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Silver Askos

Silver Askos View Interactive Version ]

Jefferson's search for an appropriate gift for the architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau (1721-1820) began in Nimes, where he 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 Nimes. 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 Séguier (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 Clérisseau, 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 [its uniqueness and beauty], 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 furnishings, wines, and books, 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 1787 by / Th. Jefferson / from a Roman Ewer in the / Cabinet of Antiquities at / Nismes.

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.4 The wooden model was given to the painter Thomas Sully in 1821 when he journeyed to Monticello to paint Jefferson's portrait for the United States Military Academy. Sully had it enscribed, 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, Jr.

Artist/MakerAnthony Simmons and Samuel Alexander
Object TypeSilver, Ceramics and Glass
Dimensions20 1/3 in.
LocationTea Room


  1. Julian Boyd, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 15:xxx.
  2. Thomas Jefferson to Charles Louis Clerisseau, 7 June 1789, Julian Boyd, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 15:172.
  3. Julian P. Boyd, Thomas Jefferson and the Roman Askos of Nîmes: 123.
  4. Joseph Coolidge to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, 16 December 1826, Edgehill-Randolph Papers.

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