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USS Comfort (AH 6) Pennant (NHHC 2019.075.005): This pennant is from the former USS Comfort (AH 6), the second of three hospital ships to bear that name. The Curator Branch collects a wide variety of material to include rare textiles such as this. The contemporary USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), also a hospital ship, was recently deployed to assist with the current Covid-19 pandemic in New York City.

Curator Day 2020

By Jeffrey Bowdoin, Curator Branch Head, Naval History and Heritage Command

USS Comfort (AH 6) Pennant (NHHC 2019.075.005): This pennant is from the former USS Comfort (AH 6), the second of three hospital ships to bear that name. The Curator Branch collects a wide variety of material to include rare textiles such as this. The contemporary USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), also a hospital ship, was recently deployed to assist with the current Covid-19 pandemic in New York City.

Today we celebrate Curator Day! On April 28, 1930, Acting Secretary of the Navy Ernest Jahncke appointed Captain Dudley Knox (ret) as the Curator for the Navy Department. While this appointment solidified Captain Knox’s authority to collect and preserve those “relics, memorials, and tokens of historic value”[1] to support a potential national Navy museum, the Navy had been collecting artifacts for several decades prior to his appointment. In 1908, a 400-ounce sterling silver trophy was donated to the Navy by the city of Spokane, WA to serve as an award for the “battleship or armored cruiser making the highest final merit with all of her turret guns”[2]. This trophy is the first accessioned artifact in the Navy’s central artifact collection.

Spokane Trophy (NHHC 1908-001-A): This trophy, originally awarded for skills in a ship’s gunnery, has evolved over time and is currently awarded annually by CINCPACFLT for the surface ship considered the most proficient in overall combat systems readiness and warfare operations. The first ship awarded this honor was the USS Tennessee (ACR 10) in 1908.

In the decades following the appointment of Dudley Knox as Curator for the Navy, the collection and preservation of historically significant artifacts continued to grow and evolve to meet the changing needs of the Navy. Correspondingly, the methods of artifact acquisitions also evolved over time. While donations such as the Spokane Trophy continued to occur, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), and its various predecessor organizations also began collecting directly from other Navy commands. Property regulations were amended to provide the Curator for the Navy the authority to retain objects including but not limited to ship’s bells, trophies, and other “relics and materials of historic interest”.[3] These changes authorized the Curator for the Navy to collect directly from those Navy commands, allowing Dudley Knox and his successors a means to preserve the Navy’s rich material culture. The command also became integrated into the official ship decommissioning process. This provided the Curator for the Navy the ability to obtain material culture from every Navy ship at the end of her service life, and continues to this day as one of the main drivers of new acquisitions to the central artifact collection.

USS Dolphin Bell (NHHC 2019.052.001): This bell was recently found to be online for sale for several thousand dollars. Curator Branch staff were alerted to this sale by a private citizen who was concerned that the bell would be sold to a private collector, and they took it upon themselves to purchase and ship the bell to the Curator Branch for long term preservation and care.

Today the Director, Naval History and Heritage Command, RADM (ret) Sam Cox, is also the Curator of the Navy. On his behalf, the Curator Branch executes the day-to-day management of the central artifact collection, totaling approximately 300,000 artifacts that span the entire history of the U.S. Navy. We are proud to manage such a significant naval collection and happy to commemorate this 90th anniversary of the appointment of the first Curator for the Navy.


[1] SECNAV ltr SONYD-0-MEW, Al2-2 (300415) dtd 28 April 1930

[2] Letter from acting SECNAV to commander Atlantic fleet and USS Connecticut, 1908-001 accn file

[3] Navy Property Redistribution and Disposal Regulation No. 1, 1949