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Madeira Decanter

Decanter of Madeira. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.Artist/Maker: Unknown[1]

Created: 1760-1770

Origin/Purchase: England

Materials: glass

Dimensions: H: 24.8 (9 3/4 in.); D (base): 8.9 (3 1/2 in.)

Location: Monticello Archaeology Lab

Provenance: The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Accession Number: 1981-92

Historical Notes: This labeled Madeira decanter was excavated from the dry well site of the Monticello kitchen yard in 1981. The dry well, intended to be a cool, dry storage place was dug in 1770 to a depth of almost nineteen feet. Jefferson's plans for the dependency structures soon changed, however, and the large hole was refilled over the next two years. A number of discarded domestic artifacts dating from the earliest years of Jefferson's habitation on the mountaintop were found in the backfill during archaeological excavation.[2] One of the finest objects unearthed was an English decanter with wheel­engraved cartouche and grapevine motifs dating from the 1760s. Decanters of this type were made with various labels for all types of alcoholic beverages.[3]

Although Jefferson's purchase of this early decanter is unrecorded, he acquired many others in later years. Eight crystal decanters were among the household goods shipped from France in 1790. In 1815 Jefferson listed "4 cut glass decanters" in his list of taxable property.[4] The inventory of Monticello made after his death included "12 decanters 6 of them a little broken."[5]

Jefferson once noted how many glasses of Madeira a cask would yield and which tupe was the most economical to drink. In 1775 he wrote in his Memorandum Book:

"If a pipe of Madeira yeilds [sic] 30 doz. bottles, we drink it at 7. years old for 3/a bottle, which includes the 7. years interest. Such a bottle holds 15 common wine glasses...A pipe of new Madeira will yeild 40.doz, which brings the price (there being no interest) to 20/a doz. or 20d the bottle when drank new."[6]


  1. This article is based on Stein, Worlds, 340.
  2. William M. Kelso, "A Report on the Archaeological Excavations at Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1979-1981," (Unpublished manuscript, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 1982), 69-73.
  3. Geoffrey Wills, English and Irish Glass (New York: Doubleday, 1968), 12.
  4. Thomas Jefferson, "A list of the taxable property of the subscriber in Albemarle Mar. 1815," Thomas Jefferson Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  5. Ibid; Grevin Packing List, July 17, 1790. William Short Papers, Library of Congress; [Martha Jefferson Randolph?], "Inventory of the furniture in the house at Monticello," Thomas Jefferson Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
  6. Jefferson, February 8, 1775.


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