A GOLD button which links the two most significant military figures in the foundation of the United States of America – George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette – will be sold in Leicestershire on November 1.
It is well documented that among the many gifts bestowed on the
French general during his celebratory tour of America in 1824-25
was a set of buttons fashioned in Carolina gold by the firm of
Leavenmouth, Haydon & Scovill of Waterbury, Connecticut.
Each had a portrait medallion of Washington on the front and an
inscription to Lafayette on the reverse. They were to be sewn onto
a suit of blue woollen cloth, which had been made as a gift to
Lafayette in Carolina.
Three further buttons were made, one each for the firm's
partners, and, as recorded by the New York Gazette they
were displayed at a Wall Street store as "examples of the skill of
American artists". It is thought to be these which provided the
pattern for the copies made for the Centennial in 1876.
Ten buttons from the original gold presentation set currently
reside at the Lafayette Museum - and it appears they owe their
survival to the diligence of an English maid working at the
general's former home towards the end of the 19th century.
The story goes that Margaret Thornton, lady's maid to Mme de
Lasteyrie at Château La Grange, near Paris, had been asked to clear
clothing from the attics when she happened upon an old blue woollen
coat with 'gilt' buttons. Bringing it to the attention of Mme de
Lasteyrie, the loyal employee was given one of them as a "thank
The La Grange attics were later sealed and not reopened until
the 1950s, while Margaret Thornton returned to England in 1890 as
the bride of François Lacroix, the butler at La Grange. It is their
descendants who have decided to offer the button (now mounted as a
stick pin) for sale at Gildings of Market
Mark Gilding - still basking in the glow of a rediscovered
brooch by William Burges sold for £31,000 in August - said: "This
is a small, but highly significant item and we expect there could
be worldwide interest in it."
The estimate is £5000-8000.
By Roland Arkell