George Washington Memorial Ring, A Reflection

March 8, 2010

George Washington was a unique individual. It’s redundant to speak about his importance to United States history and rather than telling of the of his personal diaries (which I’ve interacted with), I’d rather focus upon this most wonderful ring:

Gold with engraving of Washington by Charles Balthazer Julien Fevert De Saint Memin Inscribed in Gold Lettering on Enameled Band “Geo. Washington. OB:14. Dec. 1799.AE. 68”

c. 1800 “George Washington” Gold Memorial Ring, with central Engraving Portrait of Washington by Charles Balthazer Julien Fevert De Saint-Memin, Choice Near Mint.

This unique design oval ring, measures approximately .75″ long, and is currently housed together within it’s original, well worn, leather ring case. After the death of George Washington, at the reading of his Last Will and Testament, we find under item number twenty-two the following statement, as follows:

“To my Sisters in Law Hannah Washington & Mildred Washington, to my friends Eleanor Stuart, Hanna Washington of Fairfield and Elizabeth Washington of Hayfield, I give each a Mourning Ring of the value of One Hundred Dollars. These bequests are not made for their intrinsic value of them, but as mementos of my esteem and regard.”

Two years of research whas revealed the following information; none of these five Gold Mourning Rings can be directly traced back to any of the people listed in Washington’s Last Will and Testament. However we know with certainty that five actual Memorial Rings do exist today, as follows:
1. Mount Vernon, donated Private Collection, sold in 1977 by C.G. Sloan & Co. 1977.
2. Private collection, Ex. Frank S. Schwarz and Son of Philadelphia.
3. Metropolitan Museum of fine Art, New York.
4. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Division of Political History, Museum of American History.
5. Current Example, Ex. Dr. Joseph E. Fields
Other sources sited are: W.S. Baker, “Engraved Portraits of Washington,” (1880) John Hill Morgan and Mantle Fielding, “Life Portraits of Washington and Their Replicas” (1931) Windy C. Wick, “George Washington An American Icon.” Here we offer the Doctor E. Fields ring, which was once owned by Anna S. King, and with provenance going back to 1882. This specific ring is mentioned in Elizabeth Johnson’s 1882 book, “Portraits of Washington,” where this ring is found on page 135. This extraordinary Memorial ring is unique in it’s style and design. It is inscribed in gold lettering on an oval enameled band which surrounds the inner portrait, which reads: “Geo. Washington. OB:14. Dec. 1799.AE. 68.” Of the five different Gold “George Washington” Mourning rings, the specimen offered here is by far the most elaborate in it’s design, detail, style, intrinsic beauty and quality. This ring is by a large margin the finest known of only two designs which are now held in private hands, and that remain collectable. The other three rings are locked away, being housed in museum collections. Provenance: Ex. Dr. Joseph E. Fields.

Charles Balthazar Julien de Saint-Memin (1770-1852) …
was an officer in the French royal palace guard whose lands were forfeited during the Reign of Terror, after the French Revolution. He fled to America and developed a business producing engraved portraits. He was able to produce profile portraits using the latest technology: a machine called the Physiognotrace, a duplicating device based on the pantograph. This device allowed the artist to capture a profile quickly, with only a little freehand finishing work, by looking at the sitter through an eyepiece and then tracing his or her features with a pivoting, pointing rod. A pencil attached to the other end repeated the movements onto a sheet of paper. His legacy is unique, because he also took likenesses of ordinary citizens, along with those of the rich and famous, although only the prosperous could afford the time to sit for him. He worked in America from 1793 to 1814, and won his U.S. citizenship. He retired in 1809, after completing the commissions he gathered during Aaron Burr’s treason trial. When the monarchy was restored in France in 1814 he returned to his homeland with his family, and ended his days working as the director of the Dijon Museum. (H. Burchard, Washington Post, Dec. 1, 1994,

Read more at Art of Mourning…

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