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    DeWitt Clinton: Superb Hand-Painted Stobwasser Snuffbox Picturing Madison's 1812 Opponent. Political collectors are familiar with these round, lidded snuffboxes depicting presidents and statesmen. Usually the portraits and decorations were decals, and these boxes were manufactured for broad distribution. But the highest forms of this genre were the magnificent hand-painted boxes by the Stobwasser Company of Brunswick, Germany. Founded in 1763, Stobwasser was internationally known for a century for the manufacture of a variety of high-quality household objects including snuffboxes, pipes, miniatures, and elegant furniture destined for the courts of Europe. Much like the products of companies like Tiffany and Lalique, objects made by Stobwasser are avidly collected, particularly in Germany.

    Among the signature items for which the company was known were its beautifully painted snuffboxes, which depicted historical figures and scenes, individual's portraits, allegorical scenes, etc. Each box was signed, and also contained some sort of title, and on occasion more detailed text, lettered in a fine gold script. Apparently Stobwasser's work was of sufficient renown that special orders occasionally arrived from America. We recently examined a similar Andrew Jackson box by Stobwasser. Inside, in gold script, was not only Jackson's name, but also a patriotic Eagle and a stirring tribute to him as the victor of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

    The present example depicts DeWitt Clinton, who was narrowly defeated by Madison in the presidential election of 1812 and enjoyed one of the most significant political careers of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Although a member of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party, Clinton represented a minority of the party who opposed Madison's war policies, and who joined with the Federalists to oppose him for reelection. It was a close election, and Clinton received 89 electoral votes to Madison's 128. Clinton (1769-1828) began his political career as a member of the New York State Assembly in 1798. At various times he would serve as a U.S. senator from New York, mayor of New York City for three terms, governor of New York State, and president of the Erie Canal Commission, behind which he was the driving force. Clinton also organized the Historical Society of New York and served as its president, helped reorganize the American Academy of the Fine Arts and later served as its president, and was regent of the University of New York from 1808 through 1825.

    With the exception of a few paper relics, collectibles honoring this 1812 presidential candidate are all but nonexistent. Accordingly, the snuffbox offered here must be considered one of the most important political display objects from this early era. Interestingly, at least one other very similar box was crafted. It was advertised and pictured in a 1999 issue of Maine Antiques Digest, and is extremely similar to the present example. However, as each image was hand-painted, small differences are apparent on careful comparison. Both boxes carry Clinton's name on the underside of the lid, and are signed by Stobwasser on the bottom. The box offered here carries the number 2481 along with the signature, while the one offered in 1999 was numbered by the maker as number 2439. We have not attempted to determine if is possible to date these boxes precisely from Stobwasser records. However, the style was certainly being produced at the time of Clinton's 1812 presidential campaign, and the portrait depicts a man in vigorous middle-age (Clinton was 43 in 1812). The Jackson box referenced earlier shows an uncharacteristically youthful Jackson, and was almost certainly produced to honor him following his 1815 triumph.

    This Clinton box is in beautiful condition and, like the Jackson, in a large size- nearly 4" in diameter. The quality of the portraiture is apparent from the photographic image. A perhaps never to be repeated opportunity for the serious collector of early political display items.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2009
    17th-18th Tuesday-Wednesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 3,166

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