Chinese Export Porcelain Plate from George Washington's Society of the Cincinnati Service
ca. 1784-1785; and later
“Accept, my dear friend, as a mark of my esteem and affection, a tea set of porcelain, ornamented with the Cincinnati and your cypher,” wrote Samuel Shaw in 1790 to David Townsend, one of at least six friends to receive tea sets from Shaw decorated with the badge of the Society of the Cincinnati, the cypher of the recipient, and neat black-wave borders. Benjamin Lincoln, William Lithgow, Henry Knox, Constant Freeman, and William Eustis, all members like Shaw and Townsend of the Massachusetts chapter, were the other recipients of tea sets, of which partial sets survive. Examples from the Eustis service are preserved in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.1For a review of these sets, see Feller, 763–66. The consistency of execution suggests they were all decorated at the same time and are dated by this note to Townsend.
Although the most famous Cincinnati service is the one owned by George Washington (see Acc. No. 72.27), the consistently fine painting of these six tea sets, and a seventh that Shaw had made for himself, distinguishes them from general China-Trade porcelains of this era.
Shaw first sailed to China in February 1784. From 1786 to 1788, he was in China again and was appointed First Consul in Canton (Guangzhou) by Congress. He lived there a third time, from 1790 to 1792, but died during his fourth voyage, in 1794.2DAB, s.v. “Samuel Shaw.”
Shaw’s first attempts at having china decorated with the Cincinnati badge were probably based on an early painting of the emblem. However, these later tea sets, because of their detail, seem to have been copied from the badge itself. The emblem was first painted by Major Pierre-Charles L’Enfant (1754–1825), Chief Designer to the United States, following the 1783 organizational meeting. He was also charged with procuring the badges in Paris during the fall and winter of 1783–1784.3Detweiler 1982, 83. Realized by goldsmiths Nicolas-Jean Francastel and Claude-Jean Autran Duval, the badges were ready for the first general meeting of the Society in May 1784. Shaw, of course, missed this meeting but would have received his badge on his return from China in 1785 and had it available for the Chinese decorators on subsequent voyages.
The obverse of the medal pictures Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus accepting implements of war from three Roman senators, with his wife standing in the background. The medal’s reverse shows Cincinnatus being crowned by Fame, with a scene of the rising sun, ships, and city gates.
William Eustis (1753–1825) was a surgeon during the Revolution, but moved gradually into politics shortly afterward and sat for six years on the Massachusetts General Court (1788–1794).4DAB, s.v. “William Eustis.” He later served two terms in the United States House of Representatives and under two Presidents, Jefferson and Madison, as Secretary of War (1807–1812). He was also Governor of Massachusetts from 1823 to 1825. In his official capacity and as a member of the Society of the Cincinnati (Vice President, 1766–1810 and 1820), Eustis entertained Lafayette in Boston during Lafayette’s 1824 tour.
Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.