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  • General Josiah Harmar
    General Josiah Harmar
  • Appeal to the Great Spirit
    Appeal to the Great Spirit
  • Hong Punch Bowl
    Hong Punch Bowl
  • Barter for a Bride
    Barter for a Bride
  • Chinese Export Porcelain Openwork Basket with Pitt Armorial
    Chinese Export Porcelain Openwork Basket with Pitt Armorial
  • Artist/MakerMasi, Seraphim (working 1822-ca. 1855)
  • Date Madeca. 1840
  • Place MadeUSA, probably Washington, DC
  • MaterialsMetals; Silver
  • Measurements5 3/16 (dia.) in.; Weight: 19 oz. 12 dwt.
  • Funds donated by The Hon. Ronald Lauder & Mrs. Lauder
  • RoomThe Entrance Hall
  • Accession #1980.0013

American Skippet

Skippets are boxes, usually of silver or gold, used to protect the official wax seals on important official documents.  Skippets were used by the United States only on major nineteenth-century international treaties and most skippets by American silversmiths survive in foreign archives.  The design of the seal itself is usually reproduced on the top of the skippet, and the base and cover are generally pierced to accommodate the cords that attach the wax seal to documents.
The majority of American skippets are unmarked, but several District of Columbia silversmiths are known to have made them as special commissions for the government. For example, Charles A. Burnett (1760-1849) made the silver skippet for the Treaty of Ghent in 1815.  Jacob Leonard (who worked about 1810 to 1825) was paid for four silver-gilt skippets in 1819.  Seraphim Masi made four skippets in 1824, one in 1825, and several others over the course of his career, including several gold skippets for Commodore Perry's expedition to China in 1852.  Samuel Lewis (working ca. 1850–ca.1870) made skippets until 1870, after which the practice of using these protective but expensive boxes was discontinued.[l]
This unmarked skippet is a fine example of a rarely seen form that is unique to the purpose and mission of the Department of State.  Inscribed in a banner in block letters, "E PLURIBUS UNUM,” it is nearly identical to the silver-gilt, unmarked skippet attached to the Convention of Adjustment of Claims with Mexico, which was ratified February 8, 1829, and to a silver skippet attached to the Convention of Transit Way across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec with Mexico, signed in 1851.[2]  The seal design was cast as a rather heavy plaque and is backed by a thin disk of plain silver to form the top of the cover of the shallow, drum-shaped box.  The background of the plaque has been scraped and the raised design very carefully refined with chasing.  The box itself is simply made of sheet silver.  This skippet appears to date from the period when Seraphim Masi is known to have been supplying such items to the federal government.
Jennifer F. Goldsborough
1. Brown 1978, 140–41.
2. Ibid., pl. I, 139, and pl. III, 138.