Museums often share parts of their collection with other institutions upon request. Of course there are rules and regulations, standards to follow, and logistics to coordinate (shipping, insurance, text panels, etc).This loan agreement process makes exhibitions more exciting for recurring visitors. Plus the institutions involved have the best intention for the selected object to be featured in a special way for a limited time period.
Recently, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum and Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia borrowed a copper still from our collection at Stratford Hall to display in a new exhibit within the Donald W. Reynolds Museum Center.
Typically the gourd shaped still, complete with spout and coil, sits on an iron stand in the “outside kitchen” at Stratford Hall. Technically a still is defined as “an apparatus for distilling liquids, such as alcohols, consisting of a vessel in which the substance is vaporized by heat and a cooling device in which vapor is condensed.”
Liquor was, in fact, distilled on the plantation. It was simply part of life during the 18th century. Crops were grown for the table, livestock raised, and goods produced… be it clothing, furniture, or shoes. Just imagine the possibilities of having a carpenter or blacksmith on site with the skills to custom design interior and exterior features for the property. This was, obviously, long before shopping malls or the Internet! Additionally, the Lees had access to the Potomac River and the world beyond where ships were capable of making deliveries from Europe.
William Bailey, a Pennsylvanian copper smith, likely created this still during the late 18th or early 19th century. We are truly grateful that upon its arrival to Mount Vernon a highly trained Conservator of the 21st century, Katherine Ridgway, performed numerous treatments to better the condition of the still and to preserve it for many years to come.
As you can see below, the still looks fabulous in its prominent display case. I hope you will visit both Stratford Hall and the Distillery exhibit at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate to make exciting historic comparisons.