Inkstand Maker: Harvey Lewis (American, ca. 1783–1835)
Honorand: Sophia Harrison Otis, American, 1799–1874
Patron: Elizabeth Willing Powel, American, 1743–1830

ca. 1815–25

American Decorative Arts

On view, 1st floor, American Decorative Arts before 1900

Education was a mark of privilege and good breeding in the American colonies and early Republic, particularly for young women who had limited access to schooling. In the upper echelons of American society, many women read widely and exchanged ideas through letters. This inkwell embodies the symbolic importance of female literacy. It was given by Elizabeth Willing Powel (1743–1830) of Philadelphia to her close acquaintance and confident Sophia Harrison Otis (1798–1874) of Boston, members of two of the nation’s most prominent families. A second, identical inkstand was given by Powel to Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis Lewis, the adopted daughter of George Washington. The form of the inkwell employs elements popular in Continental empire design. The British porcelain manufacturer Spode made a strikingly similar inkwell with three sphinxes in the 1810s, which the Philadelphia silversmith Harvey Lewis may have used as a model. The winged monopodia on both the porcelain and silver inkstands had feathered headdresses derived from Native American regalia, a detail that European artists frequently deployed on allegorical depictions of America. This subtle embellishment would have had particular resonance for Powel, Otis, and Lewis, whose families were enmeshed in the politics of the new nation.




3 5/8 × 3 9/16 in. (9.2 × 9 cm, 471 g)
base: 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm)

Credit Line

Mabel Brady Garvan Collection

Accession Number



19th century


Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of records is ongoing.



Francis P. Garvan, New York, N.Y. (1931).
  • Wayne Craven, American Art: History and Culture (Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1994), 191, fig. 14.1
  • Harold Newman, An Illustrated Dictionary of Silverware (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1987), 123, ill
  • Barbara M. Ward and Gerald W. R. Ward, eds., Silver in American Life: Selections from the Mabel Brady Garvan and Other Collections at Yale University, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1979), 43, 169, no. 177, ill
  • Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1976), 267–68, fig. 223
  • Graham Hood, American Silver: A History of Style, 1650–1900 (New York: Praeger, 1971), 196–97, fig. 218
  • Martha Gandy Fales, Early American Silver for the Cautious Collector (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1970), 34, fig. 31
  • Kathryn C. Buhler and Graham Hood, American Silver in the Yale University Art Gallery, 2 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1970), vol. 2, p. 234, no. 926, ill
  • Katharine Morrison McClinton, Collecting American 19th Century Silver (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968), 222, ill
  • Classical America, 1815–1845: An Exhibition at the Newark Museum, exh. cat. (Newark, N.J.: Newark Museum, 1963), 91, 103, no. 98, ill
  • Sotheby's, London, London, Sotheby's London Sale, sale cat. (January 29, 1931), 9, no. 66, ill
Object copyright
Additional information


"H. LEWIS" in serrated rectangle twice on bottom


"In evidence of the cherished Love and/ Esteem of Elizth Powel for her/ favorite Sophia H Otis" engraved on cover

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