Home > History of Wine > “Worth a Dollar a Drop”: The Thomas Jefferson Madeira of Douglas H. Thomas

“Worth a Dollar a Drop”: The Thomas Jefferson Madeira of Douglas H. Thomas

This is the final of four posts about historic auctions of Madeira attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  In this post I explore the history of the vintage 1800 Jefferson Madeira purchased by Douglas H. Thomas in 1890.  It was bottles from this purchase that Sotheby’s auctioned off in 1997.  I must thank Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co., for looking into the history of these bottles and pointing out the description by Charles Bellows.

Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, Va. c 1900-1906. Library of Congress.

Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, Va. c 1900-1906. Library of Congress.

In May 1997, Sotheby’s auctioned off two partially filled and one empty bottles of Madeira once “belonging to President Thomas Jefferson”.  These bottles were previously owned by Douglas H. Thomas who purchased them at auction. This auction took place on April 24, 1890, comprising the art collection and other effects of the late John Wethered.  John Wethered had been involved in the manufacture of woolen goods and also served as a Representative from Maryland to Congress.[1] The auction took place at the Wethered family estate of Ashland or “Ashlyn” near Cantonsville, Maryland.

Excerpt from the "Art Collection of the late John Wethered". [3]

Excerpt from the “Art Collection of the late John Wethered”. [3]

The early auction advertisement from April 15, 1890, describes the types of items in the residence, the “special oil paintings and engravings”, as well as the three coach horses, a cow, and a calf.[2]  No lots of wine were included which reflects the focus on the extensive collection of paintings.  A description of the auction appeared on April 25, 1890, in the article Art Collection of the late John Wethered. [3]   This article states that attendees “did some lively bidding for ‘a few bottles of rare old Madeira and Sherry wine from the estate of the late Philip Frank Thomas and whisky purchased at a sale of President Jefferson’s effects in 1843.'” The article incorrectly states Philip Frank Thomas instead of Philip Evan Thomas.  Philip Frank Thomas passed away on October 2, 1890, having been a Governor of Maryland and Secretary of the Treasury.[4] This later date precludes the wine coming from his “late” cellar.  These bottles were bid on by “a number of elderly gentlemen with radiant faces.”  Douglas H. Thomas was one of these gentlemen.  He was Baltimore’s greatest wine Madeira collector and successfully purchased these rare bottles.

Douglas H. Thomas associated the presentation of these Madeira bottles with Thomas Jefferson being the founder of the Democratic Party.  On November 16, 1896, multiple articles were published which describe a dinner held for Mr. Harry A. Parr, president of the Honest-Money Democratic League of Maryland.  At this dinner Douglas H. Thomas served the 1800 Thomas Jefferson Madeira.  It was reported that “a toast to Jeffersonian democracy” was made with the Madeira.   In the article Dollar a Drop it was reported that these bottles “reposed in the famous wine cellars of Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello, until 1834” when it was purchased by Philip Evan Thomas.[5]  At the death of Mrs. Wethered in 1886 there were “about six gallons” left being the remainder of the original purchase.  Douglas H. Thomas purchased this wine “from the cellar of her country place at Cantonsville.”  At least two other Dollar A Drop articles indicate a purchase date of 1834 but as these ran on December 1, 1896,[6] and December 17, 1896,[7] they appear to be sourced from an original article.  The November, 29, 1896, Washington Post article Drank Real Jeffersonian Wine states “The wine reposed in the famous cellars of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello until 1834.”[8]

All of these articles contain very similar content to an earlier Old Madeira article published by Charles Bellows on January 10, 1896.  In this article Charles Bellows, a wine merchant and Madeira expert, recalled a conversation about the Madeira between four gentlemen.  A part of the conversation concerned the “Jeffersonian Madeira, vintage 1800” which had been served at a Baltimore dinner.  One of the gentlemen received a letter from the dinner host who said the Madeira had “remained in the cellars of Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello, until 1834, when it was purchased by Philip Evan Thomas.”[9]

Excerpt from "Old Madeira" by Charles Bellows. [9]

Excerpt from “Old Madeira” by Charles Bellows. [9]

There was no sale of Thomas Jefferson’s effects in 1843 nor in 1834.  We also know that there was no Madeira left at Monticello upon the death of Thomas Jefferson.  Curious enough, the Art Collection of the late John Wethered article quotes an unspecified source, which does not state the Madeira came from Thomas Jefferson; it only states that some whisky did.  This raises the questions of who attributed the Madeira to Thomas Jefferson, where did the bottles come from, and when were they purchased.

