Object of the Month

Longfellow House - Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site has a large museum collection consisting of thousands of objects, many of which are not regularly displayed in the house's furnished exhibit rooms. Every month, an object will be featured on this page, providing a look at an unusual piece from the collection.

 
A brass seal that belonged to Alice Longfellow, it features a laurel wreath around a fasces, a bundle of rods surrounding an axe.
On the desk in Alice Longfellow’s second floor study is a small brass seal for impressing a mark in wax. The seal is formed in the shape of a fasces, a bundle of rods bound together around an axe. The fasces was used in ancient Rome as a symbol of authority and was often seen carried by lictors, people charged with protecting and assisting the official invested with that authority. The bottom of the seal is engraved with a stylized “AL”, for Alice Longfellow.

Why did Alice Longfellow have a brass seal shaped like a fasces? We do not know the answer for sure, but one possibility is that it had to do with her admiration for the fascists who assumed power in Italy in the 1920s.

Alice traveled to Italy repeatedly, first as part of her family’s Grand Tour in 1868-69 then again in 1913, 1922, and 1927. She had a great love of Italian culture, and was distressed to see the unrest and general chaos the country was thrown into after the end of World War I. She was in Italy in 1922 when Benito Mussolini and the fascists marched on Rome and assumed control of the government. She recorded her experiences of this 1922 trip in an essay titled “The Fascisti as I Saw Them.” In her essay she gave an extremely positive view of the Italian fascists saying “The Fascist government is clearly favorable to every solution which favors individual initiative, and the free development of the energies of labor in the economic field.” On a subsequent trip in 1927 she was received by Mussolini, and presented him with a copy of her father’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The seal is not listed among the items in Alice’s Study in a 1912 inventory, but does occur in a later survey done in 1954, indicating that Alice acquired it between 1912 and her death in 1928. Exactly why and when she acquired it may never be known for sure, but the prospect of a connection between the seal and Alice’s views on the fascists in Italy seems promising.

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