NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- A Virginia judge has ordered a Williamsburg antiques collector to return a Civil War-era sword that was stolen from Brown University in the 1970s.
The sword and ornamental scabbard were first presented to Col. Rush C. Hawkins by a group of prominent New Yorkers in 1863 for his service to the Union during the Civil War. Hawkins' name is inscribed on the scabbard, and the sword is inscribed with the names of battles fought by his regiment.
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The sword and scabbard were included in the Annmary Brown Memorial, which Hawkins built to honor his wife, that became part of the Rhode Island university in 1948. The memorial was closed in the mid-1970s as the university worked through budget problems, and when it was reopened the sword and other items were missing.
The sword was passed among dealers for years before Donald Tharpe, a prominent Civil War presentation sword collector, bought it in 1992 for $35,000.
Brown had unsuccessfully tried to recover the sword before Tharpe bought it. The Providence-based university filed a lawsuit in 2010 after Tharpe loaned it to Lee Hall Mansion in Newport News.
Tharpe had argued that the school waited too late to try to recover the sword and scabbard, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Miller disagreed.
"Although Brown could have pursued recovery with greater zeal, its delay in filing this action was primarily due to the deliberate efforts of Tharpe's predecessor, who attempted to thwart its recovery when the Sword first surfaced in 1992," Miller said in his ruling, issued Wednesday and reported by The Virginian-Pilot .
An attorney for the university said the judge made the right call.
"Brown, as the true owner, was entitled to get its property back," said the attorney, Christopher Duggan of Boston.
"Colonel Hawkins was a true American hero, which was why he was presented with this Tiffany sword in 1863 by prominent citizens of New York. It belongs with the Colonel's collection at the Annmary Brown Memorial," he said in an email.
Tharpe's attorney did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. It is unclear whether Tharpe will appeal the ruling.
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