Tuesday, May 19, 2009

For a trifling sum of money

John Jacob Astor
by Gilbert Stuart c. 1794
you can own an ASTOR!
Soetheby's is having an auction on May 21, of American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture.
All you need is approx. $75,000-$100,000 minimal to offer a bid on this portrait and become the owner!
Another stylistically similar portrait of Cornelius Vanderbilt II by John Singer Sargent is being offered as well. Here, you need the chump change of $150,000 – $250,000.
Whats up with that difference?!!!

CATALOGUE NOTE (courtesy of Sotheby's)
Born on July 17, 1763 in Walldorf, Germany, John Jacob Astor was the first multi-millionaire in American history. The son of a butcher, he emigrated from his home country to England, where he worked with his brother George in London making musical instruments, before traveling to the United States in 1784. Upon arrival in America Astor started trading furs with the native Indian population and by the late 1780s had set up a fur emporium in New York City. By the turn of the century, Astor was worth a quarter of a million dollars. He further compounded his fortune by exporting furs to China in exchange for tea and sandalwood.
Astor's activities were briefly disrupted in 1807, when Thomas Jefferson's Embargo Act put a stop to his overseas trade. However, by April of that year, Astor had secured the president's personal endorsement to found the American Fur Company, which he used to fund the overland Astor Exhibition to the Pacific. The expedition led to the discovery of the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains and the establishment of Fort Astoria, extending his monopoly into the American West. By the 1830s, Astor withdrew from the American Fur Company and sold all of his assets, using the money to invest in large tracts of Manhattan real estate, pre-empting the massive building expansion on the north end of the island. By the time of his death in 1848 Astor was the wealthiest man in America, with an estimated fortune of approximately $20 million, the equivalent to $115 billion today, making him one of the top five richest people in American history. Despite his success, Astor lamented on his deathbed: "Could I begin life again, knowing what I now know, and had money to invest, I would buy every foot of land on the Island of Manhattan."

John Jacob Astor IV , his great-grandson, went down on the Titanic in 1912 when he was only 48 years old (while on a honeymoon with his second wife, the 18 year old Madeleine Talmadge Force). HIS son, Vincent Astor, inherited property all over Manhattan that today would probably be worth a hundred billion.The first John Jacob Astor was as parsimonious as he was rich. Charity and philanthropy were concepts far outside his consciousness. The next three generations of his heirs however impeccably maintained the philanthropist tradition. Brooke Astor (wife of Vincent) summed up her prodigious generosity in nine words: "Money is like manure, it should be spread around."


willow said...

I enjoyed catching up on some of your previous posts. All incredibly intriguing, as usual!

Maureen said...

Thanks for the history lesson, I've lived in Manhattan for 35 years and didn't know anything about John Jacob Astor except furs, rich and stingy.

einbildungskraft said...

J J Astor's face has a pinched look. Like, he was pinching his pennies!

emikk said...

Isn't that the way, the first generation makes the money, the next generation spreads it.

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