George And Martha Washington's China
IN the long and apparently extravagant orders which George Washington sent to England previous to the Revolutionary War, for the purchase and exportation to him of dress goods and house and table furnishings of various descriptions, I find no mention of table china. In 1759 he wrote for " four Fashionable China Branches or Stands for Candles," and for " Busts of Alexander the Great, Charles XII. of Sweden, Julius Caesar, and King of Prussia, fifteen inches high and ten wide. Others smaller of Prince Eugene & Duke of Marlborough. Two wild Beasts twelve inches high and eighteen inches long, and Sundry Small Ornaments for the chimney piece." As these were to be "finished neat and bronzed with copper," or to be gilt, they were doubtless all of plaster or some similar composition. A portion of the items in the order were sent to him, the wild beasts being " Two Lyons." These two plaster "Lyons," shorn of their golden lustre and painted ignominiously black, stood for years over a doorway at Mount Vernon, were inherited by Lawrence Washington, and sold in Philadelphia on April 22, 1891, for thirty dollars.
I can find no hint of any china possessions of Washington until the War of the Revolution was gloriously ended. He had plenty of pewter—dinner dishes of that humble metal with his initials and crest are still pre-served. His camp-service of forty pieces was entirely of pewter, and I doubt not the greater part also of his home table-furnishings in his early married life.
In his directions for remodelling and refurnishing his house at Mount Vernon, after the expiration of his terms as President, he ordered that a small room be appropriated for " the Sèvres china and other things of that sort which are not in common use." Mr. Lossing says :
He undoubtedly referred to the sets of china which had been presented, one to himself, and the other to Mrs. Washington, by the officers of the French Army. The former was dull white in color, with heavy and confused scroll and leaf ornaments in bandeaux of deep blue, and having upon the sides of the cups and tureens, and in the bottoms of the plates, saucers, and meat dishes, the Order of the Cincinnati held by Fame personated by a winged woman with a trumpet. These designs were skilfully painted in delicate colors."
While this description of Mr. Lossing's is accurate as to the decoration of the china, if not as to the quality of the decoration, a china collector would at once discover that the " Cincinnati set " was not Sevres, but was plainly Chinese. It is the well-known dull white, hard paste of Canton manufacture, with a border of common-place Oriental design in deep blue under the glaze. Some of the pieces have (all, perhaps, had originally) a narrow rim of gilt on the outer edge, and a narrow line of gilt within the border. The rather insignificant and undersized figure of Fame has bright brown wings and trumpet, a robe of ight green, a scarf of bright pink, while the bow-knot sustaining the colored Order of the Cincinnati is light blue. This design is not painted at all skilfully but quite the crudely over the glaze.
Some of the covered dishes bear upon the cover the order without the figure of Fame. In a note made by Governor Lyon he states that this service was " made in Canton in 1784, the design being furnished by General Miranda." Though the design be insignificant and the execution crude, much interest is added to the Cincinnati china to know that the "most gentlemanlike of fillibusters " made the drawing for the decoration. That plausible and brilliant man who " talked so like an angel " that Americans, Russians, and Englishmen vied in endeavors to assist him in his visionary schemes; who helped to establish independence in America, to give freedom to France, to liberate his native land, Venezuela; who aided in freeing thousands of others, died himself in a Spanish dungeon a slave, a most miserable captive, in chains, with an iron collar around his neck.
No one was apparently better fitted to give information on the subject of the Cincinnati china than Governor Lyon, for he was a frequent visitor at Mount Vernon and Arlington House in the middle of this century ; he was also collecting facts and details with a view to writing a "History of the Ceramic Relics of the Revolution." Unfortunately he relied much on his memory, and hence left few notes.
Much ignorance about this Cincinnati china is displayed, even by writers upon pottery and porcelain. The author of " The Ceramic Art " calls it Sèvres, and places the most Chinese-looking illustration of it along-side the print of equally Frenchy Sèvres vases. That careful observer and exact recorder, the author of " The China Hunters' Club," falls into no such error, and though unable to examine specimens closely, says " they looked like so-called Lowestoft, and may have been Chinese, English, or of some French factory." Another well-known writer says that this set was given to Washington in 1780.. As neither the Society of the Cincinnati, nor its badge, existed until 1783, this statement is palpably false.
