Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Object Details

Maker
Unknown
Date
ca. 1795-1810
Geography
China
Culture
China, for export
Medium
ceramic; porcelain with overglaze enamels
Dimensions
Various sizes
Provenance
By descent in the Sargent family to the donors
Inscriptions
A banner inscribed with the motto "NEC QUAERERE HONOREM, NEC SPERNERE" (Neither to see not to despise honors)
Credit Line
Gift of Misses Aimee and Rosamond Lamb
Collection
The Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.
Accession Number
RR-1985.0043.1-.4

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Object Essay

Services of Chinese export porcelain personalized simply by the addition of initials or monograms in shields, medallions, or borders were relatively common in the early American market. Such simple individualization satisfied the desire for something special in a manner consistent with the accepted definition of democratic behavior. A few personalized Chinese export porcelain services from the late eighteenth century, however, display armorial or pseudo-armorial decoration, reflecting another aspect of the American democratic attitude—the notion that social standing could be redefined simply by adopting the accoutrements of a higher class even if one were not born into it. American services with heraldic devices in the manner of Old World services include those for James H. Giles of New York (made ca. 1785), the Chase family of Maryland (made about 1795), Elias Boudinot of New Jersey (made about 1790), Charles Manigault of South Carolina (made about 1820), the Clement family of Philadelphia (made about 1800), and the Sargent family of Massachusetts, as seen in this plate and related examples.1For a discussion of these services, see Le Corbeiller 1977, 1124–29.

Four plates from the Sargent service are preserved in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, given by descendants of Ignatius Sargent of Gloucester, Massachusetts.2The other three plates in the Collection’s group are 1985.43.2–4; see Conger and Rollins, Treasures of State, cat. no. 166 (Acc. No. 85.43). The Collection also includes eight dinner plates from another source. Forbes, 55, describes a large group of pieces from this service in the China Trade Museum (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum of Salem) given by the same donors. Two examples are in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acc. nos. 69.390–91). In the center of each plate is the Sargent arms, as recorded in the 1682–1683 “Visitation to Gloucestershire:” chevron between three dolphins, embowed or. The crest shown here and used by some American Sargents is an eagle rather than the more traditional dolphin. The banner below the armorial bears the motto NEC QUAERERE HONOR EM NEC SPERNERE (neither to seek nor to despise honors). A bookplate belonging to Ignatius Sargent and engraved by Joseph Callender (1751–1821) probably was used as the source for the Chinese decorators to copy.3Although Le Corbeiller 1977, 1125, speculates that a bookplate of Winthrop Sargent, a relative of Ignatius, also may have provided the source for the Chinese painters, Forbes, 55, notes that the descent of the service is from Ignatius Sargent. For other objects from the Winthrop Sargent family in the Collection, see Conger and Rollins, Treasures of State, cat. nos. 207, 259, and 260 (Acc. No. 78.80, 73.55, and 73.56). The Callender bookplate is illustrated in Le Corbeiller 1977, 1122.

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.