Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by gift to Thomas Sully in 1821; by gift or purchase to an unidentified person; by purchase to Mrs. Raymond Porter in 1972; by gift to Julian P. Boyd; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1974
Historical Notes: Jefferson's search for an appropriate gift for the architect Charles-Louis Clèrisseau began in Nîmes, where Clèrisseau had helped Jefferson with the preparation of drawings and a model of the Maison Carrée for his design of the Virginia State Capitol. Jefferson found a fitting present in the form of a Roman askos, a bronze pouring vessel that had been excavated at the ruins in Nîmes. He commissioned a local craftsman named Souche and paid him 18 livres to make a model of the askos in the collection of Jean François Seguier (1703-1784), the scholar and antiquarian who had excavated the Maison Carrée.1
Souche's model never reached Jefferson in Paris, and he was compelled to select another gift for Clèrisseau, a coffee urn made according to his own design. Yet it was the "vase antique" that he preferred for "sa singularité et sa beauté,"2 and he engaged Souche to make a second model, which arrived in Paris on May 18, 1789.3 This was crated among the vast shipment of wines, books, and furnishings shipped to rejoin Jefferson in Philadelphia in 1790.
More than ten years later, just after he became president in 1801, Jefferson directed his purchasing agent, Thomas Claxton, to have a silver copy made after Souche's wooden model. Claxton engaged the Philadelphia silversmiths Anthony Simmons and Samuel Alexander and instructed them to engrave an inscription on the lid: "[Copied from] a model taken in 1778. by Th. Jefferson from a Roman Ewer in the Cabinet of antiquities at [Nismes.]"4
The model and the silver copy were at Monticello after Jefferson's retirement. They differ in that the silver askos has a lid, a simplified handle, and a floret or rosette instead of a mask at the base of the handle. At Monticello the family called the askos "the silver duck" and used it as a chocolate pot.5 The wooden model was given to the painter Thomas Sully in 1821 when he journeyed to Monticello to take Jefferson's portrait for the United States Military Academy. Sully had it inscribed, "Presented/by Ex-Pres. Thos./Jefferson to Thos./Sully." The model was lost until it mysteriously appeared at an auction in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1972. The silver askos was inherited by Martha Jefferson Randolph who bequeathed it to Joseph Coolidge.