Further information about these bottles of Madeira might be found in the Wethered auction catalog.  Unfortunately no one is aware of a surviving copy.  Benjamin Wallace wrote of the 1890 catalog but as his materials are in storage, he does not recall whether he saw a catalog or not nor does he know if he has a copy of the catalog or not.[10]  In The Billionaire’s Vinegar he wrote of the “contemporaneous documents” including “an 1890 auction catalog mentioning the bottles as part of a sale of the estate of the daughter of Philip Evan Thomas”.  I may be reading too much into this statement but it does sound very much like the description in the Art Collection of the late John Wethered article.   Jamie Ritchie, CEO and President, Americas and Asia, Sotheby’s Wine wrote that there are no records related to the provenance of the three bottles they auctioned.[11]  Serena Sutcliffe, Board Director, Worldwide Head of Wine, Sotheby’s Wine replied that she had not seen a catalog.[12]

The first described 1843 date might be a transcription mistake of the 1834. This would not be surprising as Philip Evan Thomas was also mistaken with Philip Frank Thomas.  The 1834 date is corroborated by the fact that Monticello was sold in 1834.  Monticello was described as being for sale by Dr. Charles Barclay on October 19, 1833.[13]  On April 10, 1834, it was noted that “There were but few persons present” for the sale and it was afterwards sold privately to Lieutenant Uriah Phillips Levy.[14]  Dr. Charles Barclay lived at Monticello and could have stored Madeira in the Monticello cellar.  The articles could then be referring to the physical “cellar” at Monticello instead of the personal wine stock of Thomas Jefferson.  Unfortunately there are no descriptions of wine in Dr. Charles Barclay’s correspondence and there are no known ledgers.[15] Nor is any wine mentioned in the depositions for the two lawsuits between Uriah Phillips Levy and Dr. Charles  Barclay regarding the property that conveyed in the sale of Monticello.[16] If the sale occurred in 1843 then the Madeira could have been that of Uriah Phillips Levy. These remain open-ended possibilities.

The wine cellar at Monticello.

The wine cellar at Monticello.

Another article also stated that these bottles “at one time reposed in the wine cellar of Thomas Jefferson.” [17] Upon the death of Philip Evan Thomas the wine came into possession of his daughter Mrs. John Wethered.  It was reported that “about twenty bottles” were purchased by Douglas H. Thomas.  At the time of the dinner Douglas H. Thomas still possessed a few more Jefferson bottles which “cost originally $3 a gallon.”  The articles do not specify how many bottles of Jefferson Madeira were opened so it is impossible to track their decline in numbers.  Douglas H. Thomas had also purchased “some fine old whisky” which was to be sent to Senator Allen G. Thurman for the “Old Roman” banquet.  A label for “Jefferson Whisky” was included in the auction of the Thomas Family Wine Collecting Archive.[18]  This label bears the same format and details of the 1800 Jefferson Madeira.  It appears that Douglas H. Thomas purchased all of the bottles described in the Art Collection of the late John Wethered.

Douglas H. Thomas stated the Jefferson bottles originally cost $3 per gallon.  Though the size of a pipe varied to some degreed it is possible to determine the approximate cost per gallon.  Thomas Jefferson received a 126-gallon pipe of “Pedro Ximenes” in 1801[19] and in 1811 wrote for a pipe of St George wine being “about 120 gallons.”[20] Between 1801 and 1803 Thomas Jefferson purchased seven pipes of wine at $350 per pipe and an eighth pipe in 1803 at $354.  At 120 gallons per pipe these purchases averaged $2.92 per gallon or rounded-up $3.00 per gallon.  Exactly how Douglas H. Thomas knew the original cost of the Madeira is unknown.  The Ashlyns auction catalog may have stated the price, the bottles or demijohn themselves may have born a tag or label, or he read the March 1885 issue of “Thomas Jefferson’s Financial Diary” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.[21]  In this article, significant attention is paid to Thomas Jefferson’s wine orders during his Presidency as well as providing a table detailing his Madeira consumption.

