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See: p. 94

p. 92

p. 144 p. 48

p. 140

and more!

p. 152

Relics, Keepsakes, and Curios from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History W i l l i a m L . B i r d, J r . ­ Sm i th s o n i an I n st it u t io n, N at io n a l M us e um of Ameri can Hi story, Wash i ngton, DC, i n a ss o c iat io n w it h P r in c eto n Arc h i tectural Press, New York

Published by Princeton Architectural Press 37 East Seventh Street New York, New York 10003 Visit our website at © 2013 The Smithsonian Institution All rights reserved Printed and bound in China by 1010 Printing International 16 15 14 13 4 3 2 1 First edition No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews. Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions. Editor: Sara E. Stemen Designer: Elana Schlenker Prepress: Andrea Chlad Special thanks to: Sara Bader, Nicola Bednarek Brower, Janet Behning, Fannie Bushin, Megan Carey, Carina Cha, Benjamin English, Russell Fernandez, Jan Hartman, Jan Haux, Diane Levinson, Jennifer Lippert, Jacob Moore, Katharine Myers, Margaret Rogalski, Dan Simon, Andrew Stepanian, Elana Schlenker, Paul Wagner, and Joseph Weston of Princeton Architectural Press —Kevin C. Lippert, publisher Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Political History. Souvenir nation : Relics, keepsakes, and curios from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History / William L. Bird, Jr.       p. cm.  The objects described and pictured here are from the collection of the Division of Political History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.  Includes bibliographical references.  ISBN 978-1-61689-135-0 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1.  Souvenirs (Keepsakes)—History. 2.  Americana—Collectibles—History. 3.  Souvenirs (Keepsakes)—Catalogs. 4.  Americana—Collectibles—Catalogs. 5.  Material culture—United States—Catalogs. 6.  National Museum of American History (U.S.). Division of Political History—Catalogs.   I. Bird, William L. II. Title.  E161.N38 2013  973.074’753—dc23

contents Preface —7—

The Triumphal Souvenir —8—


T h e C a u s e o f F r e e dom — 46 —

T h e I m mo r ta l Wa s h i ngton — 58 —

I n du s t r i a l R e vo l u tion s — 74 —

F or e ig n G u e s t s — 86 —

Di p l om ac y a n d Wa r — 108 —

P r e s i d e n ti a l Pi e c e s — 124 —


Acknowledgments — 156 —


— 158 —


— 169 —

Piece of George Washington’s mahogany coffin mount vernon, virginia ——— Purchase, 2011

The Saltonstall to whom the note refers is believed to be Leverett Saltonstall, representative from Massachusetts to the US House of Representatives from 1838 to 1843. Saltonstall often visited Mount Vernon; as early as 1825, he hoped that Mount Vernon’s buildings might be kept in better repair, but “never be modernized or lose the features given them by W.” Saltonstall found Washington’s burial vault “an object of indescribable interest . . . in the most romantic spot imaginable—very near the river—at the edge of the bank—upon which Washington no doubt loved to roam.” Saltonstall noted that two limbs of the cedar trees growing over the vault had been “sacrilegiously sawed off ” by visitors, the others “mutilated.” Without irony, he enclosed two cedar sprigs with his letter, promising to bring more home soon. Saltonstall visited Mount Vernon again in 1840, when he likely received this coffin piece from John Augustine Washington, George Washington’s great-grandnephew and Mount Vernon’s resident owner. Saltonstall was also acquainted with Washington’s grandnephew Colonel George Corbin Washington of Georgetown. Whether Saltonstall obtained his souvenir from Augustine, Corbin, or another Washington nephew is open to conjecture. Saltonstall did not elaborate on the circumstances of his 1840 visit to Mount Vernon.1

An act of vandalism at the family burial vault of George Washington in 1830 set in motion a plan to construct a new and more secure tomb at Mount Vernon. The old vault had been set into a hillside overlooking the Potomac River, not far from the mansion. Architect William Strickland, with Washington’s nephew Major Lawrence Lewis and others, moved Washington’s remains to a new tomb not far from the old vault in 1837. When Strickland and Lewis entered the old vault to remove Washington’s coffin, its wood broke away in pieces, leaving the remains sealed inside what had been the coffin’s lead lining. Strickland noted that in the thirty years since Washington’s death in 1799, the wooden part of the coffin had been renewed three times. James Green, an Alexandria, Virginia, cabinetmaker, was hired to make what is believed to have been Washington’s third and final coffin, which Strickland and Lewis placed in a marble sarcophagus in the new tomb in 1837. Their plan had been to make souvenirs from the mahogany coffin wood, but its deteriorated condition made that idea unworkable. Small pieces of the wood, however, were distributed. The note on this piece reads “Washington’s Coffin presented to Mr. Saltonstall by a nephew, + namesake of Washington residing at Mount Vernon.”

