Believed "Black Seal" Madeira 1795 – Three Bottles Which Have Survived The French Revolution, A Pirate Capture and a Governmental Dispute
In 1793 shipping merchant Hezekiah Beers Pierpont, of New York City, founded a company-Leffingwell and Pierpont. He traveled to England in 1795 and bought a ship, Confederacy, to set sail to China and India to trade. After passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, he stopped in Madeira and purchased a pipe of 110 gallons of Madeira and carried on his journey with the Madeira aboard, crossing the equator. Two years later he was ready to return with $330,000 of cargo aboard. Before making its safe return to the United States, Confederacy was attacked by a fleet of privateers in the service of Napoleon, who had ordered his men to attack all ships bound for England. The stolen cargo were later sold at an auction in Nantes, which Pierpont attended and bought back some of own his stolen cargo, much to his chagrin. His purchases included the Madeira.
On his return to the United States, Pierpont wrote countless letters and petitions to President Jefferson, requesting compensation. Jefferson, while negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, agreed to the mutual cancellation of all claims between the United States and France, in effect depriving Pierpont of his chance of regain his lost funds. The wine was transferred to glass bottles and stored in the family’s Brooklyn basement in 1839 after Pierpont’s death in 1838. He died having never tasted the Madeira.
The bottles were then transferred to various descendants of Pierpont. Almost all were consumed to much merry enjoyment. The three bottles in our auction are believed to be the last three remaining. They have been in the private collection of the owner, a direct descendent of Hezekiah Beers Pierpont until release to Christie’s.
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The island of Madeira has been producing and exporting its namesake wine virtually since the Portuguese discovered it in 1419. Since then, Madeira’s location in the middle of important trade routes meant the success of its wines mirrored the worldwide geopolitical situation. The fortified wine’s fortunes have soared during times of peace, prosperity, and free trade and plummeted during conflict and international upheaval.
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