AMERICAN HEIRESSES

Joyce Jonas

Joyce Jonas

Ms. Joyce Jonas’s presentation ventured into the glitter of high society life from the late 1800s onward through the window afforded by American heiresses and their jewelry.

As empires crumbled, wealthy americans were able to buy the jewels of European nobility. So began a tradition of amassing great jewelry collections that began with the likes of Jenny Jerome and Mary Levi Leiter, has continued through such notables as Mona Bismark, Doris Duke, and Millicent Rogers. Joyce shared the life, times and jewelry of these notable women.

Princess Matilde and the Sautoire Necklace.
Evelyn Walsh McLean and the Hope Diamond

The French Crown Jewels at Auction 1886 … turning point for the French Republic. Find out which jewels were sold and for how much. After the downfall of Napoleon III and by proclamation of the French Republic, the jewels were inventoried and a large part of the French crown jewels were sold at auction. Very naturally, all the principal gem-dealers and wealthy collectors were represented.

The auction was a monumental event in jewelry history. Newspapers and magazines around the world covered it extensively, publishing the names of buyers and the prices they paid (Tiffany & Co. was the largest buyer). But once the collection was sold, the histories of the numerous jewels became cloudy, if not lost.

Several of the larger items were broken up before and after the auction so the stones could be sold individually. Others have been dismantled in the years since, and a number of the diamonds have been recut.

Also at the 1887 auction, the ruby and diamond diadem was sold to a Mr. Hass and the matching bracelets were sold to Tiffany & Co. Within a year, these jewels were resold to Mr. Bradley-Martin of New York City, an original member of the “Four Hundred,” a term coined for New York City’s high society. (He and his wife attracted some scorn among their contemporaries when they hyphenated his first and last names to give the impression that they were English aristocrats following a trip to London in 1892.)

Mrs. Bradley-Martin’s grand fete: In 1896-’97, New York was in the midst of an economic panic. Thousands were unemployed and long bread lines formed on the streets. Cornelia Bradley-Martin was distressed over the misery she saw around her and suggested to her husband that an extravagant party might help to lift New York out of its slump. It not only would lift spirits, she thought, but also would employ out of-work florists, hair stylists and dressmakers. She decided the party should be a costume ball, with invitations sent on short notice so guests wouldn’t have time to buy their costumes overseas.

Her husband readily agreed, setting in motion plans for what would become one of the most publicized and controversial society events in New York history.

The Bradley-Martins selected Wednesday, Feb. 10, as the date and asked guests to dress
“appropriately for the court of Versailles at the time of Louis XIV.” As soon as the party was announced, newspapers around the world began to print detailed accounts of the preparations. The New York Times told readers in detail how carloads of orchids and roses arrived to transform the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria – site for the great party – into the Great Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

At 11 p.m. of the appointed evening, the first of 700 guests began to arrive. The guests were ushered into cozy dressing rooms where professional costumers and makeup artists stood ready to assist with the finishing touches. Then the guests were escorted into the throne room where the Bradley-Martins were seated, he costumed as Louis XV and she unexpectedly dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots, who ruled two centuries earlier. She complemented her costume of black velvet and white lace with a stunning collection of jewels, including some former French Crown Jewels. Three confirmed items were the pair of ruby and diamond bracelets dating from 1810 (which she wore joined together to form a dog collar), a large diamond brooch known as the Sevigne brooch dating from 1856, and the center plaque from the piece known as the great girdle set with diamonds, pearls and colored stones dating from 1864. On her right shoulder was a quatrefoil pendant set with rubies and diamonds, possibly part of the ruby and diamond rosary included in the 1887 auction.

In addition to the royal pieces, she wore an impressive diamond tiara, a necklace designed as a line of ruby and diamond clusters, a large diamond sunburst brooch, a belt set its entire length with large diamonds, and three additional diamond strands draped from her shoulder to her waist. She was a picture of extravagance.

The next day, many major American and European newspapers described the event in detail, calling it a social triumph. But in the weeks that followed, several ministers condemned the lavish display of wealth during a time of economic hardship. Soon the story of the ball erupted into a full-blown controversy. Collier’s magazine printed critical editorials and a political cartoon lampooning the ball.
The New York City tax authorities doubled the Bradley-Martins’ tax assessment and, by the end of the year, the couple moved to England. Though their motives may have been otherwise (their married daughter lived in England), gossips said they left town because of the controversy over their ball.

Cornelia Bradley-Martin (daughter), married the Fourth Earl of Craven and acquired the title Lady Craven at age 16, and the Title Duchess Cornelia of Craven.

During the Gilded Age, a number of American heiresses married members of the British aristocracy, a trend that became fashionable for both cash starved royalty and the title hungry inner-circle of New York’s high society.

Consuelo Vanderbelt – Married the 9th Duke of Marlborough was an international emblem for socially advantageous but loveless marriages in the Gilded Age.

Anna Gould – La Comtesse de Castellane by marriage to Paul Ernest Boniface, Comte de Castellane

Gladys Vanderbilt – married Hungarian Count László Széchenyi to become Countess Szechenyi

Mary Levi Leiter – married the British Conservative statesman George Curzon, later 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, to become Vicountess of India.

Mary Goelet – married Henry Innes-Ker, 8th Duke of Roxburghe. She was the wealthiest American heiress, with a dowry of twenty million dollars, exceeded only by Consuelo Vanderbilt in the wealth brought to the transatlantic marriages of the pre-1914 era.

Marjorie Merriweather Post – During the 1930s, the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin began selling art treasures and other valuables seized from the Romanov family and other Russian citizens after the Russian revolution in order to earn hard currency for its industrialization and military armament programs. Critics have claimed that these items were expropriated, however Post’s transactions were from the recognized governmental authority. Many pieces of the Russian Crown jewels came into her possession.

Eleanor Robson Belmont – married August Belmont an American financier, the builder of New York’s Belmont Park racetrack, and a major owner/breeder of thoroughbred racehorses.

Young Heiress Ellin Mackay – the daughter of Clarence Mackay, the socially prominent head of the Postal Telegraph Cable Company, married Irving Berlin the song writer.

Linda Lee Thomas – married to Edward Russell Thomas, a son of Union general Samuel Thomas, and owner of the New York Morning Telegraph.

Liz Taylor – one of the great screen actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. As one of the world’s most famous film stars, Taylor was recognized for her acting ability and for her glamorous lifestyle, beauty and distinctive violet eyes.

Grace Kelly – an American actress of Irish and German heritage and Princess Consort of Monaco. In April 1956 Kelly married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and became styled as Her Serene Highness The Princess of Monaco, and was commonly referred to as Princess Grace.

Millicent Rogers – Standard oil heiress and fashion icon Millicent Rogers, a beauty who made headlines throughout her life for her famous romances and influence as a style-setter.

Doris Duke – the only child of tobacco and electric energy tycoon James Buchanan Duke.

Mona Strader Bismark – married Count Albrecht von Bismarck-Schönhausen (1903-1970), an “interior decorator” of an aristocratic sort, and the son of Herbert von Bismarck and grandson of the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis – the wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, until his assassination in 1963. Five years later she married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

Meeting Notes by Charlie Marts

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