Celebrate Washington’s Birthday
With A Collection
Almost forgotten in the holiday observances of the United States is that or almost 200 years, February 22 was celebrated as the birthday of George Washington. Today, Washington’s birthday, along with that of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and all th other Presidents, have been condensed into a single holiday called “President’s Day.” Collectors, however, can still continue to accumulate and enjoy the items from the past that were made to celebrate “George’s Day.”
George Washington died in 1799. during the next century, numerous mementoes of Washington were made. Some of the earliest were memorial portraits created in either needlework or painting. The portraits usually depicted a tomb with mourners, a weeping willow tree, a depiction of the goddess Liberty and often a view of Mount Vernon. Many of these representations were made by young women as gifts to be given on Washington's birthday.
Throughout the 19th century, Washington’s likeness could be found on such things as a silk umbrella with his likeness on the handle, fabric handkerchiefs, sterling silver spoons with busts of his head, pressed glass bread plates and postcards. These commemorative pieces really proliferated at the 1876 Centennial.
Currier and Ives produced several prints, including “General George Washington” and “The Death of Washington” during the second half of the century.
The 100th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as President, brought on a new wave of Washington collectibles. One example was a cast iron hatchet that had is head engraved in the blade and an eagle perched on the handle.
By the early 20th century, items for decoration at home on Washingon’s birthday were appearing, many of them utilizing the legend of Washington refusing to cut down a cherry tree. Among these were candy containers, often taking the shape of hatchets, stumps with attached cherries, busts of Washington and Washington on a horse. There were cookie cutters shaped like hatchets, and ice cream molds.
For permanent use in the home, there were such large items as cat iron andirons, supporting a figure of Washington over a foot in height; cast iron doorstops, bookends, cast iron banks and trivets.
In 1932, the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth, another batch of memorabilia hit the market. Pins, badges and buttons were available for every patriotic American to wear. Frosted glass plates, china plates with transfer prints and glass flasks all contained his likeness.
Further items appeared at the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, and will undoubtedly continue to appear at regular intervals in the future.
The biggest challenge for a collector of George Washington memorabilia is deciding how to limit the collection, with so much material from which to choose.
Return to Index