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Tiffany 13 3/4 inch gold-wash sterling silver ewer in the Etruscan pattern, given as a gift to President Lincoln upon his inauguration in 1961. To be auctioned at Cowan's on June 6, 2009. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan's.

Cowan’s to auction Lincoln inauguration ewer on June 6

Tiffany 13 3/4 inch gold-wash sterling silver ewer in the Etruscan pattern, given as a gift to President Lincoln upon his inauguration in 1961. To be auctioned at Cowan's on June 6, 2009. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan's.
Tiffany 13 3/4 inch gold-wash sterling silver ewer in the Etruscan pattern, given as a gift to President Lincoln upon his inauguration in 1961. To be auctioned at Cowan’s on June 6, 2009. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan’s.

CINCINNATI (AP and ACNI) – Cowan’s Auctions will offer a remarkable American treasure in its June 6 sale: a gold-wash sterling silver Tiffany pitcher that dates to Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861. Widespread interest is expected, with Internet live bidding available through www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

Executed in the Etruscan #809 pattern, the 13¾ inch-tall ewer – or vase-shape pitcher – is presumed to have been a gift to Lincoln. An inscription engraved around the Great Seal of the United States, which is emblazoned on the ewer’s body, reads, “To the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln from his Washington Friends March 4, 1861.”

Who those “friends” might have been remains a mystery. The curator of the Lincoln collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., said there is no record of the donors.

“It could [have been] a foreign diplomatic gift, from a Congressional delegation, people working for military contacts. Nobody knows,” James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

After its presentation, the ewer’s whereabouts were unknown until the early 20th century. A Mr. Bartlett, Boston attorney turn antiquarian, owned a shop called “Old Russia.” Most of its inventory consisted of pieces from the Russian Imperial Court; it is not known how Bartlett obtained the ewer. During the Great Depression, the shop closed. At his death, Bartlett willed the ewer to Annette Pitts, his nurse. Ultimately, a Midwestern family purchased it from a Boston dealer. From 1969 to 2006 the ewer was on loan to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  

Cowan’s estimates the ewer will make $300,000-$400,000 at auction, but because of the article’s unique nature and its close historical association to a beloved and iconic American President, it is impossible to say how high the bidding might go. “With this, there is no other one,” Wes Cowan, owner of Cowan’s Auctions, told the Enquirer.

The design includes neoclassical motifs and features an angular handle with cast mask and Greek key borders along with neo-Grec engraved surfaces, typical of the middle and late 1860s. Marked Tiffany & Co. 550 Broadway/ English Sterling 925-1000 with mark for J.C. Moore and Son, the ewer was likely the design of son Edward C. Moore. A similar ewer in the Etruscan pattern is pictured in Silver in American Life, by Barbara McLean and Gerald W.R. Ward, plate 182.

Tiffany stamp and other markings under base. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan's.
Tiffany stamp and other markings under base. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan’s.

Engraved on the body beneath the spout is a depiction of the Great Seal of the United States, replete with 33 stars representing the states in the Union. The engraving was one star short of the actual number of states on March 4, 1861, since Kansas had become the 34th state, admitted to the Union on January 29, 1861. Apparently, the ewer was commissioned between the election of November 1860 and January 1861. Seven states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas – had already seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America by the time of the inauguration on March 4, 1861. In the weeks following Lincoln’s inauguration, four more states seceded – Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia; and on April 12, 1861, a signal round was fired over Fort Sumter, S.C., initiating the first battle of the Civil War.

The Great Seal of the President of the United States. Inscription around seal reads: To the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln from his Washington Friends March 4, 1861. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan's.
The Great Seal of the President of the United States. Inscription around seal reads: To the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln from his Washington Friends March 4, 1861. Image courtesy LiveAuctioneers.com and Cowan’s.

There are many intriguing blanks to be filled in with respect to the ewer’s creation and its disposition after Lincoln’s assassination. Tiffany & Co. has no record in its archives of the piece having been commissioned. Similarly, Lincoln’s papers housed at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., show no acknowledgment of gratitude for such a gift, but this absence of documentation is not at all unusual. In the 1860s, The White House did not maintain inventories of personal gifts to Presidents.

Wes Cowan, who is a veteran Antiques Roadshow appraiser and lead expert on PBS Television’s History Detectives, said he has no doubts as to the ewer’s authenticity. “I wouldn’t be selling it if I didn’t think it was authentic,” he said.

The ewer weighs in at 55.56 troy ounces. “It’s a monumental piece of silver,” Diane Wachs, Cowan’s director of Fine and Decorative Art, told the Enquirer. “Unlike other pieces, this is valued at 10 percent object and 90 percent historical significance. And that’s what makes it so intriguing.”

Exhibitions and Publications:

On loan to the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1969-2006.

Special exhibition at the Smithsonian in connection with the January 1978 inauguration of President Jimmy Carter.

Charles H. Carpenter and Mary Grace Carpenter, Tiffany Silver, 1978: New York, Dodd, Mead & Co., pp 141-142.

Frederick Butzen, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Lincoln Inauguration Ewer, Cover and pp 595, Feb. 8, 1980.

Included in the Tiffany & Co. website timeline for 1861: Tiffany & Co. is asked to design a presentation pitcher for the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln.

View the fully illustrated catalog and sign up to bid absentee or live via the Internet during the auction at www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

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View the fully illustrated catalog and register to bid absentee or live via the Internet as the sale is taking place by logging on to www.LiveAuctioneers.com.

Click here to view Cowan’s Auctions, Inc.’s complete catalog.