|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Diamonds With A History
In June, 1909 I had the high privilege of having in my hands two or three very famous stones, one of which was unique in its value and importance. It was the Hope Blue Diamond. This extraordinary and beautiful stone was really a large part of a great diamond weighing nearly sixty-eight carats, which at one time belonged to the French Crown jewels. In 1660 it was in the possession of Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1686), the traveller, the author of an important book on journeys in Turkey and Persia. He sold it to the King of France in 1668, and soon after he had parted with it, although he was eighty-one years old, he went off to the East, and there had a serious attack of fever and died.
Madame de Montespan persuaded Louis XIV to give her the famous diamond. No sooner did she get it than her power over the King began to wane, and Madame de Maintenon became the reigning favourite. Fouquet, who was the grand treasurer, borrowed it once and wore it at a very important fete. Shortly afterwards he was imprisoned, and a little later on, on the 6th of April, 1680, he died.
Then we hear nothing very much of this wonderful stone, which rested in my hands for a few minutes, until Marie Antoinette wore it at a great ball at the Tuileries, and occasionally, it is said, she lent it to her particular friend, Madame de Lamballe. Both the Queen and the Princess perished at the time of the Revolution. During all this time it had been in the original condition that it was when Tavernier first acquired it, although we do not know exactly where he got it; but, after the Revolution, it was decided to cut it and alter its shape, and it was handed over to a man named Fals, in Holland. His son stole it, the father was ruined, the son killed himself. Previous to his doing so he gave it, in payment of a debt which he dared not acknowledge to his father, to a man named Francis Beaulieu, who came from Marseilles to London with the endeavour to sell it. He fell terribly ill from jail fever and died in a poor humble lodging. Just before his death he arranged with a London jewel dealer, whose name was Daniel Eliason, to buy the diamond, but when Eliason went round to pay over the money Beaulieu was dead and the money never changed hands.
Eliason killed himself some months afterwards, but before he did so he sold the diamond (this was in about 1830) to Henry Thomas Hope of Deepdene, the son of "Anastatious" Hope, a man who was collecting pictures and fine things. It is always said that Hope gave eighteen or twenty thousand pounds for it, although it had been valued then at thirty thousand pounds, but this was all the money he would pay for it, and Eliason could not afford to hold it any longer.
Hope kept the diamond for a great many years, and it has always been known after his time as the Hope diamond and as the finest and largest blue diamond in the world, now only weighing 44 1/4 carats instead of 67 1/2 but enormously improved in appearance by its recutting, and in shape not a circle but a rather short oval, the colour being almost that of a very fine sapphire. From Hope it came down to Lord Henry Francis Hope, and his wife, who was well known as May Yohe, used to wear it. He had to divorce her in 1902 and the diamond passed out of his collection.
A merchant in Hatton Garden, named Weil, bought it, and transferred it almost at once to an American merchant named Simon Frankel. But from the moment he possessed it he had endless financial troubles and worries, and after a while, had to get rid of the diamond in desperation, in the hope of saving his affairs. This was in 1907. In 1908 it came into the possession of a French dealer named Jacques Colot, who almost at once sold it to a Russian Prince, Kanitovski, who lent it to his mistress, a beautiful actress named Ladue.
She wore it at the Folies Berg6re, and when she had it on the Prince shot her with a revolver and regained possession of the diamond. Two days afterwards he was stabbed. Colot, who had never received the whole of the purchase money, went out of his mind, and a week after this episode he committed suicide. Before Kanitovski died he had transferred the diamond to a French dealer, who fell downstairs and broke his leg. He sold it to Montharides, a Greek, who took it to Athens, and very shortly afterwards was captured by brigands, thrown over a precipice and killed, with his wife and his two children. He had just sold the stone to the Sultan of Turkey, Abdul Hamid.
It is not quite certain that the Sultan ever actually had it in his possession. It was given to a man named Abu 5abir to be polished. Abu Sabir said he had never had it, and he played the Sultan false. He was punished, thrown into a dungeon and there remained for some months. The diamond meantime disappeared. Then it was found in the possession of the keeper of the dungeon, and one fine morning he was found strangled. In some mysterious way or other it then passed into the possession of one of the eunuchs of the Sultan's household, a man named Kulub Bey, and he was captured in the streets of Constantinople and hanged on a lamp-post. Meantime, a beautiful French girl had got hold of the diamond, one whom the Sultan very much admired. She had assumed a Turkish name and she was known as Salma Zubayba, and she was wearing it when the revolutionaries broke into the Sultan's palace, and when she was killed the diamond was on her breast.
