By John Hart, Jr., Director
When a unique object presents itself, it’s not always available for long and oftentimes museums and collectors might hear the worst words ever: “It’s not for sale.” Persistence and luck then become the name of the game.
Several months ago, a longtime friend of the museum and Norwich came in and told the staff he had found a Norwich University uniform coatee, dating to around the late 1880s and 1890s. That alone was music to our ears as wool uniforms don’t tend to survive and finding one that early is a treat. Unfortunately, it turned out the coatee wasn’t for sale—yet. A few weeks passed and our friend, Paul Abare, still couldn’t put his hands on it, and then it disappeared. Everyone was disheartened, especially when it was determined the uniform had a Northfield maker’s tag still in it. After another few weeks a coatee matching its description was found on eBay. Could this be the one spotted by Paul all these months ago?
Sure enough, it was, but available now to the entire world, and so the fun began. Calls to museum supporters and historians of Norwich all ended with the same result: this coatee is a must-have. Anyone familiar with eBay knows when bidding against faceless users the big question is “How high will this go before I win?” Somehow, thankfully, the museum came out on top and won the uniform jacket.
The coatee was made by George B. B. Denny in Northfield, Vermont, and is believed to have been worn by his son, Ralph, who attended Norwich University from 1887‒1888. An original advertisement taken from The Reveille around the time the uniform was likely made presents Denny as a source for uniforms, all tailored to each cadet. The coatee now resides in the 200 Years—200 Objects exhibit, side-by-side with other uniforms with similarly interesting stories about their acquisition.