Another Historic Auction of President Jefferson’s Madeira in 1841
Last year I wrote about Historic Auctions of Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira. In this series of posts I describe four auctions containing Madeira attributed to Thomas Jefferson. They are the 1997 Sotheby’s auction of Thomas Jefferson’s three bottles of Madeira, the 1890 Wethered estate sale, the 1852 auction of Josiah Lee’s wine cellar, and the 1839 auction of John Gadsby’s extensive wine collection. I have just found a fifth auction containing a parcel of Thomas Jefferson’s Madeira.
It is largely known that bottles of wine claimed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson’s were auctioned off in 1987. We now know that these bottles were faked by Hardy Rodenstock. In 1997, three bottles of Thomas Jefferson Madeira were auctioned off without much scrutiny because the labels matched the published description of bottles served by Douglas H. Thomas in the early 20th century. Thus there is no reason to doubt that these three bottles of Madeira came from the parcel owned by Douglas H. Thomas. There is, however, no documentary evidence that Thomas Jefferson ever owned the bottles Douglas H. Thomas so carefully served.
John Gadsby’s wine was first auctioned off during his retirement in 1839. As the proprietor of Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, and the National Hotel, in Washington, DC, John Gadsby acquired a massive 10,000 bottle collection. His death in 1844 prompted a final series of wine auctions. The wine cellar of Josiah Lee, the notable Madeira collector, was auctioned off in 1852. Finally, Douglas H. Thomas purchased his bottles in 1890 at the sale of the Wethered family estate.
Heretofore unknown to me, on December 17, 1841, wine belonging to “a gentleman going to Europe” were put up for auction. This auction consisted of a significant volume of Madeira in bottles both imported privately from Madeira and purchased in America. Of the later bottles, they were “purchased at different times from private stocks in this city [New York City]”. This included the oldest parcel which was a dozen bottles of wine that was “procured in Madeira, imported in 1822, and must then have been 80 years in bottle”. With a century of age that would make the Madeira from 1740 or earlier.
Included in the private stocks is the “do 1811, imported by President Jefferson”. This lot could have been purchased at the John Gadsby auction in 1839 which was held at the City Hotel in New York City. Now there are no vintage, imported, or bottling dates of 1811 amongst the Jefferson Madeira advertised in the 1839 auction. However, when John Gadsby’s cellar was auctioned off in 1844, the advertised lots were more specific and include “Mark on Cork, O. M. Y. W. – Superior old Madeira, from Newton, Gordon, Murdock & Co., imported expressly for President Jefferson, in 1807, and bottled in 1811; bought by J. Gadsby in 1819.”
Thus the Europe bound gentleman could have owned the 1807 “O.M.Y.W.” bottled in 1811. Newspaper accounts of the auction results passed over the Thomas Jefferson bottles. Instead they focused in on the parcel of “Cole’s Madeira”, which was recorked in 1800. This 18th century wine sold for $117 per dozen. As the most expensive Madeira sold, it was calculated that 14,000 bottles could buy the entire United States Bank stock valued at $35,000,000.
What happened to the gentleman’s dozen bottles of Jefferson Madeira remains a mystery.
 Advertisement. Date: Tuesday, November 30, 1841 Paper: Commercial Advertiser (New York, New York) Volume: XLIV Page: 3
Unparalleled Distress in New-York. Date: Monday, December 27, 1841 Paper: Boston Courier (Boston, Massachusetts) Volume: XV Issue: 1844 Page: 1