You are here

Calling All Ceramic Enthusiasts! Meissen Mystery of 2015

Jennifer Strotz

Behind the scenes at Monticello, our curators are intrigued by a ceramic inkstand and sandbox that are thought to have belonged to Thomas Jefferson. According to a Jefferson descendent, the set was acquired while he was Minister to France (1785-1789). It was then purportedly used at Monticello throughout his lifetime.

The inkstand and sandbox both feature delicate, multi-colored hand-painted floral designs on white ground. Each base is labeled with the famous blue crossed swords of the porcelain manufacturer Meissen. Initially, these stylistic elements indicated that Jefferson’s set was indeed produced by the celebrated manufactory. Founded in 1709, the German porcelain company is recognized as the first to create European hard-paste porcelain.  However, their unglazed bottoms and incised- rather than painted- marks suggest that the pair might be an eighteenth century pastiche, or nineteenth century fake.

After comparing our set to an authentic Meissen inkstand and sandbox at the Bowes Museum, our suspicions grew:

We are calling all ceramic enthusiasts to weigh in. Please examine the above images and share your recommendations in the comments section. Are these Meissen, or something quite different?  

Bottom of Monticello’s sandbox Top of Monticello’s sandbox Side view of Monticello’s sandbox

Bottom view of Monticello’s inkstand Top of Monticello’s inkstand Side view of Monticello’s inkstand


Login or register to participate in our online community.