Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State

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Web Property of the U.S. Department of State

Object Details

ca. 1789
United Kingdom: England (possible)
metal; fused plate
Overall: 8 1/16 in x 11 in x 6 7/8 in; 20.47875 cm x 27.94 cm x 17.4625 cm
Northeast Auction, August 20-21, 1994, lot 476
"Presented by Washington at the expiration of his Presidency to T. Pickering, Secretary of State of the U.S."
Credit Line
Funds donated by Mrs. Frank L. Wright in memory of her husband
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number

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Object Essay

Shortly after his election as first president of the United States, George Washington began to acquire silver and fused-plate objects that would allow him to entertain in a manner befitting his new office. In October 1789 he asked Gouverneur Morris to procure for him, in London or Paris, “Plated Coolers, Mirrers [sic], and Table ornaments.”1Kathryn C. Buhler, Mount Vernon Silver (Mount Vernon, Va.: The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, 1957), 50. Washington had the services of a French confectioner who was able to create the sugar ornaments displayed on mirrored plateaus, and he was anxious to have one like those owned by “Mr. Morris & Mr. Bingham . . . and the French and Spanish Ministers.”2Ibid., 49. Along with the plateau Washington ordered several wine coolers of specific designs: 

Of plated ware may be made I conceive handsome and useful Coolers for wine at and after dinner. Those I am in need of viz. eight double ones (for Madeira and claret the wines usually drank at dinner) each of the apertures to be sufficient to contain a pint decanter, with an allowance in the depth of it for ice at bottom so as to raise the neck of the decanter above the cooler; between the apertures a handle is to be placed by which these double coolers may with convenience be removed from one part of the table to the other. For the wine after dinner four quadruple coolers will be necessary. . . . The reason why I prefer an aperture for every decanter or bottle to coolers that would contain two and four is that whether full or empty the bottles will always stand upright and never be at variance with each other.3Ibid., 50.

In addition to these private purchases, a much larger quantity of plate and plated ware was furnished by the government for his use. When he left Philadelphia, the president left a large portion of his private “table furniture” behind. On August 14, 1797, Washington wrote to Secretary James McHenry and mentioned the double wine coolers, requesting, “Not for the value of the thing, but as a token of my friendship and as a remembrancer of it, I ask you, Colonel Pickering, and Mr. Wolcott to accept, each one of the two bottle Coolers; I think there are three of them.”4Ibid., 71–72.

The coolers thus became valued gifts. This example is inscribed “Presented by Washington at the expiration of his presidency to T. Pickering, Secretary of State of the U.S.” (See also Acc. No. 94.13) 

Barbara McLean Ward 

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.