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c. 1840

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Wooden George Washington plaque from James Crutchett’s Mount Vernon Factory Wa s h i n g t o n , DC ——— Purchase, 2010

proceeds from sales to the Washington National Monument Society, the other to himself. As a business venture, however, Crutchett’s souvenir sales floundered by the early 1860s, as construction stalled on the monument that had inspired his undertaking. Beset by creditors, Crutchett’s idled factory and its wooden inventory were seized by the federal government at the beginning of the Civil War to be made into a soldiers’ rest near the capital’s railroad passenger station. Making a public appeal for relief to President Lincoln in 1861, Crutchett recommended his souvenirs as rewards of merit for the nation’s children. His appeal to Lincoln was unsuccessful. Returning to the gas industry after the war, Crutchett later sought to revive his souvenir business in the 1880s with Washington wooden-medallion sets, but was never able to regain his footing. He was unable to capitalize even upon the opening of the Washington Monument in 1888. He died penniless in Washington, DC, in 1889.2

Inspired by patriotic interest in the construction of the Washington Monument, Englishman James Crutchett produced souvenir George Washington keepsakes in his “Mount Vernon Factory.” Previously known for illuminating the US Capitol with gaslight, Crutchett contracted in 1852 with John Augustine Washington, the last of the president’s family to live at Mount Vernon, to harvest wood from his estate for the purpose of making souvenirs. The contract specified wood from the vicinity of Washington’s tomb and an outlying tract. Crutchett’s Mount Vernon souvenirs came with a certificate of authenticity issued under the authority of Crutchett; John Augustine Washington; and the mayor of Washington, DC. Crutchett modeled an initial run of souvenir canes after the president’s favorite walking stick. He later made many more saucer-shaped, wooden-framed engravings picturing Washington and his tomb and mansion. Crutchett dedicated half of the

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Old ivy from Mount Vernon mount vernon, virginia ——— Gift of Mrs. Frederic W. Huidekoper, 1909

railroads that he consolidated near the city’s monumental core. Huidekoper is believed to have shared his wife’s interests in genealogical research as members of the Society of Colonial Wars and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their piece of Mount Vernon ivy came to the museum along with his collection of geological specimens, gathered throughout the country during his railroad and steel days. Though the museum’s scientists pronounced the ivy “worthless,” nevertheless, it was graciously accepted as part of the collection at the wishes of the donor.

Souvenir sales were developed at Mount Vernon as an alternative to the depredations of tourists determined to take pieces of it. Estatemade souvenirs capitalized upon natural features including vines, flowers, and trees, which were renewable and could be cut to bits and even written upon at the mansion’s greenhouse. This piece of ivy belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Frederic W. Huidekoper of Washington, DC. Frederic W. Huidekoper was a prominent figure in the American railroad and steel industries and in the city’s Burleith neighborhood west of Georgetown. A booster of Washington, DC, Huidekoper relocated the headquarters of the

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Washington Monument cornerstone piece Wa s h i n g t o n , DC ——— Transfer, Library of Congress, 1961

work on what in the intervening years had become a national embarrassment. The restart began with a feasibility study of the monument’s foundation that led to its expansion to support a freestanding masonry obelisk with a height of 555 feet. The new foundation covered the cornerstone, whose belowgrade location can now only be approximated. Master mechanic P. H. McLaughlin, known as “Monument” McLaughlin, oversaw the work on the grounds. Representing the monument committee, Toner was present the day that McLaughlin and his crew shored up the cornerstone, and it was McLaughlin who presented Toner with a piece of it that broke off in the process. Dr. Toner took great pride in showing it. “I am not a vandal,” he later volunteered to a reporter, who noted that Toner bundled his prize in a gauzy bandage “wrapped around the small chunk of marble as carefully as the swaddling clothes around the ghostly form of an Egyptian mummy.”3 It is not known who painted the stone.

Broken from the cornerstone of the Washington Monument laid in 1848, this piece of marble with the monument’s painted image belonged to Joseph Meredith Toner, a Washington, DC, physician, philanthropist, and amateur historian. Heavily involved in the intellectual life of the nation’s capital, Toner collected all things related to George Washington, helped found the Columbia Historical Society (now the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.), and led the revival of the commission in 1884 that oversaw the completion of the monument in 1888. Gifts of stone played a crucial part in the monument’s construction, including the 24,500-pound marble cornerstone, laid at the northeast angle of the foundation before an audience of 15,000 to 20,000 people on July 4, 1848. Begun by private subscription, the construction came to a halt for lack of funds in the mid-1850s. Not until the nation’s centennial in 1876 did Congress resume

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Brick collected at Wakefield, George Washington’s boyhood home Co l o n i a l B e ac h , V i r g i n i a ——— Gift of John Paul Earnest, 1898

that Jackson dedicated in 1833 was worked into the base of the new shaft. “Relic brokers” gathered the leftover bits from the original obelisk to sell to visitors “at twenty-five and fifty cents apiece, according to size.” Ongoing efforts to identify the foundation of Washington’s actual birth-house led to further excavation of a debris pile that recommended itself to visitors seeking pieces of the Colonial past. John Heltz, a member of the Sons of the American Revolution who visited the site in September 1894, collected this brick from debris that may or may not have been part of the house’s foundation. Heltz acquired his relic before the War Department finished excavating one of the two chimney foundations in an attempt to discover the dwelling’s footprint. Subsequent archaeological investigation in 1941 revealed that a memorial hall built in the 1920s on what was thought to be the original foundation had missed the mark. Presenting the appearance of a home, it nonetheless became a modern Colonial-revival shrine.4 The brick is the gift of John Paul Earnest, a George Washington University law professor who donated it to the museum in his capacity as the secretary of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

