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From a service for George Washington (President 1789-1797)

Designed by Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest, Dutch, 1739 - 1801

Made in China, Asia


Porcelain with underglaze blue, enamel, and gilt decoration

Diameter: 9 3/8 inches (23.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 101, American Art, first floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection, 2006

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As president of the United States from 1789 to 1797, George Washington entertained fellow politicians and foreign dignitaries at his executive mansion in Philadelphia (the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800). The decoration of the president’s house, including its tableware, was carefully chosen to represent the new nation. The porcelain service to which this plate belonged satisfied such requirements, bearing an elaborate program of symbolic motifs: a serpent swallowing its tail (eternity), fifteen states linked by a strong chain, a Latin motto about strength and glory, and Martha Washington’s monogram on a golden disk. Dutch trader Andreas van Braam Houckgeest designed the service as a present for Martha and brought it from the port of Canton, China, to Philadelphia in 1796.

Additional information:
  • PublicationAmerican Presidential China: The Robert L. McNeil, Jr., Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    George Washington (1732–1799)
    President, 1789–97

    The first American president acknowledged the social importance of a fashionably equipped dining table as early as 1757 when, as a young bachelor, he ordered “fine china dishes” from an English merchant.1 Throughout his lifetime of public service and private occupation, George Washington participated substantially in matters of domestic taste and style. Memorabilia, including porcelains, from the Washington household have descended through the grandchildren of Martha Washington: Eliza Parke Custis Law (1776–1832), Martha Parke Custis Peter (1777–1854), Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1852), and George Washington Parke Custis (1781–1857).

    The Dutch trader Andreas van Braam Houckgeest brought a porcelain service from Canton to Philadelphia in 1796 in a box labeled “for Lady Washington.”2 Specifically designed for Mrs. Washington by Van Braam, each piece of the service displays Van Braam’s program of enameled symbolic motifs, including the serpent swallowing its tail (a symbol for eternity), a strong chain of fifteen states copied from Benjamin Franklin’s design for colonial Pennsylvania currency, a Latin motto about strength and glory from Vergil’s Aeneid, and Martha Washington’s monogram on a glorified golden disk. Originally comprising about forty pieces, the service was intended primarily for display. The forms included a covered two-handled cup, also called a chocolate or caudle cup, made in China for export to the Dutch market by 1700. Sèvres called the form tasse à la reine, and it was made in England by the New Hall, Caughley, Derby, and other factories late in the eighteenth century. Today, fewer than twenty pieces of this service are known.

    The popularity of the Martha Washington “States” china inspired numerous reproductions by French, English, and American manufacturers from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the present. Susan Gray Detweiler, from American Presidential China: The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2008), p. 26.

    1) “Invoice of goods shipped by Richd Washington to George Washington from London, per the Sally,” August 20, 1757. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, George Washington Papers. Cited in Susan Gray Detweiler, George Washington’s Chinaware (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1982), p. 200.
    2) Supplement to the master’s declaration of entry for the Lady Louisa. Philadelphia, April 25, 1796. National Archives Trust Fund. Cited In Detweiler, George Washington’s Chinaware, p. 154.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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