George and Martha Reunited

A pair of urns featuring a portraits of George and Martha Washington. Enamel on porcelain, France, c. 1820-1840. Image courtesy of Tony Inson.

A pair of urns featuring a portraits of George and Martha Washington. Enamel on porcelain, France, c. 1820-1840. Image courtesy of Tony Inson.

By TONY INSON

I have a passion for collecting early-19th-century Americana in the classical taste. My interests include furniture, silver, and glass, but the one area in which my collection is particularly focused is French porcelain produced for the American market. These items contain iconography such as eagles, flags, buildings, events, and portraits selected with consumers in the United States in mind. In the antiques trade, French porcelain of this era is generally known as “old Paris” or “vieux Paris” and was made in a broad variety of forms, both decorative and functional.

Such objects are quite rare and difficult to find. The production of French porcelain for the American market was extremely limited in the early 19th century, primarily restricted to bespoke orders from wealthy American families and important figures because of remote access and high cost. Adams, Monroe and Madison all selected French porcelain dinner services for their residency in the President’s House, and these examples are highly sought after today.

I recently enjoyed the good fortune to locate two wonderful pieces for my collection, reuniting a pair of old Paris urns with portraits of George and Martha Washington made between 1820 and 1840. The form is described as a campagna urn, referring to the antique precedents on which it was modeled. One urn resided in a New Jersey collection since the mid-19th-century, and the other ended up in the Midwest. They were separated for at least a century.

Knowing of my collecting interests, a friend alerted me about a porcelain urn with a painting of George Washington he saw at an antiques shop in Lebanon, PA. I promptly contacted the antiques dealer and bought the urn, which had been converted into a lamp, a common alteration for decorative ceramics. Upon receipt, the lamp components were removed, and the urn was restored to its original condition.

A similar campagna urn with a portrait of Martha Washington appeared last year at an auction in Downingtown, PA, but did not sell. The back of the vases feature an unusual motif that resembles patterns used in 18th-century Imari porcelain. The appearance of this rare design on both urns gave me confidence that they were indeed a true pair. I contacted the auction house several months after the sale, but they were unwilling to reach out to the consignor after so much time had passed. I did not give up hope knowing that the matching Martha urn was still available.

Fortuitously, the same friend who alerted me of the George urn saw Martha listed on Ebay. Once again, the consignor asked for a high price, and the urn did not sell. My observant friend helped me try to locate the seller, but I ultimately spent many weeks contacting antiques dealers in several states before finding the owner of the matching Martha urn, who ran an antiques shop in Omaha, NE. However, by the time I reached the dealer, he had placed it on consignment at an antiques collective in West Townsend, CT. Finally, my efforts were rewarded, and I purchased the matching Martha urn, reuniting her with George in California. The Washington urns are major additions to my collection and will hopefully be together in perpetuity after a separation of more than 100 years.

As many collectors know, the fun and excitement of the chase are important components of this wonderful pastime. The desire to network with dealers across the country is an important asset as well. Perseverance, patience, and internet research are essential, and a friend with a good eye was particularly helpful in this instance!

UPCOMING EVENTS

By TONY INSON

I have a passion for collecting early-19th-century Americana in the classical taste. My interests include furniture, silver, and glass, but the one area in which my collection is particularly focused is French porcelain produced for the American market. These items contain iconography such as eagles, flags, buildings, events, and portraits selected with consumers in the United States in mind. In the antiques trade, French porcelain of this era is generally known as “old Paris” or “vieux Paris” and was made in a broad variety of forms, both decorative and functional.

Such objects are quite rare and difficult to find. The production of French porcelain for the American market was extremely limited in the early 19th century, primarily restricted to bespoke orders from wealthy American families and important figures because of remote access and high cost. Adams, Monroe and Madison all selected French porcelain dinner services for their residency in the President’s House, and these examples are highly sought after today.

I recently enjoyed the good fortune to locate two wonderful pieces for my collection, reuniting a pair of old Paris urns with portraits of George and Martha Washington made between 1820 and 1840. The form is described as a campagna urn, referring to the antique precedents on which it was modeled. One urn resided in a New Jersey collection since the mid-19th-century, and the other ended up in the Midwest. They were separated for at least a century.

Knowing of my collecting interests, a friend alerted me about a porcelain urn with a painting of George Washington he saw at an antiques shop in Lebanon, PA. I promptly contacted the antiques dealer and bought the urn, which had been converted into a lamp, a common alteration for decorative ceramics. Upon receipt, the lamp components were removed, and the urn was restored to its original condition.

A similar campagna urn with a portrait of Martha Washington appeared last year at an auction in Downingtown, PA, but did not sell. The back of the vases feature an unusual motif that resembles patterns used in 18th-century Imari porcelain. The appearance of this rare design on both urns gave me confidence that they were indeed a true pair. I contacted the auction house several months after the sale, but they were unwilling to reach out to the consignor after so much time had passed. I did not give up hope knowing that the matching Martha urn was still available.

Fortuitously, the same friend who alerted me of the George urn saw Martha listed on Ebay. Once again, the consignor asked for a high price, and the urn did not sell. My observant friend helped me try to locate the seller, but I ultimately spent many weeks contacting antiques dealers in several states before finding the owner of the matching Martha urn, who ran an antiques shop in Omaha, NE. However, by the time I reached the dealer, he had placed it on consignment at an antiques collective in West Townsend, CT. Finally, my efforts were rewarded, and I purchased the matching Martha urn, reuniting her with George in California. The Washington urns are major additions to my collection and will hopefully be together in perpetuity after a separation of more than 100 years.

As many collectors know, the fun and excitement of the chase are important components of this wonderful pastime. The desire to network with dealers across the country is an important asset as well. Perseverance, patience, and internet research are essential, and a friend with a good eye was particularly helpful in this instance!

A pair of urns featuring a portraits of George and Martha Washington. Enamel on porcelain, France, c. 1820-1840. Image courtesy of Tony Inson.

A pair of urns featuring a portraits of George and Martha Washington. Enamel on porcelain, France, c. 1820-1840. Image courtesy of Tony Inson.

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