James Madison's Personal Seal, ca. 1828

Value (2016) | $10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction
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GUEST:
It's James Madison's personal seal.

APPRAISER:
It's James Madison's personal seal. Now, how do you know that?

GUEST:
It's what I've always been told my whole life--that we have President James Madison's seal.

APPRAISER:
And how did your family get this?

GUEST:
My grandfather's grandmother, her brother was married to Dolly Madison's niece.

APPRAISER:
Okay.

GUEST:
And that's the connection I have, and somehow or another, it came down through the family.

APPRAISER:
So the connection was through Dolly Madison's niece to you.

GUEST:
Mm-hmm.

APPRAISER:
How long has it been in your family?

GUEST:
At least 100 years.

APPRAISER:
When you said it's James Madison's seal, I was really skeptical. It does have the initials "JM" on the seal. And Madison's personal motto was "Veritas non verba magistri"-- "Truth, not the word of teachers." We know, in fact, that that was James Madison's motto. And you found that, right?

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
How did you find that?

GUEST:
On the internet. I found letters where he had requested that James Barber, a friend of his, obtain some seals for him.

APPRAISER:
So you showed me this information, and it was pretty astounding because in September of 1828, James Madison wrote a letter to his friend James Barber, who was in London at the time, saying, "Dear Mr. Barber, would you order me a seal while you're there?" And “I'd like it to be modest-- I don't want you to spend a lot of money on it. It doesn't have to be a really fancy stone. But I want my initials, and I want my motto on the seal."

GUEST:
Correct.

APPRAISER:
Then a few months later...

GUEST:
He gets it.

APPRAISER:
...Barber writes him back and says, "I went to Pall Mall, found someone who can make the seal, and I hope you like it."

GUEST:
Yes.

APPRAISER:
And so he presumably then brought it back to the United States when he came back. Now, Barber was who?

GUEST:
At one time, he was governor of Virginia.

APPRAISER:
So a guy that Madison would have naturally known very well from his political career. When you look at this, it looks like it's gold, but it's not gold. It's rolled gold, which is a brass that's plated with gold. And that stone is agate. This was ordered in 1828, so this was after Madison was president. He was our fourth president, and he was in office from 1809 to 1817, so it would have been used after he'd left Washington. Wax seals are things that we don't use as Americans today, and really, who writes a letter anymore, right? We email. But it is a remarkable artifact from a guy who was called the Father of our Constitution, the drafter of the Bill of Rights. It's got a little condition problem. It's got a crack in the seal. But nonetheless, I think a good auction estimate of value of this seal is somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000.

GUEST:
Really? Wow, I would not have thought that. I... wow. I'm impressed. That's cool.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
Cincinnati, OH
Appraised value (2016)
$10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction
Event
Fort Worth, TX (July 23, 2016)
Category
Folk Art

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