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Dessert Spoons. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Artist/Maker: Charles A. Burnett (active c. 1793-1849)

Created: 1808-1809

Origin/Purchase: Washington, D.C.

Materials: silver

Dimensions: L: 19.1 (7 1/2 in.); Total wt: 516.6 g (16 oz. 12 dwt. 4 gr.)

Location: Tea Room

Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Benjamin Franklin Randolph; six spoons: by descent to James Hubard Mathewes; by loan to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation since 1961; eight spoons: by descent to Thomas Waring and Mary Randolph Waring Beretta; by gift to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1983

Accession Number: 1961-36-1/6; 1981-20-3a/h

Historical Notes: Charles A. Burnett was a prominent silversmith in Alexandria, Virginia, and then in Georgetown, District of Columbia, from 1800 to about 1849. He did considerable business with the government, manufacturing large quantities of Indian ornaments for frontier trading stations in the 1820s and 1830s.[1] His first dealings with Jefferson probably occurred when he was commissioned to craft a two-handled urn-shaped sugar bowl inscribed, "Presented to Camilla Franzoni by Thomas Jefferson, 1808." Camilla Franzoni was the wife of Italian sculptor Giuseppe Franzoni who had been commissioned to work on the United States Capitol.[2] The occasion for presenting such a gift and the extent to which Jefferson was involved in procuring it is not known. There is no doubt, however, that Jefferson went directly to Burnett the following year to acquire a set of dessert spoons for his own use.

Jefferson wrote from Washington to Martha Jefferson Randolph at Monticello in September 1808, "I forgot to bring with me the gravy spoons to be converted into dessert spoons. I must therefore pray you to send them to me. I think you mentioned a spare ladle."[3] Martha replied, "I have sent the 4 spoons & a large french Ladle there being 2 others left one french and one english belonging to the B S M spoons."[4] Sometime after receiving the old silver, Jefferson noted Burnett's prices for making a pudding dish and eighteen dessert spoons on an undated slip of paper. He also calculated the cost of both items, using their estimated weight and the price of silver, minus the value of the objects to be melted down. "He [Burnett] sais," wrote Jefferson, "they charge 10 1/2 D. the doz. for making Dessert spoons, plain, but double that if with beaded edges." Jefferson chose the plainer, less expensive option as his calculations and the finished spoons prove.[5]

The dessert spoons with pointed oval bowls and downturned spatulate ends inscribed with a cipher J were paid for in February 1809. Jefferson recorded in his memorandum book, "drew orders on the bank US. ... in favr ... Charles A. Burnet. plate 39.615."[6] After Jefferson's presidency, the dessert spoons and the pudding dish went to Monticello. Both items appeared on Mrs. Randolph's housewife list (c. 1823) and her silver chest inventory (c. 1833).[7] Although most of the dessert spoons survive, the pudding dish is unlocated.

- Text from Stein, Worlds, 332


  1. ^ George Barton Cutten, The Silversmiths of Virginia (Richmond: Dietz Press, Inc., 1952), 7-9.
  2. ^ James A. Bear, Jr., "Thomas Jefferson's Silver," Antiques 74 (September 1958): 236. The Franzoni sugar bowl has been in the Thomas Jefferson Foundation collections since 1954.
  3. ^ Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, September 30, 1808, in Family Letters, 349-50. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson, October 27, 1808, in Family Letters, 354. Transcription available at Founders Online. The four gravy spoons and French ladle to be melted down were part of the silver Jefferson bought in 1784 (August 23, 1784, in MB, 1:559 (transcription available at Founders Online)), another ragout spoon bought in 1786 (August 20, 1786, in MB, 1:636 (transcription available at Founders Online)), one of two soup ladles also bought in 1784 and 1786 (August 23, 1784, in MB, 1:559 (transcription available at Founders Online) and December 9, 1786, in MB, 1:646 (transcription available at Founders Online)). Four ragout spoons and two "soup spoons" (ladles) came to America with Jefferson's household goods. See Grevin packing list, July 17, 1790, William Short Papers, Library of Congress. See also the note following Short to Jefferson, November 7, 1790, in PTJ, 18:35-39n. The editorial note, explaining and summarizing the items on the packing list, is available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ Jefferson, "Prices, plate," c. 1809, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  6. ^ Jefferson, February 6, 1809, in MB, 2:1240. Transcription available at Founders Online. The amount $39.615 reflects the balance Jefferson owned Burnett. The total cost of the pudding dish and the 18 spoons was about $80, minus just over $40 for the 39 ounces of silver that were melted down (according to Jefferson's calculations on the undated document cited above).
  7. ^ Martha Jefferson Randolph, housewife list, c. 1823, "18 dessert spoons" and "1 pudding dish," Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.; Martha Jefferson Randolph, silver inventory, c. 1833, "18 dessert spoons" and "2 pudding dishes," Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.