The authorities at the National Museum, and all the owners of pieces of the set, consider that it was presented to General Washington by the entire Society of the Cincinnati, and not by the French officers alone, as Mr. Lossing states. It would seem probable that had the French officers made the gift, it would have been of French china of some elegance, instead of such commonplace Chinese porcelain. Hon. Hamilton Fish, the President of the Society of the Cincinnati, tells me that the general society, and, as far as known, the individual State societies, have no records of the gift of this china to Washington ; nor have I seen any letters, any entries, any notes of the time, to prove, or even hint, that this china was the gift of the Society of the Cincinnati. Though Martha Washington mentions the set in her will, she does not specify it as a gift, as she does the " set given me by Mr. Van Braam."
While I have never seen any statements to prove that this set of china was the gift of the Society of the Cincinnati, there is in the possession of Ferdinand J. Dreer, Esq.,' of Philadelphia, a letter which would seem to indicate that Washington may have bought the china himself, or, at any rate, it proves that china with the decoration of the badge of the -Cincinnati was ordered for the general American market. The letter, which is very characteristic of Washington's thrift and prudence, is addressed to Colonel Tench Tilghman and runs thus:
MT VERNON 17th August 1785.
DEAR SIR : The Baltimore Advertiser of the 12th inst announces the arrival of the ship at that Port immediately from China, and by an advertisement in the same paper I perceive that the Cargo is to be sold by public Vendue on the first of October. next.
At what prices the enumerated articles will sell on the terms proposed can only be known from the experiment, but if the quantity at market is great, and they should sell as goods have sold at vendue bargains may be expected.—I therefore take the liberty of requesting the favor of you, in that case, to purchase the several things contained in the enclosed list.
You will readily perceive my dear sir, my purchasing or not depends entirely upon the prices—If great bargains are to be had, I would supply myself agreeably to the list. If the prices do not fall below a cheap retail sale, I would decline them altogether or take such articles only (if cheaper than common) as are marked in the margin of the Invoice.
Before October, if none of these goods are previously sold, and if they are, the matter will be ascertained thereby, you will be able to form a judgment of the prices they will command by Vendue—upon information of which, I will deposit the money in your hands to comply with the terms of the Sale.
Since I began this letter I have been informed that good India Nankeens are selling at Dumfries (not far from me) at 7/6 a pc this Curr F— But if my memory has not failed me, I used to import them before the war for about 5S sterl. If so, though 5o per cent is a small advance upon India Goods through a British channel (and the duties and accumulated charges thereon) yet quaere ? would not 7/6 be a high price for Nankeens brought immediately from India, exempted from such duties and charges ? If this is a conjecture founded in fairness, it will give my ideas of the prices of the articles from that country and be a government for your conduct therein, at or before the day appointed for the public Vendue.
With the highest esteem and regard
I am Dr Sir,
Yr affect friend and Obedt Serv't
Invoice of Goods to be purchased by Tench Tilghman Esqr on account of Geo Washington agreeable to the letter accompanying this of equal date.
A sett of the best Nankin Table China
*1 Doz. small bowls blue & white
6 Large Mugs or 3 mugs & 3 jugs
17th August 1785.
* With the badge of the society of the Cincinnati if to be had.
The sentimental and high-flown announcement in the Baltimore Advertiser of—the arrival of the vessel-referred to by Washington reads thus :
" On Tuesday evening last arrived here, directly from China, the ship Pallas commanded by its owner Capt. O'Donnell. She has on board a most valuable Cargo consisting of an extensive Variety of Teas, China, Silks, Satins, Nankeens, &c., &c. We are extremely happy to find the Commercial Reputation of this Town so far in-creased as to attract the attention of Gentlemen who are engaged in carrying on this distant but beneficial Trade. It is no unpleasing Sight to see the Crew of this Ship, Chinese, Malays, Japanese and Moors with a few Europeans, all habited according to the different Countries to which they belong, and employed together as Brethreh ; it is thus Commerce binds and unites all the Nations of the Globe with a golden Chain."
