A Presidential Pair

Come celebrate Presidents’ Day at the Carnegie Museum of Art by getting a closer look at a pair of decanters once owned by President James Monroe.

These two water decanters are the only known surviving objects from an immense 340-piece service made for President Monroe in 1818 and 1819. The Monroe service has eluded scholars for almost 200 years—a large portion was damaged during Monroe’s riotous inaugural celebration and the remainder was last documented in 1833 when the White House sold a dozen glass decanters, two of which were almost certainly these decanters. Their whereabouts remained unknown until 2010.

An early interpretation of the Great Seal of the United States, designed by secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson and formally adopted by Congress in 1782, adorns the decanters. An eagle clutches an olive branch and a bundle of arrows in its talons, bearing a shield on its breast while stars encircle its head.

The patriotic decoration and presidential provenance are not the decanters’ only distinguishing qualities. Created by renowned Pittsburgh glass manufacturer Bakewell, Page & Bakewell, these objects are the earliest known fully cut and engraved American water decanters. Benjamin Bakewell is recognized as the “father of the American flint glass business,” having begun his glassmaking career in Pittsburgh in 1808 along the banks of the Monogahela River. Bakewell was renowned in America for its high quality, colorless, lead glass formula, perfected only shortly before the decanters were made. As Pittsburgh-made presidential products, the Monroe decanters are an important marker of our region’s industrial and artistic heritage. Come see them in the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries of Decorative Arts and Design.