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Antiques & The Arts
Top Finds: Eliza Law Custis Lap Desk, ca. 1795

Top Finds: Eliza Law Custis Lap Desk, ca. 1795


GUEST: I was the fortunate bystander, I guess
you could say, in a liquidation of a large collection of Mount Vernon memorabilia that
was known at that time as the Edmund Law Rogers Smith collection. And a descendant of the
Custis line liquidated that large estate, much of which went back to Mount Vernon, especially
the items that were known to have been at Mount Vernon during the occupancy by George
and Martha Washington. And I purchased this directly from the descendant. APPRAISER: When did you buy it? GUEST: I bought it in approximately 1981 to
’83, and I do not recall the price. It was probably… over $1,000, under $3,000. APPRAISER: The history behind this box is
absolutely incredible. I want to start off by pointing out that there’s a silver plaque
here. The plaque says, “Presented by Marquis de Lafayette to Eliza Parke Custis, who gives
it to her beloved daughter Eliza Law.” Now, who is the Marquis de Lafayette? We all probably
know. GUEST: Mm-hmm. APPRAISER: Who is Eliza Parke Custis? The
Marquis de Lafayette was one of our big allies and one of our liaisons with France during
the Revolutionary War, and was very important in our winning the Revolutionary War. And
Eliza Parke Custis is the granddaughter of Martha Washington. She was Jack’s daughter,
and Jack was Martha’s son. GUEST: Correct. APPRAISER: Jack Custis. Right. Now, when you
open it up, this is basically a lap desk, a lady’s writing desk, a traveling desk. Here
in the top, you have all the necessary tools– a little sander to brush on top of your inked
paper. This is a little ink well; you’d put your pens in here. This may be where a sealing
wax or something went. And basically, this says that this was given to Eliza Parke Custis,
and she’s giving it to her daughter in 1823. Same thing is more or less written on this
much longer letter on the inside here. This is on the kind of paper that one would expect
to find in 1823, and this is basically telling a little bit more about it, saying, “It was
sent to me by the Marquis de Lafayette.” It’s French. There’s no question about it. I’ve
showed it to several of the other appraisers who really know European items. GUEST: Mm-hmm. APPRAISER: The Marquis de Lafayette came here
in 1777. After the Revolutionary War, he went back to France. Then in 1824, at the request
of Congress, President Monroe asked Lafayette to come to visit us. GUEST: Mm-hmm. APPRAISER: And he did that, and he was here
for 14 months. He visited all 24 states at the time. But this box predates his visit
to the U.S. So it says, “This was sent to me from the Marquis.” So presumably this was
sent from France to the United States. The plaque probably wasn’t on the box, or if it
was on the box, it was not engraved. GUEST: Right. APPRAISER: Now, you’ve done a lot of work
on the genealogical connections between all the various family members, and I’ve got to
say, from what you’ve shown me, the provenance of this box is absolutely ironclad. In terms
of the value of it, I would place a presale estimate of somewhere from $30,000 to $50,000. GUEST: Wow. APPRAISER: Well, it’s not a bad investment
for $1,500, $2,000, whatever. GUEST: Indeed not, indeed not. Wow. Um…
(sighs) I’ll be very careful driving home. (laughing) I’m aghast. (laughing)

14 comments on “Top Finds: Eliza Law Custis Lap Desk, ca. 1795

  1. Boy Howdy was this gentleman ever blown away emotionally with that appraisal…Awesome! Love The Roadshow!!! Cheers All!

  2. Wow, an American that acknowledges the importance of France in winning the Revolutionary War. How refreshing to see.

  3. And if I have this right, one of her cousins was Mary Anna Custis Lee who…drum roll please…married Robert E. Lee.

  4. You would think the historic American/France lineage attached to this would almost make it priceless to some collector.

  5. You don't recall the price!?🤯🤪, get outta here! "Somewhere between$1,000-$3,000"… I'd remember spending that much dough no matter how much time had passed.

    Later that evening he drove off a cliff lap desk and all

  6. I Love when nerds get floored.
    "I'm aghast!" …lol Who says that? A nerd …lol

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