The advertisement of the auction sale is also given :
"To be sold at Public Vendue at Baltimore on the 1st of October next in Lots The Following Goods Just Imported in the Ship Pallas, direct from China : Hyson Teas, of the first Quality in Quarter-Chests and Canisters of about 2i lb each ; Hyson Tea of the second sort in Chests ; Singlo, Confee, Hyson-Skin, and Gunpowder Teas of the first Quality in Chests ; and a large Quantity of excellent Bohea Tea Table-Sets of the best Nankin blue and white Stone China; white stone and painted China of the second Quality in Sets Dishes of blue and white Stone China 5 and 3 in a Set; Stone China flat and Soup Plates; Breakfast Cups and Saucers of the best blue and white Stone China in Sets; Evening blue and white Stone China Cups and Saucers ; Ditto painted ; Ditto with the Arms of the Order of Cincinnati; Bowls—best blue and white Stone China in Sets; blue and white Stone China Pint Sneakers Mugs—best Stone China in Sets ; small Tureens with Covers; Wash-Hand Guglets and Basons; brown Nankeen of the first and second Quality ; plain, flowered and spotted Lustrings of all Colours ; Satins, the Greatest Part Black; Peelongs of different Colours, in whole and half Pieces; Sarsnet of different Colours ; embroidered Waistcoat Pieces of Silks and Satins; Silk Handkerchiefs, very fine, and 20 in a piece ; spotted and flowered Velvets; painted Gauzes; Bengal Piece-Goods and Muslins, plain flowered and corded; Silk Umbrellas of all Sizes ; elegant Paper-Hangings ; japanned Tea-Chests ; Ditto Fish and Counter Boxes; Sago; Cinnamon and Cinnamon Flowers ; Rhubarb ; Opium ; Gamboge; Borax ; very old Battavia Arrack in Leagures ; with Sundry other Articles ; the enumeration of which would take up too much Room in a Public Paper."
Then follow the terms and methods of the sale.
Though this inventory is of special interest to us on account of the specification of the china with the Arms of the Order of Cincinnati, the other items also merit attention as showing the goods and merchandise imported at that date to America. And the strange, obsolete names of the china articles excite our curiosity. A "guglet" is a juglet or little jug; and the word "sneaker" is not a low Baltimorean Americanism, but good old Addisonian English ; for we read in The Freeholder, No. 22, these lines : " After supper he asked me if I was an admirer of punch, and immediately called for a sneaker." A sneaker was originally a smaller drinking mug or beaker than was ordinarily used, and was drunk from by a "sneak-cup," that contemptible creature who wished to shrink from his convivial duties by " balking his drink," or, to speak plainly, who wished to drink less than his companions fancied he ought to. It came gradually to be used as the name of a small mug, and as such frequently appears in the inventories of china made and sold at Worcester. Washington was no " sneak-cup," he boldly and liberally ordered large mugs instead of pint sneakers.
We can well imagine the pride of Washington as he read this announcement of the arrival of the ship direct from China with its load of rich goods, his pride in the prosperity and increasing commerce of the new Federal nation. The Pallas was the second ship only to arrive in the United States direct from Canton—for Canton was at that date the only Chinese port open to European and American vessels.
