GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WINE COOLER PRESENTED TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON
Property of DESCENDANTS OF ALEXANDER HAMILTON including Helen Bowdoin Spaulding and Alexander Hamilton Spaulding
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WINE COOLER PRESENTED TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON

1790

Details
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S WINE COOLER PRESENTED TO ALEXANDER HAMILTON
1790
Sheffield-plated; bombé oval with two lion's-mask and pendant ring handles, each side with an engraved inscription, the removable cover with four circular galleries to hold bottles, each anchoring a removable wirework bottle sleeve, the base incised "2"
18 in. long over handles
Provenance
George Washington, ordered in 1789 for the President's House, and given upon his retirement to Mount Vernon in 1797 to

Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury from 1789 to 1795; then by descent as follows:

Eliza Hamilton (b. 1799), daughter, given to her brother
James A. Hamilton (1788-1878), third son of Alexander Hamilton, given to his son
Alexander Hamilton (b.c. 1816), given to his nephew
George Sullivan Bowdoin (1833-1913), great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, given to his daughter
Edith Grinnell Bowdoin (1869-1943), given to her nephew
George Temple Bowdoin, great-great-great grandson of Alexander Hamilton, given to his daughter
Helen Bowdoin Spaulding, present owner

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Lot Essay

The inscription on the front reads:

"Mount Vernon, Aug. 21, 1797

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 only 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.

Col. A. Hamilton.
New York."

The inscription on the reverse reads:

Given by his sister Eliza
to
James A. Hamilton. Oct. 17th. 1859.
Bequeathed by
Alexander Hamilton, son of James A. Hamilton,
to his nephew
George S. Bowdoin.
January 1890.
Given by his aunt Edith Grinnell Bowdoin
to
George Temple Bowdoin
April 6, 1919

George Washington's Four-Bottle Wine Cooler

The week before his inauguration at New York's Federal Hall in April 1789, George Washington and his family moved into the house at 1 Cherry Street, which had been leased as the President's official residence. As the seat of the republic's first executive, the house had been newly renovated by its owner and was outfitted with fashionable furniture, carpets, porcelain and silver suitable for its diplomatic function. Nevertheless, despite this effort and expense, Washington soon found the house too cramped to accommodate his large household, and, in February, decided to move to a more spacious and convenient residence at 39 Broadway. This house, which had been built in 1786 by local merchant Alexander Macomb, was formerly occupied by the French Consul the Comte de Moustier, who had been recalled to Paris by the National Assembly. In resettling the Presidential household, Washington arranged to purchase many of the French Consul's furnishings, the bill for which he footed himself.

Washington's decision to personally absorb the cost of furnishing and decorating the second Presidential residence reflected his opinion on the importance of shaping the new executive office's aesthetic and public image. Indeed, Washington was not alone in his desire to promote a dignified and lasting American style. The founding fathers were keenly aware of their legacy not only in politics and constitutional law, but in their role as tastemakers in the realm of architecture and the arts. In a letter to the President on January 24, 1790, Gouvernor Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and co-author of the Constitution, wrote:

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.

As Morris was on business in Paris in the autumn of 1789, Washington wrote to ask for his help acquiring various household items from English and French craftsmen. He described the wine coolers as he wanted them in extraordinary detail:

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 another. For the wine after dinner four quadruple coolers will be necessary each aperture of which to be of the size of a quart decanter or quart bottle for four sorts of wine. These decanters or bottles to have ice at bottom, and to be elevated thereby as above; a central handle here also will be wanting. Should my description be defective, your imagination is fertile and on this I shall rely...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.

Reinforcing his preference for objects of noble simplicity, Washington reminded Morris to avoid extravagance in his selection, "for extravagance would not comport with my own inclination, nor with the example which ought to be set." Morris adhered to Washington's instructions carefully, responding that "considering the simplicity of the Workmanship I had been much tempted to have them made of Plate, but I could not venture what would have looked so much like extravagance." The coolers and other items procured by Morris arrived in the United States in November 1790, just as Washington and his household were moving to the temporary capital of Philadelphia. The coolers remained there, in the dining room of the President's house on High Street, until the end of Washington's administration.

Before leaving Philadelphia in 1797 to retire to Mount Vernon after his presidency, Washington compiled a detailed inventory of household possessions, separating those items "Furnished by the U[nited] States," from those "Purchased by GW." The Sheffield-plated wine coolers, ordered through Gouvernor Morris seven years earlier, appear in the latter column. Of the four large coolers, Washington took a pair - the only two that had been used - with him to Virginia. He left the remaining large coolers in Philadelphia, and in August 1797 instructed his friend Clement Biddle to sell one and to send the other "by safe conveyance to Colo. Hamilton of New York."

Although Washington had presented three of the smaller wine coolers to former cabinet members as tokens of gratitude upon leaving office, his gift of the more significant four-bottle wine cooler to Alexander Hamilton, not only his military aide-de-camp but his Treasury Secretary, reflected the particularly close relationship the two men shared. Accompanying this gift, Washington enclosed a letter to Hamilton indicating his sentiments:

Mount Vernon, 21 Aug 1797
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, which Colonel Biddle is directed to forward from Philadelphia (where with other articles it was left,) together with this letter to your address.
It is one of four which I imported in the early part of my late administration of the Government; two only 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
Alex Hamilton Esq.

