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Smith Duggan wins Replevin Action for Ivy League University

Historic Presentation Sword Ordered to be Returned To Brown

In a case spanning four decades, five states and a century of history, Smith Duggan obtained a judgment for Brown University ordering the return of a Tiffany Civil War presentation sword that had been taken from a special collection at the University in the 1970s. The sword, designed by Tiffany & Company in 1863, was presented to Colonel Rush C Hawkins, founder and regimental commander of the 9th New York Volunteers, the famed “Hawkins Zouaves.” The 9th New York fought in many of the major battles and engagements in the eastern theater during the first two years of the Civil War, during which Colonel Hawkins was twice wounded. When his service ended, he was presented with a magnificent Tiffany sword by 50 prominent citizens of New York City.

Hawkins donated the sword, along with a number of Civil War artifacts, rare books and art pieces to a Memorial named for his late wife, Annmary Brown, granddaughter of one of Brown University’s founders. Title to the Memorial and its contents, including the sword, ultimately were transferred to Brown University. In the 1970s, a curator found the Tiffany Sword and other artifacts missing from the Memorial and reported it to his superiors, who pursued private efforts to recover the missing pieces, but never reported the theft to public authorities or the Art Theft Register.

In the 1980s, the Sword was purchased from an Illinois collector by Donald R. Tharpe, one of the leading collectors of Civil War presentations swords in the world. He took it to his home on Virginia where he occasionally displayed it at a small museum near Norfolk, Virginia. In 2010, a local citizen, who was familiar with Colonel Hawkins and the sword, saw it and reported it to Brown.

Brown hired Chris Duggan to recover the sword. Immediately after hearing of the sword’s location, the Firm filed a Complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia, Brown University v. City of Newport News, et al, 4:10-cv-00167 to enjoin transfer of the sword and for Detinue, a cause of action under Virginia law similar to Replevin in other states. Success required knowledge not only of the law of personal property of several states, but also statutes of limitation, laches, and a thorough knowledge of the history of both the artifact and individuals involved.

Despite the fact that 40 years had passed between the time the theft was discovered and the suit was filed, Smith Duggan prevailed at trial and won a judgment for Brown with an Order that the sword be returned to the University. It has recently been returned to its rightful place at Brown University. For the opinion written by Magistrate Judge Douglas Miller, see Brown University v. Tharpe, et al, 2013 WL 2446527.