Watson, the author of the " Annals of Philadelphia," states that the first ship to bring porcelain direct to America from China was commanded by Captain John Green, and sailed patriotically from New York on February 22d, Washington's birthday, 1784, and landed in return on May 11, 1785. He says : " I have now a plate of the china brought by him—the last remaining of a whole set." This ship was the Empress of China, and one of her officers was Captain Samuel Shaw, a brave Revolutionary officer who had been one of the original and active founders of the Society of the Cincinnati ; in fact, one of the framers of the constitution of the society. Thus it is easy to see the means and manner by which the pattern of the figure Fame bearing the Cincinnati badge, which had been drawn by General Miranda, was conveyed to China. It is possible, of course, that Captain Shaw brought home with him in the Empress of China the " Cincinnati set," as a gift for General Washington ; but General Knox had a similar set. It remained in his great china-closet at his beautiful home in Thomaston, Me., until the year 1840. A two-handled cup of this set, bearing General Knox's initials as well as the Order of the Cincinnati, sold for twenty-one dollars at the Governor Lyon sale in 1876. Two of the plates that had belonged to General Washington's set sold at the same time for one hundred dollars each. Though I have had two of these Cincinnati plates offered to me by dealers, within a year, for a smaller sum, one with an authentic history cannot now be purchased for less than three hundred dollars. A plate and bowl were sold by Sypher in 1890 for six hundred dollars. At the Loan Collection held at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in 1889, on the occasion of the centennial celebration of the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, there were shown several pieces of the Cincinnati china that had belonged to Washington, one plate belonging to Luther Kountze, Esq., of New York ; a plate and saucer belonging to Edmund Law Rogers, Esq., of Baltimore, who is a grand-son of Eliza Parke Custis, the granddaughter of Martha Washington. Mrs. Caleb Lyon also exhibited two plates, a tray, and teapot. These pieces, with a pickle leaf and " small terreen," are now in the possession of Miss Lyon, of Staten Island, and from them the illustrations on page 231 were taken. There are no fewer than forty pieces of this set in the National Museum it Washing-ton ; most of these were purchased by the Government from the Lewis family in 1878.
" The set of china presented at the same time by the French officers to Mrs. Washington was of similar material, but more delicate in color than the General's. The ornamentation was also far more delicate, excepting the delineation of the figure and Cincinnati Order on the former. Around the outside of each tureen and the in-side of each plate and saucer is painted in delicate colors a chain of thirteen large and thirteen small elliptical links. Within each large link is the name of one of the original thirteen States. On the sides of the cups and tureens, and in the bottom of each plate and saucer, is the inter-laced monogram of Martha Washington—M. W.—enclosed in a beautiful green wreath composed of the leaves of the laurel and olive. Beneath this is a ribbon upon which is inscribed, in delicately-traced letters, ` Deals et tutam enabillo.' From the wreath are rays of gold which give a brilliant appearance to the pieces. There is also a delicately colored stripe around the edges of the cups and saucers and plates."
This description conveys an excellent idea. of the set to a careless observer, but is not wholly correct. The "delicately colored stripe" is a blue and gold snake with his tail in his mouth-a significant emblem. There are fifteen long and fifteen short links instead of thirteen, Kentucky and Vermont having at that time been added to the thirteen original States. And the motto upon the pink ribbon scroll to me appears to be, " Decus et tutamen ab illo." Mr. Lossing also says : " At that time the china like that presented by the French officers was only made at the Sèvres manufactory, the art of decorating porcelain or china ware with enamel colors and gold being then not generally known." This, of course, is an incorrect statement, since it was at the time of the greatest splendor in the English factories. The decoration of china with gold was forbidden for some time in France except in the Sevres factory, but this Martha Washing-ton set is not Sèvres. It is apparently Chinese. Mr. Lossing wrote me* a long letter on this subject. In it he says that the French officers would not have sent as a gift to Washington china from any factory save Sèvres; but it seems now to be very doubtful whether this set was the gift of the French officers. In the National Museum at the Smithsonian Institution are pieces labelled, " Presented to Martha Washington by LaFayette." There is no authority for the ascription to Lafayette of the gift of this china. The only reason given at the National Museum for thus labelling it is a good one—that the ticket was on the china when it was in the Patent Office in 1871, and so it will still be kept on it until some good evidence is brought that such a label is incorrect. The pieces exhibited at the Loan Collection in 1889, by individual owners—Edmund Law Rogers being one—were marked as the gift of Mr. Van Braam. Mrs. Beverly Kennon, of Washington, D.
is the niece of George Washington Parke Custis, and owns a cup and saucer of this set. She tells me that the " Martha Washington china was presented (so said my mother and uncle—both grandchildren of Mrs. Washington—who certainly ought to have known) by General Washington's early friend, a Hollander named Van Braam. It was made in China and painted in England." Mr. Custis thought that Mr. Van Braam was a merchant in China; the Dutch at that time had the closest business connections with that country. Miss Lyon also says that Mr. Custis told her that the set in question was the gift of Mr. Van Braam. In addition to all this testimony in favor of Mr. Van Braam, may be given the clause from Martha Washington's will, referring to the "sett of china given me by Mr. Van Braam." Captain Van Braam was a friend of Washington's youth and taught the future President the art of fencing. The gay fencing-master cut but a sorry figure at a later. date, being more than suspected of treason and unsoldierly behavior.
