Home > History of Wine > “choice Old Jefferson Madeira”: Thomas Jefferson Madeira from the cellar of Josiah Lee

“choice Old Jefferson Madeira”: Thomas Jefferson Madeira from the cellar of Josiah Lee


This is the third of four posts about historic auctions of Madeira attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  In this post I focus in on a single demijohn of Madeira that appeared in Josiah Lee’s cellar. When I first discussed this auction with Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., not only did he have a copy of the auction catalog but he, incredibly, knew that the Thomas Jefferson demijohn was purchased by Colonel John Eager Howard.

Advertisement for the "Old Wines" of Josiah Lee. November 08,  1852.

Advertisement for the “Old Wines” of Josiah Lee. November 08, 1852.

An additional lot of Thomas Jefferson Madeira was to be sold at the November 11, 1852, auction of Josiah Lee’s cellar.[1]  Josiah Lee was a famous Madeira collector in Baltimore. It was said that this auction replenished many Washington cellars.[10]  The auction was conducted by Gibson & Co of Baltimore who advertised the lots as, “comprising probably the largest private collection of rare and costly old wines.”  Amongst the lots were “also 150 demijohns of Old Charleston, Jefferson, Patterson, Harper, Butler, Merryman, Oliver, H. Thompson, Macdonald, Constitution, Araugo, Newton Gordon, Murdock, and other fines Madeiras in bottles and demijohns.”  Not all of the Madeira was sold, including the Jefferson lot, as it was included in the list advertised on November 12, 1852, for auction two days later.[2]  In the auction catalog, lot #96 lists “1 demijohn, 3 gallons, choice Old Jefferson Madeira.”[3]  This lot appears under the “Madeiras” section and is separate from the “Celebrated Old ‘Cox’ Wines” of James Cox.  The title of the auction states that the wines were “15 to 40 years old.”  That would date the Jefferson Madeira from 1812 to 1837.

Despite the appearance of several articles about both days of the auction, the details of particular lots are slim.  Of the first day it was noted that Madeira prices ranged from $1 to $9 per gallon with four demijohns at $16 per gallon and five of a particular quality at $49 per gallon.[4]  The most expensive lot were “old ‘box,’ Madeira” comprise of 22 bottles sold at $15.50 per bottle or $77.50 per gallon.[5]  The second part of the auction was attended by “a large number of persons present, and the bidding continued very animated, until the entire stock was disposed of.”[6]  The auction realized some $14,000 in sales.

Mannie Berk pointed out that Colonel John Eager Howard (1821-1862) of Baltimore purchased the entire demijohn of “Jefferson Madeira” for $16.50.[7] What happened to the demijohn is not known.  The Madeira remained in the family for in the 1880s inventory of A. W. Howard’s wine it appears[8].  We do know that Thomas Jefferson did use both bottles and demijohns for his wine.  In August 1807 he was sent 30 demijohns and corks from Richmond to Monticello.[9]  It is thus possible that Thomas Jefferson stored Madeira in demijohn.  Without further details it is impossible to place this demijohn in context of Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira.


[1] Date: Tuesday, November 2, 1852                  Paper: American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD)   Page: 3
[2] Date: Friday, November 12, 1852                   Paper: American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD) Page: 3
[3] Catalogue of the Large and Valuable Private Stock of Very Choice Old Wines, Brandies, Whiskey, and other Liquors Belonging to the Estate of the Estate Josiah Lee.  From the collection of Mannie Berk.
[4] Date: Friday, November 12, 1852                   Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: XXXI   Issue: 153   Page: 1
[5] Date: Friday, November 12, 1852                   Paper: American and Commercial Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD)   Page: 2
[6] Date: Monday, November 15, 1852               Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA)   Page: 3
[7] There are two entries of “Jefferson Madeira” in the Howard papers. In the Howard Papers MS. 469 appears the entry “Jefferson Madeira bought in 1852. at 16.56[0?] a gallon”.  The Howard-Gilmor Papers MS. 2619 contains “Jefferson Madeira bought in 1852 at 16-15 a gallon”.  I think it refers to the same lot and not two different lots despite the price differences. The one page MS. 2619 appears to be a subset derived from MS. 469.  They both have the 80# bottled in 1831, demijohned 1843.  Prior to the MS. 469 Jefferson entry and subsequent to the MS. 2619 Jefferson entry appears “Grape Juice Madeira” of Johnson, 1841, “like old Charleston”.  The price difference could just be a transcription mistake.  Mannie Berk also notes that Douglas H. Thomas wrote the price “$16 ½” on his copy of the Lee auction catalog.
[8] Howard Papers, 1662-1919, MS. 469. The Maryland Historical Society.
[9] “To Thomas Jefferson from David Higginbotham, 27 August 1807,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-6263, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version. And “From Thomas Jefferson to John Barnes, 28 July 1808,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-8404, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: this is an Early Access document from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It is not an authoritative final version.
[10] Poore, Benjamin Perley. Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis, Volume 1. 1886. URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=PWclAAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

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