Sunday, February 14, 2016

1928 Auction of the Levy Property at Monticello and New York City

Two auctions occurred at Monticello during its 244 year lifespan. The first was in 1827 after Thomas Jefferson passed away. His daughter was required to sell all furnishings, the house, and 140 slaves to pay his accumulated debt. It took 4 years to "unload" the house for a mere $7,500.

The second auction was held in November of 1928 after the new owners, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, set on a fundraising mission in 1923 to raise 1 million dollars to purchase Monticello. The goal of The Foundation was to rehab Monticello back to the 1809 - 1826 Jefferson era which meant disposing of items belonging to the prior owner, Jefferson Levy. The work continues to this day to remove all property and building modifications that were made during the 90 year sporadic ownership of Monticello by the Levy family. Fortunately in the 1980's steps were taken by The Foundation to restore the Levy family history.

1914 Sitting Lions and interesting sign to visitors by Holsinger
For many, many years Monticello was open to just about anyone that meandered up the mountain. Property owners were often not on site and Monticello was a "second home" managed by hired help to look after things. Because it was an ex-President's home, there was money to be made by charging admission but often there was little control over what people did or where they went. So Monticello had become quite the popular place to visit especially when automobile travel made the voyage easier. By 1900 it is recorded that 50,000 people made the trek each year. Apparently things were being damaged as a posted signs states, "Visitors allowed on grounds 20 minutes, Do no pull or break shrubbery, No lunching on the grounds". So one would imagine that a nationally advertised auction held at Monticello would be a HUGE deal. I've found no record of what occurred at the auction, as to what was sold or the turnout. Was it a stampede up the mountain or a fizzle?

More statues @ Monticello by Holsinger
When the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation originally took over Monticello it was headquartered in New York City. What you may not know is that there was another auction held in New York City as part of the 1928 disposal of Levy family items. In December, a month after the auction at Monticello, select items were sent to New York to be auctioned. I envision a few "high society" items and found a reference to some statuary being included in this sale. Because I had been researching the auction of 4 Lion statues for several years, I was very interested in trying to track down exactly what items were part of this auction. Maybe the missing "Sitting with Shield" lions were included!

Grounds @ Monticello by Holsinger
After some serious googling, I found a reference to a brochure listing the items in the NYC auction. Up until this point, I had not encountered any published references to the exact items auctioned. Because this auction was only 1 months after the auction held at the Monticello, I felt these items had been pre-selected and never part of the auction held at Monticello.

What sort of items do you believe were auctioned? Are you hanging on the edge of your seat? I was until I received the contents of the brochure and was I ever surprised.

It's so revealing that I'll have to write about it in my next blog post. So stay tuned!

1925 Restoration of Monticello from the book by M. Urosfky
Historic photos by Rufus Holsinger are copyrighted and not for commercial use as noted from the UVA Special Collections Library.

The last photo is a snapshot of the Levy Lions amid scaffolding is from the book, The Levy Family and Monticello by Melvin Urosfky.


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