334.334 R 33/1

The Secretary of State to the Minister in Uruguay ( Philip )

No. 318

Sir: Your attention is called to the case of the so-called “Paraguayan Jewels”. Although the files of your Legation no doubt contain some of the correspondence on this subject, a brief history of the case is given for your information.

In 1868, during the war between Paraguay and Argentina and Brazil, a number of persons deposited with our Minister, Mr. Washburn, in Asunción various articles for safe keeping.1 Shortly afterwards Mr. Washburn was compelled to leave Asunción and the articles entrusted to him passed through a number of hands before being taken over by the invading Brazilian troops and delivered to the Brazilian authorities. The latter made inventory of the goods which came into their possession and some time later delivered the property to Mr. Partridge, our Minister to Brazil. The box containing these articles eventually reached the State Department, where further inventory was made in 1884, disclosing the fact that the contents of the box at that time was much less than that in 1871 when the Brazilian inventory was made. In 1888 the box was forwarded to Mr. Bacon, our Chargé d’Affaires at Montevideo and, after an unsuccessful effort to induce the Paraguayan Government to accept it, the box was deposited at the London and River Plate Bank in Montevideo. On September 3, 1902, Mr. Finch, who was then Minister to Uruguay, inspected the box at the bank, found the inner seal intact, and re-sealed the outer box with the seal of the United States Legation at Montevideo. This action was reported to the Department in the Legation’s despatch No. 576 of September 5, 1902.2 Since that date various claimants have endeavored to establish their right to the contents of the box, but have been unable to convince the Department that their claims were well founded.

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It is now proposed to endeavor to ascertain what claimants are properly entitled to the articles now remaining in the box and, as a preliminary step, it is deemed desirable to ascertain whether the box is still at the bank and whether its contents are intact.

The previous inventories which have been made contain very general descriptions, from which it would be impossible to identify any particular object exactly. It is therefore desired that you secure an adequate inventory of the contents of the box and, for this purpose, it is believed that photographs of each object should be made. You are accordingly instructed to make such an examination and inventory, either at the bank or at the Legation as may seem most suitable and convenient. Especial care should be taken to see that the photographs or other description of the contents of the box do not come into the hands of any one who might pass them on to possible claimants, since it would be an easy matter for any fraudulent claimant in possession of such photographs to make out a strong claim based on an exact description of the articles. It is therefore suggested that the photographs should, if possible, be made by some one connected with the Legation.

It is believed that it would also be desirable as an additional precaution to open the box and to make the inventory and photographs in the presence of some reliable notary or official, preferably of the Paraguayan Government, who could certify that all of the articles removed for inspection were replaced in the box. Care must of course be taken in selecting such an individual lest he should improperly pass on to possible claimants the knowledge of the contents of the box which he would gain from such participation in the making of the inventory. Perhaps one of the bank officials would be the most suitable person, but this matter is left to your discretion.

When the inventory has been completed and the photographs taken, the articles should be replaced in the box and the box again sealed with the seal of the Legation. It will probably be advisable then to return the box to the bank for safe keeping until further action can be determined upon.

You will transmit promptly to the Department duplicate copies of the inventory and of the photographs, retaining copies also in your own files.

I am [etc.]

For the Secretary of State:
Joseph C. Grew