The Gilded Age, which occurred from the late 19th to early 20th century, witnessed large and valuable private collections disposed of at auction. New York had the distinction of being the center of this burgeoning market.[1] The wealthy built mansions that needed to be filled with furniture, art and other comforts. Galleries were often created within the home to display fine art, representing a family’s wealth. [2] However, fine art was not the only thing being collected to showcase wealth. The auction houses during this time were filled with lavish decorative art pieces such as pottery, porcelains, furniture, draperies, jewelry, tapestries, ceilings and columns from around the world.

According to Weisberg, McIntosh & McQueen, who did research on a few household holdings, “Listings of jewelry, silver, furniture, and rugs – particularly Persian and Indian – sometimes represent a comparable and in a few cases larger percentage of household wealth than did works of art.”[3] Overindulgence in art consumption, death and loss of wealth often led to these auctions being held. The American Art Association (AAA) played a major role conducting auctions in New York City.

Auction catalogues from these sales provide vast information into the world of collecting, art history, provenance, artists, art movements and the history of collecting. Numerous catalogues have annotations that document the buyer and price. The catalogues also contain marks that demonstrated the patron’s interests. A few items that can also be found in the catalogues include scrap paper with handwritten tallies, letters from the auction house, and news clippings.

This Omeka website represents highlights from Phase III of Documenting the Gilded Age entitled, Gilding the Gilded Age: Interior Decoration Tastes and Trends in New York City. This METRO grant funded digitization project consists of material from the Frick Art Reference Library (FARL) at The Frick Collection and The William Randolph Hearst Archive at LIU Post. 19,294 pages of auction catalogues and other archival material from 1876 to 1922 have been digitally reformatted. A list of the MARC records for each title in the project can found here. The majority of catalogues used in this project are from AAA. Material highlighted for the site feature Chinese Porcelains and Important Collectors from the time. For information about and to view items from the first and second phases, see and

The catalogues from the FARL collection differ from those found in The William Randolph Hearst Archive because they are not from Henry Clay Frick’s personal collection. This is an important distinction because a researcher can look at annotations from catalogues in the William Randolph Hearst Archive and discern that they are related to Hearst’s purchases. Annotations found in the catalogues at FARL may not always lead to the person interested in the items but both collections provide provenance. Provenance can be found for various items that Hearst and Frick owned. Frick’s purchases have been documented through letters and receipts discovered in the Archives Department of FARL.

The Hearst Archive contains a large collection of sales records and related albums that document the auction where each item was purchased, how much it was bought for, and who it was later sold to, if applicable. Hearst often used auction catalogues for his purchases, where Frick used dealers such as M. Knoedler & Co. and the Duveen Brothers. Frick purchased the majority of his Chinese porcelain from the John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) sale in 1915 after the Duveen Brothers brought it to his attention. [4]


Works cited:

[1] John Ott, "How New York Stole the Luxury Art Market: Blockbuster auctions and Bourgeois Identity in Gilded Age America," Winterthur Portfolio 42.2/3(2008): 133.

[2] Gabriel P. Weisburg, DeCourcy E. McIntosh and Alison McQueen, Collecting in the Gilded Age. (Pittsburgh: Frick Art & Historical Center, 1997), 101.

[3] Colin B. Bailey, Building the Frick Collection: An Introduction to the House and Its Contents. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2006), 75.

[4] One East 70th Street Papers. The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.