Ribbon memorializing President George Washington, c. 1800. Printed silk. Partial horizonal break across center has been professionally repaired.
A portrait of Washington in a circular frame surrounded by American flag, eagle above and cornucopia below; all enclosed by a separate border of repeating, interlocking floral devices.
Establishing the provenance of early 19th century ribbons is difficult, especially where there is no printing to indicate date or place of manufacture, or even to suggest their exact intended use. By the second quarter of the 19th century (after 1825), engraving technology had achieved the level of quality we associate with the "golden era" of silk ribbons, from 1840 to 1860. In contrast, ribbons issued before 1825 are notably more primitive, and are much less abundant, so there are fewer to make comparisons with.
The first large-scale production of printed ribbons in the United States seems to have coincided with the visit of Gen. Lafayette in 1824, many of which also featured the likeness of Washington. Another efflorescence occurred seven years later, to commemorate the centennial of Washington's birth, in 1832. In dating the present ribbon, we first compared it with the known centennial issues, cataloged by Sullivan and Fischer. It bears little resemblance to any of them, and the crudeness of engraving technique strongly suggests an earlier date of manufacture. Stylistically, the simplicity of design also implies an earlier date.
We are then left with the question of its intended purpose, and arrive at only one logical conclusion, a mourning or memorial issue. Washington died on December 14, 1799. A handful of memorial ribbons dating to the months after his death have been recorded, in most cases in only a single example. We are as confident as it is possible to be, given the admitted challenges of dating such a piece, that this is such a ribbon.