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Perhaps there is no china more highly prized in American collections than are the surviving pieces of the Martha Washington “States” China. Originals of this pattern are so rare that no such plate ever has been sold at a New York auction house.
In 1796 Martha Washington received a monogrammed tea service as a gift from Andrea van Braam Houckgeest, the Director of Canton operations for the East India Company. “The set of tea china that was given to me by Mr. van Braam, every piece having M.W. on it”, was in “A box of china for Lady Washington” listed in the manifest of the ship Lady Louisa, which arrived in Philadelphia from Canton via Capetown on April 24,1796.
Circling Martha Washington’s initials is a chain enclosing the names of all 15 states in the union at that time. This configuration, often used on paper money of the era, represents strength in union. A Latin motto, “Decus et tutamen ab illo,” appears under Mrs. Washington’s initials on a floating red ribbon motif. Translated as “A glory and the defense of it”, the motto derives from Vergil’s Aeneid and also speaks to strength in unity. Underneath both initials and motto is a gold sunburst of a rising sun and a narrow border for each plate bears the motif of a blue serpent which grasps its tail to form a never-ending circle representing eternity.
Martha bequeathed the service to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis who left the china to his daughter, Mary Custis Lee, wife of General Robert E. Lee. Tradition has it that Union soldiers rolled barrels of china down the hill from Arlington House, Lee’s home and now part of Arlington Cemetery, to storage in the United States Patent Office.
This china is reproduced by Woodmere China, Inc., New Castle, Pennsylvania, the noted design studio and producer of dinner services for Presidents.
Inquire about other Presidential services and individual pieces that can be special ordered through The Shops at Mount Vernon.
*States 10 ¾” Cake Plate (Shown) Sorry, this item is no longer available for sale.