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 dressing glass, likely for use by Mrs. Washington or 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. This dressing glass descended in the family of Martha Custis Peter.

See also the dressing boxes W-221/B-H, dressing glasses W-315, and dressing case W-219.


Black or dark brown lacquered dressing glass with oval, swinging mirror between curved standards attached to a serpentine-front box with a single drawer with thumb-molded upper and lower edges on the front and sides and ogee-shaped front and side aprons on four bracket feet. The mirror frame has a slightly rounded or domed face with a gilt, geometric-patterned ground of interlocking octagons and squares and a gilt-decorated, trefoil finial consisting of a solid oval within sawn-out scroll or cypher work surmounted by a solid, basket-shaped ornament. The oval is painted with a bouquet. The standards have rounded faces and are shaped at top in the form of half a trefoil and at bottom form an open D-shape with a vertical bar intersecting the center. Gilt decoration in the form of a chain of husks or bellflowers punctuated by eight-petal flowers adorns their front faces. The drawer front, box top, and sides each feature gilt decoration in the form of one oval reserve filled with floral designs surrounded by a geometric-patterned ground of interlocking octagons and squares. Gilt chains of husks or bellflowers punctuated by eight-petal flowers and framed by two narrow gilt lines ornament the upper and lower molding of the box and the front edges of the sides. Gilt floral and leafy sprigs adorn the apron and feet.

A single-piece, vertical backing board is held in place by three wooden keys on the back of the mirror. Brass thumbscrews secure the mirror within the standards. The standards are tenoned through the top of the box. The box and drawer appear to be nailed and glued together. The drawer has two brass pulls and a lock at center.
The feet are extensions of the skirts.






Cypress, lacquer, gilt, brass, glass


Overall: 26 1/4 in. x 18 in. x 11 in. (66.68 cm x 45.72 cm x 27.94 cm)
Other (H x W x D of case without mirror ): 17 in. x 18 1/2 in. x 11 1/8 in. (43.18 cm x 46.99 cm x 28.26 cm)
Other (Height of case alone): 5 1/8 in. (13.02 cm)
Other (Mirror): 21 in. x 13 1/8 in. x 3/4 in. (53.34 cm x 33.34 cm x 1.91 cm)

Credit Line

Purchase, 1939


Drawer back and inside top proper right of case painted (in black) with Chinese characters.

Object Number


Colors (Beta)

Mount Vernon's object research is ongoing and information about this object is subject to change. For information on image use and reproductions, click here.
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