This clay brick came from the site of George Washington’s earliest home on the banks of Popes Creek, near the present-day city of Colonial Beach, Virginia. Born in 1732, Washington lived there until the age of three, when his parents, John Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, moved to Mount Vernon. The farm, which they left to family members, became known as Wakefield in the 1770s. The property suffered a disastrous fire in 1779 and was abandoned. Over the years, the elements and pillaging relic hunters reduced the ruins of the house and its outbuildings to obscurity. One of the home’s two standing chimneys fell apart and was salvaged for new construction. A second was picked apart by parties of picnickers “that landed on the sandy beach confiscat[ing] the bricks and stones for souvenirs until but few remained.” President Andrew Jackson dedicated a small obelisk at the farm site in 1833. Not until the 1890s did renewed interest in Washington’s birthplace as a patriotic shrine compel the organization of a memorial association to oversee its preservation. President Grover Cleveland visited to dedicate a new obelisk in May 1894. The cornerstone of the older and smaller obelisk

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Miniature compass embedded in a nut from Mount Vernon mount vernon, virginia ——— Gift of Laura Wolcott Tuckerman (Mrs. Willard G. Treist), Ruth Hollingsworth Tuckerman, Margaret Cary Tuckerman, Elsie Tuckerman, and Alice Noel Tuckerman, 1961

material—in this case, a nut from Mount Vernon was combined with a compass from nowhere in particular. The playful juxtaposition of the buckeye from Washington’s estate and the compass suggests its potential for providing historical and moral direction.5 This compass nut came to the museum with curiosities donated by the Tuckerman sisters and their families of Washington, DC. Their donation included a membership badge from the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities; a badge celebrating the Jamestown, Virginia, Tercentenary of 1907; and an engineer’s tripod and level used to survey the boundary of Alaska and Canada in the 1910s. Their donation also included a photograph from a series of Mount Vernon views picturing visitors at the turn of the twentieth century.

This nut is believed to have fallen from one of Mount Vernon’s buckeye trees. George Washington is known to have collected buckeye seeds at the mouth of the Cheat River in the present state of West Virginia in 1784 and planted them on his estate the following year. A census of the trees in the vicinity of the mansion published by the Harvard botanist and arborist Charles Sprague Sargent in 1917 identified seven buckeyes located along the serpentine paths of the estate’s bowling green—a finely-kept lawn edged with trees that Washington devised to shade and frame the approach to the mansion. The buckeye has been embedded with a miniature compass and fixed with a ring so that it may be worn as a charm. It is a transitional piece in the late-nineteenth-century economy of commercial souvenir production, which was changing from locally to globally produced

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c. 1910

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Wooden compotes made from the Washington Elm C a m b r i d g e , M a ss a c h u s e t t s ——— Gift of Mrs. Leonard Carmichael, 1976

left to the turn of woodworkers and hobbyists, who created their own memorials. In 1927, for example, the city presented aviator Charles Lindbergh with a miniature of his aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis, modeled from the supply. Though the Washington Elm legend was subsequently denounced as apocryphal by the Cambridge Historical Society, efforts to set the record straight ran into a Parson Weems– like wall of misattribution that lingered into the 1930s. The legend continued to live on, even after the arboretum at Harvard University joined in the debunking effort when nurserymen began selling grafts said to have been propagated from the Washington Elm and urged public planting as a lesson in patriotism by civic and school groups.6 These small compotes are believed to have been turned by a private woodworker from the supply of Washington Elm wood given away by the city. They were given to the museum by the wife of Smithsonian Secretary Leonard Carmichael, who, before coming to the institution, was the president of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts.

These small, wooden compotes, or cups, were turned from a piece of the legendary Washington Elm, under whose branches George Washington was said to have accepted his commission as the head of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1775. For many years the legend was believed to be true and grew along with the storied tree at the intersection of Garden and Mason Streets near Harvard Square. On October 26, 1923, the tree, long dead but carefully attended by the city’s arborists, toppled into the street. The Cambridge police quickly cordoned off the tree to protect it from relic hunters who arrived armed with saws; arborists cut up the trunk and branches and carted them away to a local warehouse for safekeeping until the city decided what to do with the wood. In response to requests received from all corners of the country, the city sent a labeled slab cut from the trunk to each state governor, with two gavels made from branches going to each state legislature. A specially polished piece of the trunk was sent to Mount Vernon. The city distributed the remaining slabs and unfinished pieces to the public, exhausting the supply. Many pieces were

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Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, & Curios from the Smithsonian  

Buried within the collection of the Smithsonian Institution s National Museum of American History exists an astonishing group of historical...

Souvenir Nation: Relics, Keepsakes, & Curios from the Smithsonian  

Buried within the collection of the Smithsonian Institution s National Museum of American History exists an astonishing group of historical...