Silver Jefferson Cup – An Underappreciated American Gem

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Thomas Jefferson – President, Architect, University Founder, Author, Oenophile, Inventor, and Gardener – packed more into his life than most of us can imagine. In deeds and words, illustrations and buildings Jefferson left an extraordinary legacy. Even in the tiny little niche of silver, Jefferson left his mark. Although not as widely known as they should be, in keeping with so many of Jefferson’s other achievements, the silver Jefferson Cup is a beautiful marriage of form and function.

The Silver Jefferson Cup

Silver Jefferson Cup

An original Silver Jefferson Cup on display in the Dining Room of Monticello. The inscription reads GW to TJ.

The silver Jefferson cup was created by John Letelier at the special request of Jefferson in 1810.

Being just setting out on a journey, I have directed a pair of Cans and a pair of Beakers to be sent to you to be melted and put into the form of a plated cup, which will be sent with them as a model. The Cans and beakers weigh a little over 40. oz. avoirdupoise, the model a little over two ounces and a half. But it is too thin and weak for common use. I think those to be made should be of 5. oz. avoirdupoise weight nearly. They must also be about half an inch higher, in order to hold a little more than the model does. In every other respect I would wish the model to be exactly imitated. I supposed the metal of the Cans and beakers will make about 8. cups such as desired. That number however I would wish to receive even if additional metal should be necessary. Mark 4. of them if you please G.W. to T.J. and the others simply T.J. all in the cypher stile. If you can gild the inside as the model is it would be desirable. I am too well acquainted with the stile of your execution to suppose it necessary to add any recommendations on that subject. Accept the assurances of my esteem.

(source Thomas Jefferson to John Letelier, 27 March 1810, Missouri Historical Society)

This practice of recycling silver items, melting down old pieces to make new, was very common.  Thomas Jefferson commissioned the silver Jefferson cup because he did not like the design of the original “Cans and Beakers” referred to in the letter quoted above.  So off they went to the silversmith with instructions and a model for his new design.  Sometime later the Silversmith Letelier delivered the eight new cups to Jefferson.

I have a replica silver Jefferson cup in my ETSY store.  You can find it here.

Silver Cups in Summer Heat

The combination of the long 4th of July holiday, summer heat, having dinner with friends made me think about the good old silver Jefferson cup. And I wondered why is it that the Mint Julep cup is more well-known?

Perhaps because the julep cup is so closely associated with mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby?

To my knowledge, the Jefferson Cup doesn’t conjure up images of  A particular drink…although I must confess I personally think it would look delightful with condensation holding a large and lovely Pimms cocktail, garnished with some mint and luscious red ripe strawberries.

silver Jefferson cup - Pimms detail

Vintage Silver Pitcher pouring Pimms

Never heard of Pimms?

An English delight and the signature cocktail at my house in the summer months…here’s how I prepare it.

  • Simple syrup (to make simple syrup stir 1/2 cup of sugar into 1 cup of boiling water.  Stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool.)
  • Lemon juice
  • Sparkling mineral water
  • Mint leaves
  • Apple slices
  • Red ripe gorgeous strawberries
  • Pimms

Make a big pitcher of lemonade with the syrup, lemon juice and sparkling water. Adjust for your preferred lemon to sugar ratio.

DON’T substitute ready made or a soft drink.  Trust me it’s worth it.  Make the simple syrup in a big batch, it can keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge…or you can fill your hummingbird feeder.

Add the sliced fruit and mint leaves and then add a measure of Pimms.  Again, there is no “right” amount adjust to your taste.  Do be warned, although it tastes sweet, delicious and quite harmless it’s got a sneaky side… 🙂

Chill until ready to serve, then pour into some lovely glasses (or a silver Jefferson cup) and enjoy!

And yes, I do see the irony of serving an English drink in the creation of one of the Founding Fathers. Just think of it as added dimension of the Special Relationship!


Do you have a signature summer cocktail at your house?


A conversation with my friend Cathy at Stitchfork Designs, promoted this post. If you found this post via her, you’ll know that we are both intrigued by monograms and inscriptions of all kinds.  This week Cathy very cleverly replicated Jefferson’s script to embroider on a gift going to a student at the University of Virginia.

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