|A lone rose. 4:00 PM.|
|October 7, 2010. Yesterday was cool, not quite chilly and occasionally sunny in New York.
Down at the Harvard Club the New-York Historical Society held its 2010 History Makers Gala. I was invited to this but characteristically took so long to RSVP that by the time I did (a day or two before), they had sold every seat. Much better for them.
I was especially interested because the honorees were Byron Wien, Vice Chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners, and Niall Ferguson, Professor of History at Harvard (the Laurence A Tisch Professor of History) as well as Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. These are two men who are currently distinguished by the integrity of their credibility in the financial world.
Niall Ferguson is a British historian, a generation younger than Mr. Wien. He came to prominence in the world outside the walls of academe by the time he was 30, through his books and his commentaries. He teaches at Harvard, writes prolifically, and is now the darling of the financial media because he is smart, a credible looking talking head, and knowledgeable. And is probably raking it in at this point what with his “star-power.”
“What is going to happen?” is the question on many minds in all walks of life right now. We hear about it from right, left, conservative, liberal, optimist, pessimist. Professor Ferguson, while not specifically identifiable by one of those previous descriptions, has a style of speaking that is both didactic/professorial and intellectually accessible. If you follow his line of thinking carefully you’ll also hear Common Sense.
Although it is always wise for us to beware of all commentators on the future of affairs financial especially if they do it enough and are paid for it. Those who become well compensated always run the risk of falling into the category of being propagators of Good Wishes and Glad Tidings. Not to mention Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
It was a black tie affair down at the Harvard Club last night, and no doubt the Historical Society brought out a lot of the honchos and heavy hitters, a slice of New York you won’t find anywhere else. But I missed it, and so I cannot share about what -- and if, or if not – enlightened me from the speaking that was to take place with the two just before dinner.
This is one of the problems of this gig of mine (although few would recognize it as a serious problem – or for that matter as a serious gig): that in New York there are often so many interesting things going on involving interesting people and talented people and smart people that if you don’t have time or didn’t have the opportunity to attend, you feel like you might have missed something good or special or even life-changing. Of course, the opposite is often true. Sometimes all too often.
I don’t follow this business, nor do I buy or sell, although I learned of Heritage when they took out an ad on the NYSD. Then on Tuesday night I met one of the principal partners, Steve Ivy and his wife Linda, at a dinner at Annette Tapert and Joe Allen’s apartment.
The Ivys are from Dallas and so is Heritage. Heritage has just opened offices here (they’re also in Beverly Hills, Paris and Geneva), and last night Tiffany Dubin organized a cocktail reception for more than 400 as well as a “small” dinner for 60. Tiffany, with the assistance of our friend Debbie Bancroft, brought out a big crowd of New Yorkers who are very familiar with auction houses, including Alfred Taubman (Tiffany’s stepfather) who has a little place of his own called Sotheby’s just 7 blocks to the east.
The Ukrainian Institute is a great place to make this sort of introduction. Built in 1898-9 by a man named Isaac Fletcher, who made his millions in railroads, the mansion had only three owners in its lifetime until it was acquired in the 1950s by the Institute. What is remarkable is that it remains essentially the same house, with interiors, that Mr. Fletcher built more than a century ago.
There were still vacant lots on Fifth Avenue in those days, especially north of 79th Street. Fifteen and twenty years after it was built, its architect CPH Gilbert designed other notable mansions farther up the avenue for Frank Woolworth, Otto Kahn and Felix Warburg. The latter two houses are also still standing. All kinds of characters trod those floors.
|The banner greeting us at the front door of the mansion last night.||One of the finest known 1799 $10 Gold Eagles. Estimate: $200,000- up.|
|The Augustus Saint-Gaudens $20 gold pieces, est. $20,000.|
|Different currencies that have existed in this country. The bill on the lower right is a ten on one side and five on another.|
|This $10 bill issued by the Bank of Commerce of New York has the original signature (lower right, barely visible in photo) of J. Pierpont Morgan.|
|Isaac Fletcher died in 1917, almost nineteen years after he moved in. The house was left to the Metropolitan Museum along with his art collection of paintings including Old Masters. The museum sold the house to an oilman named Harry Sinclair two years later in 1920. Harry Sinclair was a famous oilman in his day, and became notorious in the 1920s because of his involvement in the Teapot Dome Scandal.
Los Angelenos will appreciate that E.L. Doheny and his wife and son Ned and his wife were often guests in the mansion, as were all the other players in what was the greatest political scandal in America until Watergate almost a half century later. Forgotten today, it opened the world’s eyes to the cravenness and greed that infects the business and political classes.
|At one of the bars set up on the second floor gallery, beyond which were exhibitions of Heritage auction items.|
|Mr. Sinclair was convicted during the Teapot Dome trials but ended up being sentenced to one charge: 6 months. He sold the house in 1930 to an odd man named Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant, a direct descendent of Peter Stuyvesant, who was the first man in charge of New Amsterdam.
Mr. Stuyvesant lived with his sister and evidently neither ventured far from its door, nor did they open it for others to enter. She died eight years later and Mr. Stuyvesant remained in residence, always solitary, until his death in 1953. Although there were always servants. The Isaac Fletchers had nine live-in servants. Their neighbors next door and around the corner and across the street were Phippses, Paynes, Whitneys, Dukes and Brokaws (across the street).
|Judy Taubman.||Stuart Sundlin and Jay Snyder.|
|Debbie Bancroft and Amy Fine Collins.||Will Bancroft with his proud ma.|
|Kenny Lane and Michelle Paterson.|
|The UnCouple Couple, Hilary (Heard) and George Gurley.||Jill Fairchild, Rachel Hovnanian, and Peg Lee (Rachel's mother).|
|DPC and his godson Carlton DeWoody.|
|Hilary Geary Ross and Wilbur Ross.||Sessa Von Richthofen.|
|Michael and Barbara Gross.|
|Debbie Bancroft and Gregory Rohan, President of Heritage Auction Galleries.||Naz and Tom Lampson.|
|It was a clever choice to introduce a major auction house to New York, perfect synegy.
There were displays of their auction items on all the floors. What caught my eye were the display cases with gold and silver coins and different size currency. The $20 gold pieces (from the 19th century), known as the Augustus Saint-Gaudens, have estimates from $20,000-$50,000. In another case were dollar bills from different times and different issuers. There was a ten dollar bill that was personally signed/co-signed by J. Pierpont Morgan with his actual signature.
The cocktail reception began at 6:30 and by 8:30, there was no sign of its letting up, although “small” dinner was called for 8:15 and not yet begun. Everyone was having a good time taking it all in, including “collectibles.”