Skippets are boxes, usually of silver or gold, used to protect the official wax seals on important official documents. They were used by the United States in the nineteenth century, and only for major international treaties. Most skippets by American silversmiths survive in foreign archives. The design of the seal itself is usually reproduced on the top of the skippet, and the base and cover are generally pierced to accommodate the cords that attach the wax seal to documents.
The majority of American skippets are unmarked, but several District of Columbia silversmiths are known to have made them as special commissions for the government. For example, Charles A. Burnett (1760–1849) made the silver skippet for the Treaty of Ghent in 1815. Jacob Leonard (who worked about 1810 to 1825) was paid for four silver-gilt skippets in 1819. Seraphim Masi made four skippets in 1824, one in 1825, and several others over the course of his career, including several gold skippets for Commodore Perry’s expedition to China in 1852. Samuel Lewis (working from about 1850 to about 1870) made skippets until 1870, after which the practice of using these protective but expensive boxes was discontinued.1Brown 1978,140–41.
This unmarked skippet is a fine example of a rarely seen form that is unique to the purpose and mission of the Department of State. Inscribed with the words E PLURIBUS UNUM in block letters in a banner, the skippet is nearly identical to the silver-gilt, unmarked skippet attached to the Convention of Adjustment of Claims with Mexico, which was ratified February 8, 1829, and to a silver skippet attached to the Convention of Transit Way across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec with Mexico, signed in 1851.2Ibid., pl. I, 139, and pl. III, 138. The seal design was cast as a rather heavy plaque and is backed by a thin disk of plain silver to form the top of the cover of the shallow, drum-shaped box. The background of the plaque has been scraped and the raised design very carefully refined with chasing. The box itself is simply made of sheet silver. This skippet appears to date from the period when Seraphim Masi is known to have been supplying such items to the federal government.
Jennifer F. Goldsborough
Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.