Whiting 'Diamond Jim Brady' Sterling Art Nouveau Desk Set, NYC, c. 1900
Without a doubt, this is the most important desk set we've had the privilege to offer. Almost certainly unique, this massive set is an extraordinary work of art whose design can be attributed to Whiting's great designer Charles Osborne.
The immense inkwell has two brilliant cut bottles for ink, a pen wipe (with replacement bristles) and a well for accessories. Extraordinary fluid decoration around the edge features large sea-nymph busts on the corners, waves with dolphins swimming through them, and the mask of a sea creature in the center. (This also represents a dolphin, as seen in Renaissance art.)
Continuing the fantastic design on the letter holder, two three-quarter length cast sea nymphs support the front corners and center the sea creature (dolphin) head. An incredibly fluid and organic octopus is deeply chased and pierced into the back. Its tentacles fill the back, flowing with whiplash curves.
Each of the four corners of the blotter (the pad is also a modern replacement, meant for display) shows lively dolphins swimming through cascading waves and seaweed.
The realistic figural sculptures, deep organic designs, and aquatic theme create one of the finest examples of art nouveau silver we have ever seen.
Diamond Jim Brady was one of New York City's most colorful characters during the Gilded Age. He amassed his fortune as a young man by selling railroad equipment and then rising to the top of the business.
"An utterly self-made man, he began as a bellhop for the New York Central Railway, and rose to become assistant to the General Manager by the time he was 21. As an executive at the Fox Pressed Steel Car Company he became moderately wealthy with commissions on his increasingly sizable supply deals, though he earned most of his fortune with brilliant investment strategy on Wall Street. By the beginning of the Twentieth Century he had a net worth approaching $15M. Believing that his success should be visibly obvious, Brady took to wearing the finest suits and an array of glittering jewels, earning his nickname "Diamond Jim..." (1)
He was also known for his enormous appetite. He was famous for trips to restaurants (i.e.: Delmonico's) where he would order lavish meals of a dozen courses often including dozens of oysters.
Brady was never accepted by 'society' in New York or Newport, so he embraced the 'Broadway' and Saratoga Springs circles and was a noted fixture of both. He was always seen in the company of some of the prettiest women on Broadway, including his lifelong friend, Lillian Russell. Staging these excursions was part of advertising his success - just like his diamonds. (2)
In 1898, Brady moved to a brownstone on West 86th Street near Central Park. He hired designer Collins Marsh to furnish it in the most elaborate style, spending $320,000 on the interior design. (3) This desk set was likely purchased then or shortly after that.
This remarkable set is marked with Whiting's trademark and "WHITING MF'G. Co/ STERLING/ 6968'. The inkstand measures 18 inches long by 12 inches deep by 4.25 inches high to the top of the figures. It alone weighs 99.60 troy ounces. The letter holder is 13.25 inches wide by just shy of 9.5 inches high and weighs 70.90 troy ounces, and the blotter corners weigh 14.40 for a total weight of 184.90 troy ounces. It is in excellent antique condition.
Provenance:James Buchanan 'Diamond Jim' Brady
American Art Galleries, Lot 1444, The Costly Furnishings and Embellishments removed from the residence of the late James Buchanan Brady widely known as "Diamond Jim" Brady New York City, October 29, 1917
"Diamond Jim Brady," Notable Names Database,http://www.nndb.com/people/472/000177938/
See H. Paul Jeffers, Diamond Jim Brady: Prince of the Gilded Age, (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001)