CAROLYN’S ONLINE MAGAZINE (#COMe)
GREEN-TURTLE SILVER SOUP LADLE
Billionaire newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife (Dick Scaife) was a serious collector who could and did purchase very dramatic one-of-a-kind objects. The former Tribune-Review publisher and billionaire heir to the Mellon fortune died on July 4, 2014.
Items from his four American estates (in Shadyside and Ligonier, Pa.; Nantucket, Mass., and Pebble Beach, Calif.) were sold by Christie’s auction house in New York.
The most valuable lot, the star of 533 items on the auction block, was
- Lot 150 in ‘The Collection of Richard Mellon Scaife’: The Washington Augustus Roebling American Silver-Gilt Dinner Service, Mark of Gorham MFG. Co., Providence, circa 1889. Estimate, priced at: $200,000 to $300,000. It sold to an anonymous buyer for $293,000.
The gleaming set of more than 1,000 custom-made, engraved dinner service pieces included 18 salt cellars, 28 butter dishes and 36 seafood forks. It was made by special order for the engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, Washington Augustus Roebling, and belonged to multiple generations of the Roebling family, including Mary G. Roebling, the first woman to lead a major bank and first female governor of the American Stock Exchange.
Washington Augustus Roebling was the engineer responsible for building the Brooklyn Bridge. On Aug. 1, 1889, 6 years after its completion, an extravagant silver-gilt dinner service arrived at the house of John A. Roebling, whose firm became the world’s largest supplier of electrical wire and bridge cable and the exclusive supplier to the Panama Canal.
So why am I sharing this story?
Because I’m on the search for information on a green turtle silver ladle marketed at auction and priced at $6,000. Had it been unrealistically priced at $100 or less I might have been enticed to purchase it.
About November 2009 my friend Fran called me shared an Internet link to the Neal Auction Company. She’s been very helpful to me so I immediately clicked on the link and scrolled down to Lot 219:
- A Rare George III Silver Green Turtle Soup Ladle of Caribbean Interest, c. 1800, intaglio mark J R or I R in a rectangle, possibly John Robin, the ladle in the form of a green turtle (Chelonia Mydas), the bamboo form handle with palmette collar and pineapple finial, the interior of the turtle’s shell with presentation engraving…With every Sentiment of Respect from Francis de Ridder, To the Hon F P van Berckel 1807…
Now my interest piqued. The note on the auction site provided information I already knew:
- Franco Petrus Van Berckel was the Netherlands’ minister to the United States during George Washington’s first term and was later appointed fiscal of Demerara (today part of Guyana). The fiscal’s legal function was to enforce Dutch laws in the colony; as payment he received 1/3 of all fines. (James Rodway, History of British Guiana, Volume II pp. 192 & 200)
What it didn’t say was that Van Berckel was the husband of Rosalie de Leval, the French woman who is the main character in my historical novel.
The engraving on the soup ladle continued:
- Friends form’d in ‘Union’ of heart and aims, Prove firm supporters of each others claims, Victorious Virtue warms Thy gen’rous breast, Be thine ‘enjoyment’, and perennial ‘Rest,’
The listed/expected cost of the soup ladel, 14 1/4 inches long weighing approximately 9.5 troy ounces, was $6000/9000. Perhaps in the same range as the price of the silver service set in the Dick Scaife auction lot.
Fran and I researched further. Also being auctioned off were several wooden bowls. This indicated to me that there was probably someone who’d collected items belonging to Van Berckel.
I’ve discovered it’s almost impossible to discover the root sources of who owned and collected such items. I researched it because the results might reveal more about who this man, Van Berckel, was. There’s little information on this man in the records I’ve researched.
Contacting the auction house proved unsuccessful.
There was a second note on Lot 219:
- The depiction of a Caribbean sea turtle in a silver form is exceedingly rare. A tureen in the shape of a green turtle by Paul de Lamerie, now in the Paul Cahn Collection, was included in the Victoria and Albert exhibition of de Lamerie silver in 2006.
More questions. Who are de Lamerie and Cahn? Where were their pieces exhibited? And just what are green turtles?
And, why am I being taken down these research roads? Will the results prove helpful in writing my novel? Or am I just being aggravated into learning more than I want to know?
This journey is in progress. For now, I’ll end with the above questions. Perhaps the answers will be revealed in later articles.