In his response one week later, Hamilton expressed his gratitude in a letter to Washington:

New York, August 28, 1797
My Dear Sir:
The receipt two days since of your letter of the 21st inst., gave me sincere pleasure. The token of your regard which it announces, is very precious to me, and will always be remembered as it ought to be. ...

This wine cooler has remained in Hamilton's family since he received it from Washington, and has been treasured by six generations of his descendants. Around 1859, the family engraved the text of Washington's presentation letter on the body of the cooler, along with the names of the descendants through whom the piece had passed. As an historical artifact, this wine cooler not only reflects Washington's desire to foster a suitable style for the new American government, but uniquely embodies the close relationship between the first President and his most important collaborator, Alexander Hamilton.




Hamilton and his "Aegis"

Upon hearing of Washington's death in 1799, Hamilton wrote
The General...was an Aegis very essential to me...
If virtue can secure happiness in another world,
he is happy.

Much has been written about the special relationship between Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, with some scholars suggesting a father-son bond. True, soon after they first met on the battlefield in 1776, Washington brought the twenty-two-year-old into his military "family," and often called Hamilton "my boy." But the essence of their relationship was really the perfect dovetailing of their talents: Hamilton's keen administrative genius, first as a military officer and later as architect of the United States's financial system, and Washington's popularity and political wisdom. Indeed, after Washington's death in 1799, Hamilton lost his protector, and found himself on the extreme of a two-party struggle which led to his fateful duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.

Born in Nevis, West Indies, in 1755 and essentially orphaned in St. Croix at age 13, the highly intelligent young Hamilton so impressed his employer, the owner of a counting-house, that in 1773, a group of St. Croix merchants funded his education on the American continent. He first attended a grammar school in New Jersey and then King's College (now Columbia University) in New York. As early as 1774, Hamilton had taken up the Revolutionary cause, writing his first political pamphlet, signed "A Friend to America." In 1776 Hamilton became captain of a New York artillery company and in the next year General Washington promoted him to lieutenant-colonel, making him aide-de-camp. Letters survive from this period in Hamilton's handwriting but signed by Washington, and it is thought that Hamilton contributed significantly to their content. After the Battle of Yorktown of 1781, in which Hamilton led a successful charge, he left military service, entered the New York bar, and became elected representative to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1782. In the years leading up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the prolific, almost restless, Hamilton helped establish the Bank of New York, formed an anti-slavery society, joined the New York legislature, and began his passionate lobbying for a strong central government. With John Jay and James Madison, he wrote the lion's share of 85 published essays supporting ratification known as The Federalist Papers, in which he stated that Americans must decide "whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."

When Washington became President in 1789, he appointed Hamilton Secretary of the Treasury, and in this position Hamilton's financial acumen was critical to the success of the new nation. Washington knew that he himself lacked economic expertise, and handed over the massive credit crisis and general post-Revolutionary financial disarray to Hamilton. Hamilton's now-famous economic plan was threefold: he directed the federal government to assume the states' war debts, he created a national bank, and he promoted American manufactures with a system of tariffs and subsidies. His mercantilist policy is considered to be the foundation of the modern American capitalist economy.

Although Hamilton had returned to private life in 1795, Washington continued to rely on Hamilton's brilliance, charging him to write the majority of the Farewell Address of 1797. The following year, when Adams asked Washington to prepare for possible war with France, Washington chose Hamilton to be second in command. After Washington's death in 1799, Hamilton succeeded him as President General of the Society of the Cincinnati. However, without the steadying influence of his mentor, Hamilton escalated his fight for the Federalist cause, polarizing the legislature and increasing the political division between the mercantile northeast and the agrarian south. After he twice thwarted the career ambitions of Republican Aaron Burr, he found himself in the duel of July 11, 1804, and died the following day.

On Hamilton's relationship with Washington, Ron Chernow has written that Hamilton "contributed philosophical depth, administrative expertise, and comprehensive policy knowledge that nobody in Washington's ambit ever matched. He could transmute wispy ideas into detailed plans and revolutionary dreams into enduring realities. As a team they were unbeatable and far more than the sum of their parts."



54557U
The Second President's House, 39 Broadway, New York (second from left), Broad Way from the Bowling Green, c. 1834
Courtesy Eno Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

The Alexander Macomb house, where Washington lived in 1790, served as the second presidential residence during the two-year period that New York was the national capital.

1235152U
The Third President's House, 190 Market Street, Philadelphia (on left), c. 1855
Courtesy Eno Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

This house served as Washington's residence from November, 1790 to March, 1797. The wine cooler was used in this house until the end of Washington's presidency.

HAGR_2011_1
The Grange, Alexander Hamilton's House in Upper Manhattan, built c. 1802
Courtesy Hamilton Grange National Memorial, National Park Service

Hamilton commissioned architect John Newcomb, Jr. to design a house on his thirty-two acre estate in upper Manhattan, which was completed in 1802. The Grange, where the cooler was housed, remained in Hamilton's family until 1833.


28959106_FIG
Alexander Hamilton, by John Trumbull, oil on canvas, c. 1792
Courtesy Collection of Credit-Suisse


28959144_fig
George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, 1796
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, U.S.A.


GW_TO_AH
George Washington's Letter Presenting the Wine Cooler to Alexander Hamilton, August 21, 1797
Courtesy Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Alexander Hamilton Papers

28959151_FIG
Inventory of Household Furniture taken by George Washington on his Retirement to Mount Vernon, 1797
Courtesy Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George Washington Papers

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