Though neither of these sets were of Sevres porcelain, Washington is said to have owned two sets of Sèvres. In the National Museum are twenty pieces of a service called Sèvres that belonged to him, and which he used both while he was President and at Mount Vernon. At the Governor Lyon sale a white Sèvres plate, catalogued as having belonged to Washington, brought twelve dollars. Miss Lyon still owns a custard cup of the set. It has a pretty gold " dontil " rim and a gilt cherry as a knob on the cover. It bears the Sèvres mark.
Another white and gold breakfast service, marked " Nast "—a well-known French china-maker—also be-longed to Washington. Miss Mary E. M. Powel, of Newport, has a coffee-cup and saucer of the set. It was presented to Colonel John Hare Powel, of Powelton, by Mrs. Custis, in 1812. The butter-dish of this service is illustrated in " Mount Vernon and its Associations."
Another white and gold set of Canton china still has existing pieces to show its character. This was probably a dessert service. A berry-dish and two dessert-plates were sold in Philadelphia, in 1890, for H. L. D. Lewis (one of the Washington heirs), for fifty dollars. They were purchased by the Washington Association of New Jersey (and can be seen at their building in Morristown), with a cup of white porcelain with maroon ribbon and wreath decoration, which also came from Mount Vernon. Still other pieces of Washington china were sold in Philadelphia in 1891, among them portions of a set of Crown Derby with tiny sprigs and flowered border. Pieces of this set were owned by the late William Henry Harrison, Esq., of New York.
A very interesting plate is in the possession of Doctor Allan McLane Hamilton, of New York. It was given as a keepsake to Mrs. Alexander Hamilton by Mrs.. George Washington. It descended from Mrs. Hamilton to Philip Hamilton, the father of the present owner. It is of French porcelain, twelve and a half inches in diameter, with slightly crenated edges. On the left rim it is decorated with a festoon of oak leaves with gold acorns ; on the right with a border of Iaurel or myrtle. Above is a lyre with a garland—both in gold. In the centre of the plate is an eagle, perched upon a bundle of thunder-bolts, while on his head are the thirteen stars, all in gold ; beneath, in script, are the letters G. & M. W., surrounded by a wreath of roses and forget-me-nots. This plate is unique, the remainder of the service being either lost or destroyed.
In the diary of Baron Von Closen, under the date of July 19, 1792, this entry is found : " On my arrival Mrs. Washington requested me to invite Count de Custine who was then at Colchester—with all the officers of his regiment, to dinner for the next day. The Count accepted the invitation with ten officers of the regiment, and sent Mr. Bellegarde before him with a very valuable present, a set of china coming from his own manufactory at Niederweiler, near Pfalzburg, in Lorraine. It was ornamented with a coat of arms and initials of General Washington, surmounted by a laurel wreath, and was received by Mrs. Washington with most hearty thanks." I can well believe the latter statement, for this Niederweiler china was by far the most beautiful in quality, decoration, and shape that Washington ever possessed. The pieces were all slightly different, the only universal decoration being a beautiful cipher of Washing-ton's initials surrounded by a golden-brown cloud back-ground, and surmounted by a tiny rose-wreath. The other decorations were of festoons or interlaced wreaths. A saucer of this set, owned by J. Chester Lyman, Esq.,is now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was given to Timothy Dwight, Mr. Lyman's ancestor, by Mrs. Custis. The design on this piece consists of festoons of very delicate leaves in various shades of gold. Another piece has wreaths of tiny roses around t h e edge. A sugar-box and bowl, owned by Mrs. Beverley Ken-non, of Washing-ton, bear still different designs. A covered jug of the set is here shown. The mark on this china was the inter-laced Cs, the stamp used by Count Custine, and it also is numbered "No. 29." Martha Washington divided this set among her three granddaughters during her lifetime, which is the reason it is not mentioned in her will.
