Hamil-Swag Friday: The Ultimate Wine Cooler

Upon leaving office in August of 1797, Washington gifted Hamilton and other cabinet members unique wine coolers that he had had commissioned for entertaining at the presidential residence.

Image from Christie’s

The wine cooler was one of several that George Washington had commissioned after his election as the first president of the United States.  In an October 1789 letter to Gouverneur Morris asking him to have these wine coolers made, Washington described his vision in detail, stating:

Of plated ware may be made I conceive handsome and useful Coolers for wine at and after dinner.  Those I am in need of viz. eight double ones (for Madeira and claret the wines usually drank at dinner) each of the apertures to be sufficient to contain a pint decanter, with an allowance in the depth of it for ice at bottom so as to raise the neck of the decanter above the cooler; between the apertures a handle is to be placed by which these double coolers may with convenience be removed from one part of the table to the other.  For the wine after dinner four quadruple coolers will be necessary. . . . The reason why I prefer an aperture for every decanter or bottle to coolers that would contain two and four is that whether full or empty the bottles will always stand upright and never be at variance with each other.

The inscription on the cooler, which copies a letter from Washington to Hamilton accompanying the gift states:

Mount Vernon, Aug. 21, 1797

My dear Sir.
Not for any intrinsic value the thing possesses, but as a token of my sincere regard and friendship for you, and as a remembrance of me, I pray you to accept a wine cooler for four bottles, which Colonel Biddle is directed to forward from Philadelphia, (where with other articles it was left,) together with this letter to your address. It is one of four which I imported in the early part of my late administration of the Government, two only of which were ever used.

I pray you to present my best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me to Mrs. Hamilton, and the family, and that you would be persuaded that with every sentiment of the highest regard,

I remain your sincere friend,
and affectionate humble servant:
Geo. Washington.

A week late, Hamilton responded to Washington’s letter on August 28, 1797:

My Dear Sir:
The receipt two days since of your letter of the 21st inst., gave me sincere pleasure. The token of your regard which it announces, is very precious to me, and will always be remembered as it ought to be.

Mrs. Hamilton has lately added another boy to our stock; she and the child are both well.  she desires to be affectionately remembered to Mrs. Washington and yourself….”

Interestingly, this gift exchange took place as Hamilton was in the middle of publishing and dealing with the backlash of publicly confessing his affair with Maria Reynolds and entering into a major sex scandal.

The wine cooler was ultimately sold for $782,500 on January 19, 2012 to a collector named Gary Hendershott.  Hendershott’s website lists the wine cooler as one of several items related to George Washington that have been sold by his company to other collectors.

You may not be able to view the original wine cooler, but you can always see a replica of the wine cooler in the dining room at Hamilton Grange National Memorial.  A brochure created by the National Park Service staff at Hamilton Grange and available online describes the wine cooler:

There is another item in this room that is not an original item, but a reproduction, and it is the wine cooler. This wine cooler speaks volumes of the relationship between George Washington and Hamilton.

The dining room features a replica of a
Image from AMNY

 

If you happen to be in DC, you can also see another of the wine coolers, which Washington had presented to Secretary of State Timothy Pickering (before he was dismissed from John Adams’ administration) ironically in the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room at the White House.

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