Spirit Chest

Spirit Chest. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Unknown[1]

Created: 1770-1800

Origin/Purchase: England or America

Materials: oak with iron fittings; glass

Dimensions: 36.4 x 40 x 27.3 (10 3/8 x 15 3/4 x 10 3/4 in.)

Location: Cabinet

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Susan Ware Eppes and Alice Bradford Eppes; by purchase to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1961

Accession Number: 1961-41

Historical Notes: This portable chest with iron lock, bail handles, and fittings, is divided into ten compartments for holding eight large and two small square case bottles. Eight original mold-blown bottles with spherical stoppers and gilded grapevine decoration on the shoulders remain with the case; one bottle is a replacement. In October 1772 Jefferson recorded, "Pd. Mr. Jones for case of bottles and glass cylinders bot. by Ogilvie £10-11-3."[2] These items were probably bought by Jefferson's friend, James Ogilvie, in England. This is his only recorded acquisition of case bottles, but he likely bought others.

Case bottles were frequently used as shipping and storage containers, although decorated bottles such as these were usually intended for domestic use. Jefferson said he did not use "ardent spirits in any form," so these bottles probably did not hold gin and rum as was common. Case bottles were, however, equally useful for storing and transporting alcoholic beverages, as well as other liquids and oils. They remained popular throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.[3]

During his retirement Jefferson traveled to Poplar Forest three times a year, a three-day journey of ninety-three miles. A case of bottles might have traveled with him. One of his granddaughters described their picnics in route:

"Our cold dinner was always put up by his own hands; a pleasant spot by the road-side chosen to eat it, and he was the carver and helped us to our cold fowl and ham, and mixed the wine and water to drink with it."[4]

Footnotes

  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 345.
  2. Thomas Jefferson, October 30, 1772, in MB, 1:295.
  3. Helen McKearin and Kenneth M. Wilson, American Bottles and Flasks and their Ancestry (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1978), 224-226; Jefferson to Vine Utley, Monticello, March 21, 1819 in L&B, 15:187.
  4. Virginia Jefferson Randolph to Nicholas P. Trist, in Randall, Life, 3:344.

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