"Permit me then to offer you my sincere congratulations on your drawing so near to the period when your public life is to be terminated…As you will have become a private Citizen before this shall be put into your hand, I may now venture to ask your acceptance of a pair of Shoe & Knee Buckles, made expressly for you of oriental Topases [sic]…As, I think, they are neither mean or gaudy, or too vulgar or too expensive, I hope you will wear them very often for my sake…" - David Humphreys to George Washington, Lisbon, Portugal, April 5, 1797
In the 18th century, shoe and knee (or breeches) buckles indicated a gentleman's taste and social position. George Washington owned a variety of buckles during his lifetime, including "Filligree Metal gilt Buckles" and "Oval Stone knee Buckles," adorned with either pastes (glass stones) or real gems. From his post in Portugal where he was serving as U.S. Minister, Washington's close friend David Humphreys (1752-1818) sent Washington this most extravagant set as a retirement gift. The gold foil backing the colorless topazes gives the stones their luminous, yellow color. These buckles' costliness is evident from Washington's estate inventory, which values them at $250, as compared to "1 p.r Shoe & knee buckles Silver" at $5.
Small oval knee buckle with twenty-two, brilliant-cut, colorless topazes set in closed, gilded silver mounts with gold foil backings. Steel chapes, bright on front surfaces and blued on rear surfaces.
Colorless topaz, gilded silver, gold foil, steel
Overall (H x W x D): 5/16 in. x 1 5/8 in. x 1 5/16 in. (0.79 cm x 4.13 cm x 3.33 cm)
Bequest of Mrs. M. L. Shaffer and Charles C. Krumbhaar, Jr., 1955
Conservation courtesy of the Life Guard Society of Historic Mount Vernon
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