On December 22, 1896, Douglas H. Thomas wrote a letter to President Grover Cleveland informing him that, “I have the honor of sending you by express today a bottle of Madeira of the vintage 1800 – which at one time belonged to President Thomas Jefferson, hoping that it may be a welcome addition to your Christmas table…”.[22]  He stated that President Cleveland had “perpetuated Jeffersonian Democracy.”  President Cleveland wrote back on December 17, 1896, “Please accept my sincere thanks for the bottle of Jeffersonian madeira which you kindly sent me as a Christmas gift…would willingly [?] it to a celebration of the return of the party which Jefferson founded, to the principles which he commenced”.

Eight years later Douglas H. Thomas again served the 1800 Jefferson Madeira this time at a dinner in honor of Henry G. Davis at the Hotel Belvedere.  The provenance was described as “once owned by Thomas Jefferson” by the Baltimore Sun.[23]  It was noted that Thomas Jefferson was a founder of the Democratic Party and the Madeira was used to toast the success of Senator Henry G. Davis’ Democratic ticket.  There is no indication of the number of bottles opened. The wine itself was described as:

Jefferson Madeira.
Vintage 1800.
Purchased at the Sale of the Effects of
President Jefferson.
By Philip Evan Thomas,
First President, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

Purchased at Sale of Effects of
Mrs. Wethered,
Daughter of Philip Evan Thomas.
April 24, 1890.
By Douglas H Thomas.

The Baltimore American also ran an article the same date describing the Jefferson wine with slight differences as[24]:

Jefferson Madeira.
Vintage 1800.
Purchased at the sale of the effects of
President Jefferson,
By Philip Evan Thomas,
First President Balto. & Ohio R.R.

Purchased at sale of effects of
Mrs. Wethered, daughter of
Philip Evan Thomas, April 24, 1890,
By Douglas H. Thomas.

It is unclear if these descriptions are based on observing the bottle labels or were provided by Douglas H. Thomas.  The article format is very similar to that of the Sotheby’s labels but the order is slightly different and it omits the “Douglas H Thomas – Filtered 1890” text.

There were no sales of Thomas Jefferson’s effect in 1843.  It is possible but unlikely that Philip Evan Thomas had purchased “Monticello Madeira” instead.  There were three advertisements between February 21, 1843,[25] and December 1, 1843,[26] for vintage 1822 “Monticello Madeira.”  These lots were from the private stock of an importer and were auctioned off in Charleston.  I suspect this wine was imported in the brig Monticello.  On August 4, 1830, an advertisement in Baltimore was placed for a “few quarter and half quarter Casks of very superior Sercial, Bual, and Burgundy Madeira” from Newton, Gordon, Murdock, & Scott.[27]

Philip Evan Thomas was the first president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  It was his daughter Mrs. Wethered who famously received the telegraphed message from Dolley Madison when Dr. Morse tested the line in 1844.  Dolley Madison had been in the process of selling off Montpelier the previous few years.  In 1844 Philip Evan Thomas wrote to Dolley Madison about the upcoming visit of Mrs. Wethered to Washington, DC.  It is possible then that Philip Evan Thomas purchased or received wine from Dolley Madison.  On August 13, 1810, James Leander Cathcart sent James Madison an invoice that included two pipes of vintage 1800 Madeira from Don Carvalhal.[28]  Unfortunately the 1842 inventory of Dolley Madison’s possessions in Washington, DC, only include 8 bottles of wine.[29]  This amount of wine is too small to reflect the amount that Philip Evan Thomas purchased.

In May 1997, Sotheby’s auctions off two partially filled and one empty bottles of Madeira once “belonging to President Thomas Jefferson”.  These bottles perhaps represent the remainder of Douglas H. Thomas’ Jeffersonian Madeira.   We know that there is no documentary evidence to support that Thomas Jefferson was the owner.  Thus the Sotheby’s attribution of the Madeira to Thomas Jefferson is correct based solely on the bottle labels and turn of the century articles.  With a lack of further documentation, claims that Thomas Jefferson was indeed the owner falls to Douglas H. Thomas.  In trusting the sincerity of Baltimore’s greatest Madeira collector we simply cannot determine who originated the Thomas Jefferson attribution nor pick a purchase date of 1834 or 1843.  The early history of these bottles will remain a mystery until the 1890 Wethered auction catalog or other correspondence surfaces.

