WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799). Gold fob seal, with an oval carnelian engraved with Washington's coat-of-arms, the gem set in a gold flaring mount with reeded strapwork and small roundels, with a loop for suspension. Height: 1¾ in., the carnelian 1¼ x 3/4 in. Housed in a 19th century black morocco hinged box lined with velvet and black silk, the silk lining gilt-lettered "Fob Seal owned and used by General Washington."
GEORGE WASHINGTON'S PERSONAL SEAL, WITH HIS COAT-OF ARMS
A personal seal, in Washington's day, was widely used to ensure the privacy of personal letters and as a means of certification of documents to which it was affixed. The designs were engraved in intaglio on carnelian, a relatively soft mineral. The handles themselves were often turned in wood, ivory, silver or gold. Some seals featured a loop to allow it to be attached from the belt or to a chain when not in use. In Washington's will, several seals are inventoried, but these entries are quite abbreviated. The present seal may correspond to one of two named in a lengthy order of goods from Robert Cary & Co., merchants of London. One of these seals is described as "A topaz or some other handsome Stone fixd. In the gold Sockt. Sent, wh. the Washington Arms neatly engraved thereon." The second list is evidently linked to a pocket watch: "Another Stone fixt in the other gold Socket with the Washington Crest and the Watch Chn. repd." (See Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, vol. 3, pp. 61-62).
This seal may well be that one depicted in several portraits of Washington by Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828); see, for example "Washington at Dorchester Heights," in the Museum of Arts, Boston.
According to details once accompanying the seal, the sequence of owners is as follows:
William Augustine Washington (1757-1810, nephew)
George Corbin Washington (son of the preceding. He in turn bequeathed the seal to his grandson, James in his will, dated July 24, 1854: "To my grandson James, I give my watch and gold chain which belonged to and was used by Genl. George Washington.")
James Barroll Washington (grandson of the preceding)
William Lanier Washington (sale, American Art Association, New York, March 4, 1932, lot 206)
The Estate of Calvin Bullock (sale, Christie's, May 23, 1985, lot 57)
The present owner.