During the Gilded Age, architect Stanford White (1853-1906) became the foremost agent of interior taste for men such as William Collins Whitney, Clarence Mackay and Frederick Vanderbilt. White was a player in an international trade network of fine decorative objects from London, Cairo, Rome, Istanbul, Paris and Madrid. While on buying trips, he was known to ship vast load of treasures back to the United States in anticipation of new clients. White was eventually able to fill his estate in Gramercy Park, New York, as well his country estate called Box Hill on Long Island’s North Shore with decorative objects.
By 1901, White found himself deeply in debt to the amount of $700,000. Within a few years, he made the decision to have a sale of his inventory including items that he gathered from his own estates and the homes of his client’s, where he had stowed additional items as collateral for loans. White rented a warehouse on the West side of Manhattan where he stored the entire inventory. Every item was tagged for the impending AAA auction scheduled for April 23, 1905. Unfortunately, faulty wiring set the warehouse ablaze and everything was destroyed. White had no insurance and the financial loss was devastating.
In June 1906, Harry Thaw murdered Stanford White in a jealous rage over White’s relationship with Thaw’s estranged wife the actress Evelyn Nesbit. A large extent of White’s private collection, including the contents of his Gramercy Park home were sold at auction in 1907 to offset losses from the tragic warehouse fire and to settle debts including $600,000 owed to his architectural firm McKim, Mead and White. White’s home was characterized by the high artistic taste of its former owner, profuse in the splendid design and decoration also commissioned by so many of his elite New York clients. The AAA conducted two profitable auctions, one on April 4-6 and the other on November 25-29, 1907. The two auction cataloguesinclude photographs of White’s residence at 121 East Twenty-first Street and objects such as extravagant ceilings, marble columns, elaborate furnishings, rugs, tapestries, Chinese vases, musical instruments, paintings and tiles.
The April auction brought $125,804. The Princeton Club, who had purchased White’s home in 1907, was a principal buyer since an agent of the Club was instructed to purchase any items the Princetonians wished to retain. Other attendees included White’s numerous friends, clients, and protégés who were attracted to substantial features of the home. The architect Howard Greenley (1874–1963) purchased a large-scale antique painted ceiling that White had bought from the Italian dealer Stefano Bardini (1836–1922). Greenley’s ceiling was installed in the Washington, D. C. home of whiskey distiller Edson Bradley.
William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) who admired White’s taste for luxury was invited to the April and November sales. Hearst purchased a ceiling from White’s drawing room titled “Angels Bringing Tidings of Christ’s Birth” in April. Though it is marked in the catalogue “bot $3,000,” according to Towner, Hearst paid $8,000. In November, Hearst purchased 19 items including an “elaborate doorway” that was shipped to Pleasanton, California in 1908, quite possibly to Phoebe Hearst’s residence there. In addition, Hearst acquired numerous stained glass windows, columns, and various small items, many of which were stored in Hearst’s Bronx, New York warehouse until they were sold off in 1941 through Gimbel Brothers. Hearst was a voracious collector and a frequent client of the AAA. When the AAA was sold to Cortlandt Field Bishop in 1923, Hearst had to settle his account. In a letter dated April 15th Kirby wrote “For your information (Mr. Hearst) I will state that our books show that you are indebted to us to the extent of one hundred and eight thousand, one hundred and thirty-five dollars and sixteen cents (108,135.16)"
The afterlife of White's collection is vividly recorded in a scrapbook kept by his family and scanned for The Frick Collection/ Frick Art Reference Library Archives. Pages of the scrapbook can be found as part of the Stanford White collection on this site. Detailed hand-written notes describe the places that certain objects have traveled to since the 1907 sales including the Metropolitan Museum of Art underscoring the family’s close interest in the history of the collection. The wide-appreciation and reach of White’s talents manifests touchingly in this book kept by his family.