[1] Wethered, John, (1809-1888). Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. URL: http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000311
[2] Date: Tuesday, April 15, 1890          Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CVI   Issue: 128   Page: Supplement 1
[3] Date: Friday, April 25, 1890            Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CVI   Issue: 137   Page: 4
[4] Date: Saturday, October 4, 1890     Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CVII   Issue: 121   Page: 4
[5] Date: Monday, November 30, 1896               Paper: Boston Journal (Boston, MA)   Volume: LXIII   Issue: 20808   Page: 3
[6] Date: Tuesday, December 1, 1896                  Paper: Kentucky Post (Covington, KY)   Page: 7
[7] Date: Thursday, December 17, 1896              Paper: Morning Star (Rockford, IL)   Page: 4
[8] “Drank Real Jeffersonian Wine” The Washington Post, November 29, 1896. Page 1.
[9] Bellows, Charles. Articles on Madeira written by Charles Bellows for Bonfort’s Circular. 1901.  As well as transcription from Mannie Berk.
[10] Per email correspondence with Benjamin Wallace February 20, 2014.
[11] Per email correspondence with Jamie Ritchie February 22, 2014.
[12] Per email correspondence with Serena Sutcliffe August 2, 2014.
[13] Date: Saturday, October 19, 1833                 Paper: Saturday Morning Transcript (Boston, MA)   Volume: III   Issue: 7   Page: 26
[14] Date: Thursday, April 10, 1834       Paper: Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, VA)   Page: 2
[15] Per private correspondence with Connie Geary, Digital Archivist, Scottsville Museum.
[16] Per private correspondence with Marc Leepson. Historian, author, and journalist.
[17] Date: Monday, November 30, 1896              Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CXX   Issue: 12   Page: 6
[18] Important Thomas Family Wine Collecting Archive. September 17, 2011. Crocker Farm. URL: http://www.crockerfarm.com/maryland-auction/2011-09-17/lot-361/Important-Thomas-Family-Wine-Collecting-Archive/
[19] “From Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Yznardi, Sr., 24 March 1801,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-33-02-0381, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 33, 17 February–30 April 1801, ed. Barbara B. Oberg. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 441.
[20] “Thomas Jefferson to Peter Walsh, 27 March 1811,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-03-02-0376, ver. 2014-02-12). Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 3, 12 August 1810 to 17 June 1811, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, p. 505.
[21] http://books.google.com/books?id=nVIFAAAAQAAJ&pg=PP53#v=onepage&q&f=false
[22] Correspondence b/t Douglas H. Thomas and President Grover Cleveland re: Gift of Thomas Jefferson Madeira. URL: http://www.crockerfarm.com/maryland-auction/2011-09-17/lot-360/Correspondence-b-t-Douglas-H-Thomas-and-President-Grover-Cleveland-re-Gift-of-Thomas-Jefferson-Madeira/
[23] Date: Tuesday, October 11, 1904                  Paper: Sun (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: CXXXV   Issue: 148   Page: 12
[24] Date: Tuesday, October 11, 1904                  Paper: Baltimore American (Baltimore, MD)   Page: 14, 15
[25] Date: Tuesday, February 21, 1843                 Paper: Charleston Courier (Charleston, SC)   Volume: XLI   Issue: 12315   Page: 3
[26] Date: Friday, December 1, 1843   Paper: Charleston Courier (Charleston, SC)   Volume: XLI   Issue: 12549   Page: 3
[27] Date: Wednesday, August 4, 1830                Paper: Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser (Baltimore, MD)   Volume: 74   Issue: 12271   Page: 3
[28] My own transcription.  http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/03-02-02-0594
[29] “Inventory of Mrs. D. P. Madison’s furniture in House in Washington,” November 15, 1842, box 1, folder 1840–1842, Papers of Dolley Madison, MS 18940, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. MRD-S 142

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