At Mount Vernon are two beautiful dishes which were presented to the Association by Mr. Corcoran, and are said to have been George Washington's. One is a salad or berry-dish, seven and a half inches square and an inch and a half deep; the edges are irregularly and gracefully scalloped. There is a narrow rim of gold around the edge ; within, a wide band of blue broken by a chain of circular rings in gold, each enclosing a gold dot ; within this a narrow band of gold ; and a delicate gold beading forms the inside edge of the border. Little bunches and sprigs of flowers are scattered over the centre, having gold stems and leaves and blue blossoms. The plate has the same decoration. Both have the small blue S of the Salopian or Caughley works on the base.. Mrs. Russel, of Cambridge, Mass., has a plate of this set, which was given to her by Mr. Corcoran. These three pieces are evidently part of a dessert-service—but where are the other pieces ?
The "blue and white china in common use," referred to in Martha Washington's will, was of a kind familiar to us all, " old blue Canton." Several pieces of it are now in the National Museum. Miss Lyon has two dishes of rather better quality that came from Mount Vernon, Nankin china apparently. Others have recently been sold at auction in Philadelphia in 1891. Washington used this cheerful, substantial Canton china " for common use" on his everyday table, just as did every other good and wealthy American citizen of his day and time. Besides the pieces of blue and white Canton china which he ordered of Colonel Tilghman in 1785, Washington also wrote to General Robert Ridgway, on September 12, 1783, a long and carefully expressed letter ordering wine and beer glasses, and decanters and china. " If a neat and complete set of Blue & white Table China could be had upon easy terms, be pleased to inform me of it, and the price—not less than six or eight doz., however, and proportionable number of deep and other Plates, Butter-Boats, Dishes & Tureens will suffice. These things sometimes come in complete Setts ready packed ; should this be the case and the number of Pieces greater than what is here mentioned, I should have no objection to a case on that acc't."
Washington had very decided opinions and tastes about table-furnishings, as he had about dress. When wine was served to him and his visitors in some very ugly cups at Princeton, and he was told that the cups were made by a man who had since turned Quaker, he replied, with his cumbersome and rare humor, that it was a pity the man had not turned Quaker before he made the cups.
The china of Mary Washington did not go to her illustrious son. By her will, made in 1788, she left to her grandson, Fielding Lewis, half my crockery ware, half my pewter, and my blue and white tea china," and to her granddaughter, Betty Carter, the other half of the crockery and pewter, and " my red and white china." Perhaps she fancied the General had enough china, as he apparently did.
Washington progressed in mantel decoration somewhat beyond the plaster " Lyons " and busts that decorated the home of his early married life. The mantel vases described by Mr. Lossing, and shown in an illustration in his book, were sold in Philadelphia, in February, 1891, for four hundred and fifty dollars each. They stood about eighteen inches high, were decorated with butterflies and flowers on a dark-blue ground, and had covers surmounted by the Dog Fo. Other vases which once graced the chimney-pieces of Mount Vernon are still owned by members of the Custis family. The profuse mantel decoration of today was, however, undreamt of by him.
There are many other pieces of table china now in existence, and proudly shown, that are said to have be-longed to Washington. Doubtless their owners consider that they have sufficient proof of the authenticity of their relics, but as I know not the value of their proofs I will not mention their china. I think, with the great number of punch-bowls that once belonged to Washington, and that are mentioned in another chapter, with the vast assortment of rich glass-ware that once was owned by Washington, and that is now in the National Museum, in other public and in many private collections, that the amount of china already named will quite swell up a value far beyond the item in the sworn inventory of the executors of George Washington's will Glass & China in the China Closet, & that up-stairs & that in the cellar, $800." What would be a relic-lover's estimate of the value of that glass and china today ?
( Originally Published Early 1900's )