Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Object Details

Maker
Unknown
Date
ca. 1772
Geography
China
Culture
China, for export
Medium
ceramic; porcelain with overglaze enamels
Dimensions
Overall: 3 7/8 in x 8 13/16 in x 6 7/8 in; 9.8425 cm x 22.38375 cm x 17.4625 cm
Provenance
Made for William Pitt (the Elder, 1st Earl of Chatham) and his wife, Hester Grenville, Countess of Chatham.
Inscriptions
Script reading, "BENIGNO NUMINE" in banderole
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Frederick Frelinghuysen
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1966.0016

Object Essay

William Pitt (1708–1778), the first earl of Chatham and owner of this porcelain basket, was America’s greatest ally in Parliament. The colonists “are the subjects of this kingdom,” declared Pitt in his 1766 arguments against the Stamp Act, “equally entitled with yourselves to all the natural rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen. Equally bound by its laws, and equally participating of the constitution of this free country. The Americans are the sons, not the bastards, of England.”1Quoted in Edmund S. Morgan, ed., Prologue to Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764–1766 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), 136. He acknowledged Britain’s legal right to govern the colonies, but saw no justification for taxing them without their consent. Although Pitt was successful in having the Stamp Act repealed, he could not stop the growing hostility between American revolutionaries and the British Crown. Until his death in 1778, Pitt continued to argue against the war that developed and urged the king to withdraw troops, warning that the armed conflict would undo the kingdom. 

The basket, bearing the arms of Viscount Pitt impaling those of his wife, Hester Grenville, is from a service presented in 1772 by John Bradbury Blake, the British East India Company’s agent in Canton.2Howard, 1974, 404–405. Pitt and Hester Grenville were married about 1755. She became baroness of Chatham in her own right in 1761, and Pitt was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Pitt and earl of Chatham in 1766.3Dictionary of National Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1937), s.v. “William Pitt,” vol. 15, 1240–1253. The arms as presented on the basket are marshaled below the coronets of an earl and baroness. The Pitt crest is shown above the arms. At the left is the earl’s coronet above the letter C and, at the right, the baroness’s with the letters HC. 

Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker

Excerpted from Jonathan L. Fairbanks. Becoming a Nation: Americana from the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State. New York: Rizzoli, 2003.