A great thanks to those of you who joined us for the Pearl Society’s presentation of “Presidential Pearls” led by Rebecca Head! To those of you who were unable to attend, but who still love to look at pretty presidential pearl pictures, you’re in luck: read on to be regaled regarding one of the highlights of the occasion: The Van Buren Pearls.
Angelica Singleton Van Buren held the title of First Lady of the United States from 1839–1841, and was the youngest woman to ever to do so at 20 years old. She was not actually married to President Van Buren (a relief–the age difference would have been 35 years) but to his son, Abraham. Van Buren actually remained single throughout his presidency, his wife having died of consumption. This allowed his daughter-in-law to become the recipient of some rather princely gifts: according to the Smithsonian, “after Van Buren established the first U.S. consulate in an Arab Gulf State, the Sultan of Muskat and Oman responded generously. Among his 1840 gifts were a number of luxurious cashmere shawls... along with pearls, carpets, perfumes and Arabian horses. Legend has it that he even presented several lions to honor America, which were briefly held at the American consulate.”
The pearls included in the abundant offering, though currently ‘missing in action,’ have been described by Kunz (author of “the Book of the Pearl” and namesake of Kunzite) as having “consisted of two pendant pearls each weighing about 30 grains, and a necklace containing 148 pearls with an aggregate weight of 700 grains. The pearls were actually presented as a collection of loose pearls in a gift box, by the Sultan of Oman, and later fashioned into a necklace and pendants, probably in New York.” It is highly convenient that the description of the pearls seem to so well match the pearls worn by Van Buren in her official portrait!
Sadly, the actual size, luster, and other details of the pearls are unknown, though the pearls did reside at the Smithsonian Institution before this was even its' name. The origin of the pearls, however, is known: the Persian Gulf. Today these are known as “oriental pearls,” and would have been some of the most lovely that the Sultan could have offered. To get a taste of what these pearls would have looked like up close, stop by the gallery to see an example from her fabulous collection!