"Catalogue of the Art Collection formed by the late Mrs. Mary J. Morgan..."
The catalog published in New York by the American Art Galleries for an auction held from March 3rd to March 15th, 1886. Subscriber’s Edition, limited to 500 numbered copies.
The very scarce Deluxe, illustrated edition of the catalog to one of America’s earliest blockbuster auctions and what was, for a time, the most famous art auction in America. The contents of the collection included modern paintings, Chinese porcelains, jades & crystal objects, “cabinet objects”, Sevres and other European porcelains, Minton porcelains, Webb cameo glass, other fine glass, silver, wood carvings, bronzes, and etchings.
Mary Morgan was the widow of a shipping tycoon, and collected a vast array of paintings and other art in her New York mansion. Upon her death Thomas Kirby of the American Art Association, the forerunner of Parke-Bernet, decided to make the Morgan sale a “can’t-miss” event.
The collection was controversial –Mrs. Morgan had simply walked in and bought her pictures from leading dealers instead of ingratiating herself personally with the artists as was the tradition of the day. Further, Lot 341 was an 8-inch Peachblow vase which Mrs. Morgan had bought from the American Art Association’s own retail galleries for $12,000 a few years previously. A print war broke out between the New York Times, which claimed Mrs. Morgan had paid a zero or two too much for the vase, and that in any case, there was no such thing as “Peachblow”, and Charles Henry Dana and the New York Sun, who stoughtly defended the AAA and the vase.
the Peachblow vase-
During the 3 week exhibition at the galleries prior to the auction 100,000 people viewed the paintings and Oriental art. The sale itself was standing-room only, and when they got to the vase, Baltimore connoisseur William T. Walters won it for $18,000 (which in no way stopped the controversy over its actual worth). The sale finally totaled $1,205,000 –with the exception of the 1882 Hamilton Palace sale in England, this was the highest total for any art collection at auction anywhere in the world.
The catalog itself was a groundbreaking achievement- “[Kirby’s] most striking innovation was the Mary Jane Morgan catalogue, a 305-page quarto volume that so far surpassed any cynosure of art collecting previously published in the United States that it not only launched the business at hand but synthesized Kirby’s whole new concept of the elite auction. Printed on heavy rag paper, with twenty-nine etchings, bound in pristine white boards with rich gold lettering, this weighty tome cost $40,000 to produce. It was a book to rest in splendor on the tables of the proudest salons. There was, of course, an ordinary catalog, without illustrations, for ordinary customers, the deluxe edition being limited to 500 numbered copies. The price was $10, but if mere money could have bought such a book, its propaganda value would have been lost. Except for a few copies sent to other cities, the entire edition was delivered by hand, with the compliments of the American Art Association, to the front doors of the most exclusive mansions in New York”.
For those wanting a more in-depth account, Wesley Towner devotes an entire chapter to Mrs. Morgan, her collection, this auction, the catalog, and the Peachblow vase in his book, “The Elegant Auctioneers”, from which we quoted above.
To see a full description and more pictures, go to our Ebay Store listing.