A scarce, and very possibly unique late eighteenth century American bell-form hand-blown glass decanter, etched with a spread-wing eagle, laurel leaves, shield and seventeen stars; an ambitious and very early design of what later became known as”The Great Seal of America”, about 1780-1800
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HISTORY/PROVENANCE: This hand-blown glass decanter was acquired privately from an old, South Carolina family, of Calhoun County, who are descendants of Colonel, then later, General Francis Marion of the South Carolina militia during “The American Revolution”. Although it is well-documented that General Marion was a “teetotaler” himself, oral tradition from the family from which this rare decanter was acquired, states that this spirit bottle may very well have been owned by one of Marion’s militia members. The author is aware that oral tradition should be noted, but approached with skepticism and not necessarily accepted as fact or truth.
During “The American Revolution”, Marion engaged in devastating, and at the time, what was considered “unorthodox”, guerilla warfare against the British Army, fighting primarily in the swamps of South Carolina, a tactic that earned him the title of “The Swamp Fox.”
This decanter was in all likelihood made by a German, or possibly French-born glass-maker who migrated to the Piedmont region of South Carolina. Germans are quite well-known to have perfected the art of glass-making as early as the seventeenth century.
These German refugees immigrated to America mostly to avoid religious persecution. This migration was encouraged by the extravagant accounts of the land in America. While other nationalities also settled in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, the Germans composed the greater number of these first settlers.
Given the fragile and utilitarian use of eighteenth century glassware, finding surviving and intact examples bearing “The Great Seal of America”, in any condition, is unimaginably uncommon. The author is aware of less than ten hand-blown glass decanters which bear an American eagle and shield, the majority of which are in prominent museums.
NOTES: After repeated searches to capture General Marion after one of his many raids against the English, British Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s commented to his troops “Come on Boys! Let us go back … as for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him”.
ABSTRACT: After thorough research, the author is aware of less than one ten decanters of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that bear an etched American eagle with the shield of the newly formed Republic.
One early nineteenth century example, shown below, which was was acquired by “Winterthur”, Wilmington, Delaware in 1959. 1959.3064 A, B
Shown above: An Irish dip-molded and etched American quart decanter, of similar dimensions, bearing the word “LIBERTY”, sold at public auction on the 29th of January 2016.
Shown above: The bottom of the decanter, which clearly shows the decanter’s polished base, as well as the glass-maker’s “pontil” point.
ABSTRACT CONTINUED: This decanter has a polished base with an off-set pontil point. Although polished bases on American eighteenth and early nineteenth glassware is virtually unheard of, the naive, or vernacular nature of this decantur in concert with its’ provenance and oral history all strongly suggest that it was made in the newly formed Colonies by a European glass-maker who had immigrated to America and established a glass-workshop. Notably, English polished bases on glassware of this period tends to be slightly concave. This decanter’s bottom is quite flat, further suggestion that it was made in America.
CONDITION: This decanter retains its’ original faceted-cut “stopper”. Its’ interior has very modest “detrivification”. Scientifically, glass is viscous, and a liquid, not a crystalline solid. Over time, what will happen to its’ appearance may vary. The glass may appear iridescent and quite beautiful. At other times, depending on climatic conditions, the glass may take on a “cloudy” appearance; a condition generally referred to as “sick” glass. This decanter has the most minor “detrivification”, a condition which is reversible.
Shown above: an American mezzotint entitled “Gen. Francis in his Swamp Encampment Inviting a British Officer to Dinner, No. 1, 1840”, by John Sartain, after the painting by Charleston artist John Blake White. The original painting of this depiction hangs in “The United States Senate”, Washington, D.C.
DIMENSIONS: Height: 9 1/2″.
REFERENCES: “Glass in Early America”, a Winterthur Book, by Arlene Palmer.
“The South Carolina Historical Magazine (October 1991)”.
N. F. S.
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