Monday, February 17, 2014

Mastery of Design: Mary Todd Lincoln's Diamond Brooch and Earrings, pre-1867

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Mary Todd Lincoln was a very complicated woman by all accounts.  

Still, we're not here to discuss Mrs. Lincoln's life of suffering, her eccentricities nor her triumphs.  We're here to discuss her sense of style, and, from what I've seen, she had rather good taste in jewelry.

For example, this diamond brooch and earring suite is a rather stunning bit of work.

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Quatrefoil in design, each element is set with a central diamond framed in a diamond surround.  Eight smaller diamonds form a  second tier of stones. The gold mounts were originally highlighted in enamels though now much of the enamel is lost to wear.

The mine-cut diamonds are likely all original to the parure, ranging in color from  J-K with VS-VS1 clarity. 

On October 26 of 1867, the suite was featured  in Frank Lesley's Illustrated Newspaper as part of a job lot of Mrs. Lincoln's clothes, jewelry, and furnishings that were offered for sale through Brady & Company of New York City. 

Mrs. Lincoln in 1867,
around the time of the sale of her jewels.

After the assassination of her esteemed husband, President Abraham Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln's many debts became insurmountable, leading to this rather depressing sale of some of her most cherished possessions.  The sale price listed for the suite was $350.00.

A James Denton Hancock of Ohio purchased the parure for his wife Mary Hitchcock Hancock (according to Mary Todd Lincoln scholar Donna McCreary) at the 1867 sale which took place at Brady &Co, 609 Broadway, NYC.  The jewels descended in the family of Robert Allen, Jr..  they were later purchased at a Frank Kaminski auction on in April of 2008 by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where they're now a central part of the museum's important collection of jewelry.

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