Volume IV - No. 1
ANCESTORS OF THE DECANTER
Washingtons' Wine Bottle Seals Collected
In the middle seventeenth century and in the early years of the eighteenth century, when elegant hosts served wine at their tables, it was from bulbous green bottles stamped with their signatures, monograms, or family crests. This personal bit of decoration imparted to otherwise humble bottles a certain distinction which elevated them above their lesser bottle brothers. Thus came into being the ancestors of the modern wine decanter which did not appear until the eighteenth century.1
John Washington, George Washington's great-grandfather, used serving bottles decorated with seals, some bearing his name, others his initials, and specimens of them are preserved in the collection of bottle seals at George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia.
John Washington came to Virginia from England in 1657. He settled in 1664 with his wife, Anne Pope, at Bridges Creek on the Potomac River. To this new home he doubtless brought the latest modes and manners fashionable in England where, in 1661, the royal family was pouring wine from bottles bearing the crowned head of Charles II, and where, in 1663, Samuel Pepys had his bottles stamped with his crest. The seal illustrated below (enlarged about two and one-half times), inscribed with the name "John Washington," was found at Bridges Creek near the Washington family burial ground, where there were found also four seals bearing the initials "J. W.".
In the George Washington Birthplace National Monument collection the largest group of seals, eleven in number, are signed with the monogram "A W" (shown above at approximately actual size) and presumably are from the personal serving bottles of Augustine Washington, George Washington's father. All these were found at Wakefield where George Washington was born. One seal, inscribed "N. Pop[e]" and dated "1715", was picked up recently near the doorstep of the new memorial mansion by the Monument Superintendent. N. Pope probably was Nathaniel Pope, cousin and neighbor of Augustine Washington.
Two unbroken wine bottles of the bulbous type were uncovered at Wakefield a few years ago by workmen laying a water main, but neither of them was decorated with a seal. It is possible, however, that archeological exploration at George Washington Birthplace National Monument would bring to light some perfect specimens of the serving bottles, as well as many other interesting relics of the Washington family.
. . . Ralston B. Lattimore.
(1) Frank Davis, "A Page for Collectors," The Illustrated London News, June 26, 1937, p. 1222.
(2) The two seals shown on this page are of highly "patinated" green glass. Both were photographed in the United States National Museum by Dr. Edwin C. Resser, who employed the "whitening process" described by Dr. H. S. Ladd on page 10. Attempts to photograph the seals by ordinary methods proved unsuccessful.
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