George Washington's wine cooler presented to Alexander Hamilton, England, 1789. Estimate: $400,000-600,000. Sold for: $782,500. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2011.
NEW YORK, NY.-
A Sheffield-plated silver wine cooler, ordered by George Washington in 1789, and given to Alexander Hamilton in 1797, sold at Christie’s during Americana Week for $782,500, exceeding its estimate of $400,000-600,000. This four-bottle wine cooler is an exceptionally well documented historical object, symbolizing the famous partnership between Washington and Hamilton in the early days of the republic. It was sold by direct descendants of Alexander Hamilton and bought by Americana expert, Gary Hendershott.
Jeanne Sloane, Deputy Chairman, Head of Silver, comments, “We are thrilled with the result of this unique piece of American history—the only three-dimensional object known to connect Washington with Hamilton, his most important collaborator.”
The four-bottle wine cooler is one of four commissioned by George Washington in 1789 to be used for entertaining after dinner. Detailed correspondence between Washington and his emissary, Gouvernor Morris, who was tasked with procuring objects to outfit the President’s House, describes the great level of forethought Washington devoted to creating an appropriate style for the new country.
In response to Washington’s admonition to “avoid extravagance,” Morris wrote to Washington in 1790, “I think it of very great importance to fix the Taste of our Country properly, and I think Your Example will go very far in that respect. It is therefore my Wish that every Thing about you should be substantially good and majestically plain; made to endure.”
Embodying this intent to be majestically plain, the elegant wine cooler is simply decorated with lion’s mask and ring handles. The choice of Sheffield-plated silver, a layered combination of silver and copper, instead of solid silver, emphasizes the founding fathers’ preference for austerity.
Jean-Antoine Houdon, Portrait Bust of George Washington, 1785
Washington’s fastidious attention to detail is demonstrated in his letter to Morris where he specifies the design of the cooler, “with an allowance in the depth of it for ice at bottom so as to raise the neck of the decanter above the cooler…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.”
An inventory written by Washington when his presidential term was through describes the silverware bought by him and by the federal government. Of the four coolers that he purchased, Washington took two to Mount Vernon, sold one, and he presented the fourth to Hamilton, underscoring the importance to Washington of their 22-year relationship.
The letter that Washington sent to Hamilton with the wine cooler was engraved on the object by Hamilton’s descendants in the mid-19th century, thereby ensuring that its remarkable history would never be lost.
The inscription reads, “My dear Sir, Not for any intrinsic value the thing possesses, but as a token of my sincere regard and friendship for you, and as a remembrance of me, I pray you to accept a wine cooler for four bottles. It is one of four which I imported in the early part of my late administration of the Government, two of which were ever used. I pray you to present my best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me to Mrs. Hamilton, and the family, and that you would be persuaded that with every sentiment of the highest regard, I remain your sincere friend, and affectionate humble servant: Geo. Washington.”
A George III sealed wine bottle, 1789, deep-green glass with string-rim and high basal kick, seal moulded C.H.H Sillaton 1789, 8.75in.
NOTE: The wine cooler is so beautiful and its history is so interesting and affecting. I thought of saving this to post on George Washington’s birthday, February 22nd, which was also my brother’s, but couldn’t wait. In any event, no one remembers George Washington’s (or Abraham Lincoln’s) birthdays any longer. They’re just two former presidents lumped in with all the rest (e.g., Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, James Buchanan) in our democratized Presidents Day holiday/sale. “Substantially good; majestically plain; made to endure.” How superb and how marvelous to see this aesthetic reflected in Washington’s inscription to Hamilton. No George Washington wine bottle images could be obtained, so I’ve supplied another bottle from another George from the same vintage. It reminds me a lot of the final stage of the “evolution of the port bottle” display at Berry Bros. in London, which along with the crafting of a hand-beaten silver spoon exhibit in the window of James Robinson in New York, should be included in everyone’s life itinerary.