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A VERY RARE CHINESE EXPORT 'LADY WASHINGTON STATES CHINA' DISH
A VERY RARE CHINESE EXPORT 'LADY WASHINGTON STATES CHINA' DISH

CIRCA 1795

Details
A VERY RARE CHINESE EXPORT 'LADY WASHINGTON STATES CHINA' DISH
CIRCA 1795
Centered by the initials MW within a sunburst above a red banner inscribed DECUS ET TUTAMEN AB ILLO, the rim encircled with the names of the fifteen states in a chain linked by gilt rings and enclosed by a thin blue snake biting his tail
8 1/8 in. (20.5 cm.) wide
Provenance
A Maryland family directly descended from Colonel William Nelson (1746-1807) of Yorktown, Virginia

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Becky MacGuire
Becky MacGuire

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Lot Essay

Martha Washington's 'States' tea service was presented to her by Andreas van Braam Houckgeest, arriving at the port of Philadelphia in April 1796 on his chartered ship, the Lady Louisa, and recorded in its ledgers as "Box of China for Lady Washington". Van Braam (1739-1801), a very successful director of the Dutch East India Company, had taken US citizenship in 1784 and planned to settle in Virginia. In 1794-95 he traveled extensively in China, including a visit to Jingdezhen and an embassy to the Qing court, memorialized in his influential work Voyage de l'Ambassade de la Compagnie des Indes Orientales Hollandaises, which he dedicated to George Washington. Van Braam designed the 'States China' himself, apparently feeling that a set of wares from his travels through China would be an appropriate introductory gift for the First Lady of his new country.
Van Braam placed the First Lady's linked initials within a laurel wreath and gilt sunburst, enclosing all with a chain of strength featuring the 15 states then admitted to the Union, a motif also featured on early currency designed by Benjamin Franklin. The slender blue snake symbolizes perpetuity. The motto (Decus Et Tutamen Ab Illo or "[Our Union is our] Glory and [our] Defense against [Him]," derives from Vergil's Aeneid. It was not a motto in use by Martha Washington but rather selected by van Braam as another gesture of respect for the ideals of the young country and its stand against tyranny.
The original order delivered to Lady Washington is believed to have included 45 pieces, 22 of which were recorded by J.G. Lee in 1984 as in public collections (Philadelphians and the China Trade, pp 88-89), including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. Recently shards from the service have been excavated at Mount Vernon, further diminishing the possible number of pieces left in private collections.
C.B. Cadou illustrates a covered cup and saucer at Mount Vernon in The George Washington Collection (p. 149), noting that Mrs. Washington bequeathed "the set of tea china that was given me by Mr. Van Braam" to her grandson George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857). The Nelsons of Virginia would have moved in similar circles as the Custis and then Lee family of Arlington House and Virginia plantations. Col. William Nelson was active in the siege at Yorktown, his grandfather was a governor of colonial Virginia 1770-71, his uncle Thomas Nelson, Jr was a signer and Secretary of the Virginia Council and his son settled at Fredericksburg.

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