Coffee Urn

Artist/Maker: Jacques-Louis-Auguste Leguay (active 1779 - c. 1806)

Created: 1787-1788

Origin/Purchase: Paris

Materials: silver

Dimensions: 33.7 × 15.2 × 18.7 (13 1/4 × 6 × 7 3/8 in.)

Location: Tea Room

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to George Wythe Randolph; by bequest to Francis Meriwether Randolph; by purchase to Jefferson Monroe Levy; by gift or bequest to Amelia Levy Mayhoff; by purchase to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1940

Accession Number: 1940-10

Historical Notes: This coffee urn is the only surviving example of several tea and coffee urns that Jefferson owned. Marked by the silversmith Jacques-Louis-Auguste Leguay, it bears the Paris guild mark of issue between July 1787 and November 12, 1788.[1] It is believed to be the "silver coffee pot" that Jefferson purchased in February 1789. He recorded a payment of 309 livres in his memorandum book on February 6 but later crossed out the line that stated it was a "present for Clerissault for his trouble about the draughts & model of Capitol & prison ... to be chargd. to Virginia."[2] Jefferson first intended to thank the architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau for his assistance with the Virginia State Capitol by giving him a silver copy of a Roman askos, but the model for it never reached him. He bought this coffee urn as a substitute but apparently decided to keep it for himself when he learned that he might be able to have the askos for Clérisseau after all. By May, with the askos still not in his hands and in the midst of preparations to return to America, Jefferson commissioned another silver coffee urn, again intended for Clérisseau.[3] On June 7, 1789, Jefferson wrote to Clérisseau, explained about the trouble with the askos, and begged him to accept the substitution of a "Fontaine à caffé" which he described as a vase "moins singulier, mais antique et beau."[4]

Sketch for an Urn, [circa 1794-1796], by Thomas Jefferson. N507; K231l [electronic edition], Massachusetts Historical Society

The urn given to Clérisseau is unlocated, but it was purchased at the shop of Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot (1763-1850) with Jefferson's two silver goblets. Odiot, one of a prominent family of Parisian silversmiths, was just beginning a long, highly successful career as a goldsmith and merchant of fine gold and silver work.[5] According to the invoice Jefferson received from him on June 3, 1789, the urn was made "like the drawing," weighed just over four marcs seven ounces (about 1200 grams), and cost 423 livres.[6] The undated Jefferson drawing of an urn is believed to be the one mentioned in the invoice.[7] It is strikingly similar to the Leguay urn, differing only in the shape of its lid and the fullness of its body. Jefferson probably based his drawing on the Leguay urn already in his possession.

On June 3 Jefferson's memorandum book entry recorded his payment to Odiot for "a coffee pot as a present to Clerissault" plus an extra hundred livres "to correct error of addn. in my acct. Feb. 6." Evidently the silver urn bought in February also came from Odiot's shop.[8]

Jefferson's coffee urn, "une fontaine d'argent," came to America with Jefferson's household goods in 1790.[9] It is one of the two silver coffee pots included on Jefferson's 1815 list of taxable property, as well as being the "1 coffee urn" and "1 urn" Martha Jefferson Randolph mentioned in her silver inventories of about 1823 and 1833 respectively.[10] The urn remained in the Randolph family until the late nineteenth century when Jefferson M. Levy, then owner of Monticello, acquired it. The coat-of-arms was probably added around this time.

Of Jefferson's other coffee and tea urns, most were silverplated and likely came from Sheffield, England. Jefferson mentioned a plated tea urn on his summary of French purchases, 1788-1789.[11] In 1815, "3. plated urns & coffee pots" appeared on the inventory of taxable property.[12] One plated tea urn was sold at the 1827 Monticello dispersal sale to George W. Spotswood for $4.25.[13]

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 324


  1. ^ Henry Nocq, Le Poinçon de Paris: répertoire des maîtres-orfèvres de la juridiction de Paris depuis le moyen-age jusqu'à la fin du XVIII Siècle (Paris: Léonce Laget, 1968), 3:86-87.
  2. ^ Jefferson, February 6, 1789, in MB, 1:725. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ Jefferson, June 3, 1789, in MB, 1:734 (transcription available at Founders Online); Odiot's invoice to Jefferson, June 3, 1789, The Thomas Jefferson PapersSpecial Collections, University of Virginia Library.
  4. ^ Jefferson to Clérisseau, June 7, 1789, in PTJ, 15:172-73. Transcription available at Founders Online. For another account, see Julian P. Boyd, "Silver Coffee Urn Made by Odiot from Design by Jefferson," in PTJ, 15:xxvii-xxix.
  5. ^ Olivier Lefuel, "Les fastes de l'ère impériale," Les Grands Orfèvres de Louis XIII a Charles X (Paris; Hachette, 1965), 264-65.
  6. ^ Odiot's invoice to Jefferson, June 3, 1789, The Thomas Jefferson PapersSpecial Collections, University of Virginia Library. The silver cost 58 livres 10 sous per marc, or a total of 291 livres, and there was a charge of 132 livres for labor.
  7. ^ Jefferson, drawing of urn, c. 1789, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  8. ^ Jefferson, June 3, 1789, in MB, 1:734. Transcription available at Founders Online. The prices paid for the two urns are comparable. The Leguay urn weighs about 1050 grams; its price of 409 livres is roughly proportional to the sum of 423 livres paid in June for an urn weighing about 1200 grams.
  9. ^ Grevin packing list, July 17, 1790, William Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also Short to Jefferson, November 7, 1790, in PTJ, 18:30-39n. The accompanying editorial note, available at Founders Online, includes extensive data on the 86 crates packed by Grevin.
  10. ^ Statement of Albemarle County Property Subject to State Tax, March 1815, in PTJ:RS, 8:392-94 (transcription available at Founders Online); Martha Jefferson Randolph, housewife list, c. 1823, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.; Martha Jefferson Randolph, silver inventory, c. 1833, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
  11. ^ Jefferson, summary of French purchases, 1788-1789, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  12. ^ Statement of Albemarle County Property Subject to State Tax, March 1815, in PTJ:RS, 8:392-94. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  13. ^ Monticello dispersal sale receipts, [1827], The Thomas Jefferson PapersSpecial Collections, University of Virginia Library.