Thence it came into the possession of a Turk named Habib, a jewel merchant in Constantinople. He perished in a shipwreck in the Moluccas, and it was declared that at last the story of the jewel was at an end as he must have had it in his pocket. But it was not so-he had left it in Paris, and it came into the possession of Messrs. Cartier, who exhibited it in the Haymarket, and there it was that I saw it and handled it.
It was sold in Paris on the 22nd of June of that year, at the Habib sale, by Bailly & Appert for, it is said, L16,000 and a French dealer who bought it for L28,000 sold it to Mr. Edward B. McLean in America for L60,000. He gave it to his wife, who was a Miss Walsh, the daughter of a famous American mine owner. Mr. Edward Beale McLean had one son, Vincent Walsh, who was reckoned at one time as the richest child in the world, because he was to succeed to the fortunes of his two grandparents, John McLean, the owner of the Washington Post and of the Cincinnati Inquirer, and Thomas E. Walsh, the Colorado mining king. The child's name was Vincent Walsh McLean, and from the time of his birth he was subject to very special precautions, as his parents had been told that he would be kidnapped. The house and grounds where he lived were surrounded with steel fences and there were guards to protect him in all directions. The boy was restless under all this care. He was allowed no companions, his only joy being the animals that were about him, which included some wonderful dogs, and especially a Russian wolf-hound which was considered to be the best of its race; but the child was never alone, either his nurse or his attendants being always on hand. When he was only eight months old an attempt was made to kidnap him, and then an iron perambulator was procured in which he used to be wheeled about and view the world through a cage of steel bars. His grandfather had given him a rosewood and gold cradle.
One day one of the boy's pet dogs escaped, and the lad, in great joy at getting away from his guardians, ran through the front gates of his house, down the street, accompanied by various other boys; but he was soon caught and brought back again. He made up his mind, however, to get away as soon as he could and, a similar circumstance happening soon afterwards, he slipped out of the gates again, ran down the street, and was knocked down by a motor-car and run over.
Both his parents were then away at a racecourse in Kentucky. They came back by special train, they telegraphed for doctors and specialists and nurses, but the boy died before his mother could reach his bedside. She had always been anxious about him since she had possessed the great diamond. She tried to persuade her husband to refuse to complete the bargain, but the dealer sued Mr. McLean to carry out his contract and reduced the price to thirty-six thousand, according to one account, and to forty-two thousand according to another; and then it was that McLean took possession of it and gave it to his wife. Three months after she had it her mother, of whom she was passionately fond, died after a sharp and sudden attack of pneumonia. Then she lost her boy, and the effect upon her is said to have been so terrible that, within a few hours, she was herself insane.
The story goes that the diamond originally came from a Hindu temple and that it was the eye of a famous god, and that all who possessed it were cursed after it had been stolen and the curse was to descend to every owner so long as the diamond existed. What exactly has happened to it since Mrs. McLean went out of her mind is not quite certain. There have been various rumours, but the best credited is that the diamond is in a safe deposit in New York and that it is likely to remain there for a very long time. It is said that it has been re-cut and a piece of it taken away so that it should no longer be the same diamond that it was, and that this has been done in the hope (no pun intended) that its tragic history should end and that future owners of this exceedingly beautiful stone should not have all the succession of troubles which have come to those who have owned it in previous years.
With it, at the Habib sale, there were sold some other splendid stones, including a diamond known as the Princesse Mathilde, which was dazzlingly white, and which sold for L2,280.
There was also offered an aquamarine diamond, very much the same size as a stone which now belongs to the English Crown, and which was extraordinarily curious in its colour qualities because, in certain lights it was almost blue, and under others almost green. That fetched L5,600. It was a much larger one than the stone of Princesse Mathilde and weighed over seventy carats, whereas her wonderful white one only weighed sixteen.
The other important Habib diamond was the Mi Regent, a pear-shaped stone, which weighed fifty-eight carats and fetched L7,400; and the same sale included a wonderful pink diamond of thirty-one carats, a bluish-white one of twenty-three carats which fetched L3,120, a pear-shaped diamond of twenty-four carats, and a rosy one of six carats, the whole of the little group fetching about forty thousand pounds, or rather more ;but the importance of these other diamonds was entirely overshadowed by the long and tragic history which was associated with the famous treasure of the collection-the celebrated Hope blue diamond.