captain Philo Norton McGiffin, West Point legend and founder of the Imperial Chinese Naval Academy
Sold for US$ 29,250 inc. premium

Arms and Armour

20 Jun 2011, 10:00 PDT

San Francisco

Lot Details
An historic lot belonging to Captain Philo Norton McGiffin, West Point legend and founder of the Imperial Chinese Naval Academy
An historic lot belonging to Captain Philo Norton McGiffin, West Point legend and founder of the Imperial Chinese Naval Academy
Comprising: 1) Captain McGiffin's Imperial Chinese naval officer's sword by Wilkinson of London; straight 32 inch blade, #24440, with double fullers and etched panel of conventional florals and the fouled anchor and dragon insignia of the Imperial Navy; gilt brass hilt, shagreen and wire-wrapped grip, with original blue-laced gold bullion sword knot; leather scabbard with gilt brass mounts. Together with letter from Wilkinson stating sales for July of 1881 and including a copy of the original proof. 2) His Chinese naval officer's dress coat, of fine black wool piped in black braid and black velvet, the sleeves with embroidered panels featuring the Imperial dragon and pearl. Fully lined, the toggles/buttons missing. 3) His Elgin pocket watch, 18k case embossed with florals, interior inscribed Philo N. McGiffin, U.S.N., brass chain with compass fob. 4) Two gilt brass Chinese naval officer's buttons by Firmin & Sons, London; one U.S. Infantry officer's button by D.L. Evans; small ring embossed with Chinese dragon. 5) Small carriage clock, the top inscribed Philo. N. McGiffin/Imp. Naval College/Tientsin-China. 6) A thirteen piece Kutani tea service given, according to family tradition, to Capt. McGiffin by Chinese Admiral Ting Ju Chang, Commander of the Chinese fleet at the Battle of the Yalu River. 7) A Japanese dagger in storage mounts, the mounted inscribed To Mr. McGiffin from G. Hayaki. 8) His inscribed copy of the New Testament. 9) A brass 12 gauge shell casing inscribed India 1888/Tiger Hunt together with a four page letter, on H.I.M.S. Chih Yuen (the battleship under McGiffin's command) stationary, to his mother about the tiger hunt. 10) Four cabinet photographs of Captain McGiffin, one depicting him in Mandarin robes, 1890; one in his study in China, 1891; one in Chinese Navy uniform, 1890; and one of him wounded, in his torn uniform after the Battle of the Yalu River, 1894. The latter two back marked Le Fong/Photographer/Cheefoo. 11) Three canes, two Japanese bamboo examples, one carved with personages, the other with a garden scene; the third an American folk art cane, the shaft relief-carved with two entwined snakes. 12) Leather-bound copy of The Battle of the Yalu, Personal Recollections by the Commander of the Chinese Ironclad "Chen Yuen", by Captain McGiffin, Mrs. Sallie McGiffin Henshaw's personal copy, probably taken from Century Magazine, 1895; 13) Real Soldiers of Fortune, Richard Harding Davis, 1906, containing a chapter on Captain McGiffin; two copies of the Strand Magazine containing their illustrated interview with Captain McGiffin; Madame Chrysantheme, by Pierre Loti, the cover stamped Philo N. McGiffin/Imp. Chinese Navy. 14) A group of Chinese and Japanese items owned by Captain McGiffin including a scroll of a tiger, a boxed fan, a mother-of-pearl inlaid shaving mirror, two woodblock prints, a silk panel embroidered with a dragon, a Tang style horse in patinated metal and a figure group of a sage on a kylin, a Chinese coin shrine, two ivory puzzles, an ivory brooch and a group of world coins, 19th century and later. 15) Various correspondence including: a) Three letters to his mother, written in 1885, 1890 and 1891, one on stationary from his vessel the H.I.M.S. Chih Yuen, and contained in two envelopes, one marked Imperial Naval College, Wei Hai W-- and mostly containing homely details of his life in China. b) Three letter to McGiffin from the Iowa State Register newspaper, 1885 and 1887, the earliest enclosing credentials (not present) authorizing him to act as correspondent during his time in the Orient. c) Three letters from the author Richard Harding Davis to Mrs. Sallie McGiffin Henshaw, requesting her assistance as he was writing the chapter on McGiffin for his book Real Soldiers of Fortune. d) Eleven letters from various friends and well wishers. e) Four letters to Mrs. Henshaw including one two page letter from Capt. McGiffin while on duty on the U.S.S. Constellation in 1881. f) Two letters from his friend Meta Anderson, dated 1887 and 1889. g) Several invitations and menus for meals given by Capt. McGiffin.
Condition: 1) Blade with some light spotting, sword knot worn, scabbard with surface scuffing. 2) Scattered minor wear.
See Illustration


  • Note: Philo Norton McGiffin, 1860-97, graduated from Annapolis in 1882. His career as a cadet is still remembered there for his practical jokes and ebullient sense of humor. After graduation he served one tour at sea but as the navy was quite small at the time there were only a limited number of commissions available and he did not receive one. Traveling to the Orient, he offered his services to the Imperial Chinese Navy and was given a commission as a lieutenant. He helped set up the Navy Academy in Tianjin and served as a professor there for nine years. At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War he was assigned to the Northern Fleet of Admiral Tang Ju Chang and commanded the battleship Chen Yuen. At the Battle of the Yalu River in 1894, a disastrous defeat for the Chinese, Captain McGiffin was wounded some 40 times as his ship received over 400 rounds of enemy fire but he was still able to bring her back to port. His severe wounds forced his retirement and return to the U.S. After three years of poor health and facing mental instability and losing his eyesight, he committed suicide in the hospital in New York City.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that the bold description should read "...Annapolis legend...," not West Point legend.
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