American demand for exotic Chinese imports increased with the onset of direct trading between China and the United States in 1784. While President, George Washington took advantage of the wide variety of Chinese luxury goods arriving in New York and Philadelphia. He purchased several lacquerware pieces, including this lockable case, likely for use by one of his granddaughters: Martha, Eleanor, or Eliza Parke Custis. It would have held jewelry as well as costly toiletries such as powder and scented waters.


Lacquered case with two compartments: the top is fitted with twelve partitions while the bottom has a small drawer with two brass knob handles. The exterior on all sides is adorned with three bands of decoration that surround rectangular reserves filled with Chinese landscapes. The first band is a three-petaled flower segmented chain that terminates in a ten petaled rosette. The second band features a grape leaf pattern superimposed over a ground of hexagonal circles and dots with occasional birds in flight. The third is an intertwining three-lobed leaf vine. The Chinese landscape scenes contained within the bands are all different with the exception of the left and right sides, which are the same. The interior of the box is also decorated with the gilded three-petaled leaf vine pattern on the inside lip of the hinged lid, the bottom lip it rests upon, and the lip of the drawer. The edges of the interior partitions are gilded. The brass fittings, including the key escutcheon, the hinges, and the brass drawer knobs are also likely gilded. A removable brass locking pin, also gilded, is intended to be inserted into a drilled hole to the right of the locking mechanism.


c. 1784-1805




Wood, lacquer, copper alloy, gilt


Overall: 1/2 in. x 12 1/4 in. x 9 5/8 in. (1.27 cm x 31.12 cm x 24.38 cm)

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. Charles A. Conrad, 1894

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

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