The “Kearny Cloak” at Tiffany & Co., 1893.



The recent proposed annexation of the Sandwich Islands has revived much forgotten lore concerning the people of Hawaii and their history, and nothing perhaps is more interesting than specimens of the handiwork of this semi-barbarous people who possessed certain arts for ingenuity and patient labor that cannot be equalled by the boasted civilization of the nineteenth century. In Tiffany & Co.’s window, in Union Square, there is on exhibition for a few days a feather war cloak or namo, once the property of Hawaii’s giant King, Kamehameha I (The Lonely One), which tradition says cost the labor of several generations of skilled workers. The body consists of a fine network of homespun cord, make from the native hemp or olona, the meshes of which vary from an eight to a thirty-second of an inch; over this is laid the feather-work in small bunches of three or four feathers each, tied with a minute thread highly twisted, made from the same fibre. The cloak is almost semicircular in shape, and cut to fit in at the neck. The meshwork being made in sections of various shapes, allows it, when placed on a tall man’s shoulders, to fall in graceful lines about his body.

The body of the cloak is of red feathers, obtained from the iiwi (Vestiaria Cocinea). About a third of its surface, a boarder of some six inches and several crescent-shaped figures scattered over the surface are of the valuable yellow feathers derived from oo or uho (Acralocercos Nobilis), now said to be extinct, of which only one specimen is known to be in America, and that is in the Smithsonian collection. This bird is a trifle larger than the sparrow; its body is black; on the throat, at the base of the tail and under the wings there are little patches of small yellow feathers. The bird was protected by a taboo of death to any one, not a royal bird-catcher, from molesting it, and they were only allowed to capture it by snares of bird lime, made from viscid gum of the papala. When captured only four feathers were plucked and the bird released. This was done only once a year at the season of the most brilliant plumage.

An estimate of the value of this cloak may be formed by taking into consideration that at the beginning of this century five (5) feathers were worth a piece of nankum valued at a dollar and a half; there are probably over a million feathers in the cloak. The only other cloak like it in this country is in the Smithsonian Collection, and insured for $100,000.

The cloak was presented by Kamehameha III to the late Commodore Lawrence Kearny, U. S. N., on the occasion of his visit to Honolulu on a diplomatic mission from the United States in 1843, the king personally removing it from his shoulders and presenting it to the Commodore as a token of his esteem and regard, saying at the time, that it was his most valued possession. The Commodore brought it back with him to America, with other Oriental curios, and it was for many years one of the ornaments of his house at Perth Amboy, N. J.

Time has begun to tell on it a trifle, but it is yeat a glorious relic of a line of kings whose descendants may some day be counted as citizens of the United States.

(New York Tribune, 3/11/1893, p. 2)


New-York Daily Tribune, Volume LII, Number 16918, Page 2. March 11, 1893.

3 thoughts on “The “Kearny Cloak” at Tiffany & Co., 1893.

  1. This article has a very interestingly positive portrayal of Hawaiian people, vs. the common attitude of the time in the US press that Hawaiians were backwards and ignorant, and ruled by a corrupt queen who deserved to be overthrown.

  2. Hawaiian are not Americans. And they weren’t exactly kind about displaying our cloaks. A ot of what Tiffany said were that Hawaiian were savages. Hawaii is an illegal occupation and Tiffany used to be a weapons manufacturer. They liked displaying the displays of war. Especially colonizing war cheifs.

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