The Piano

The Salisbury House piano is one of the most special pieces in our collection. First and foremost, you should know that this is no ordinary instrument.

It’s a Steinway.

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It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano.

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It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys.

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It’s a custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys, encased in 16th century, hand-carved English oak.

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And, as it has for the last 86 years, this custom-built Steinway style D concert grand piano with genuine ivory and ebony keys, encased in 16th century, hand-carved English oak, ornaments the southwest corner of the Salisbury House Common Room.

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As you begin to reel your jaw up from the floor, you may wonder how, how, did this magnificent instrument find its way to Des Moines, Iowa?

We’re glad you asked.

It began, of course, with Carl Weeks.

Carl and his wife Edith began building Salisbury House in 1923. Along the way, they made the acquaintance of William Rasmussen, a New York-based architect, who became involved in designing and furnishing the family’s new home. Rasmussen also played a role in bringing the Steinway to Salisbury House.

In early 1929, Carl and Rasmussen contacted Steinway & Sons in New York  to inquire about the creation of a piano especially for Salisbury House.

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The accompanying sketch and note are lost to history, but it’s clear that by July 1929, Steinway was ready to proceed with the project.

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It was decided that the case of 16th-century oak for the piano would be executed by Frederick Tibbenham, LTD., based in Ipswich, England, and then shipped to Steinway & Sons in New York.

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Carl gave the go-ahead on September 5, 1929.

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Note the date of this order confirmation from Steinway to Carl –  September 9, 1929. Of course, Carl et al couldn’t have known it at the time, but the United States was forty-five days away from what became known as Black Thursday. On October 24, 1929 the stock market crashed to the tune of five billion dollars.

Despite the economic turmoil that gripped the country in general and businessmen like Carl Weeks in particular, work on the piano continued.

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The piano was completed in July 1930. According to Mr. Collins, Steinway’s sales manager, the instrument “is one of the finest toned ones we have ever produced, and therefore its beauty is comprehensive.”

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A Steinway of this caliber didn’t come cheap. Costs for the piano, including the 16th-century English oak components milled by Tibbenham and Steinway’s own expenses for the instrument, totaled $5,927.28 (over $84,000 in 2017 dollars).

And this about eight months into the worst economic crisis in American history.

In September of 1930, Sales Manager Collins placed a delicate inquiry to Carl regarding his plans for taking ownership of his new piano.

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Carl responded promptly, and indicated that he and Edith would be in New York in early October. They would then arrange for the final inspection of the piano. Around the time of this visit, Steinway provided the Weekses with a full invoice for the project.

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A subsequent invoice indicated that Carl made a cash payment of $1,000 on November 6, 1930. Still, a balance of $4,927.28 carried over into early 1931.

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Another letter, noticeably testy in tone, arrived from Steinway for Carl in early January 1931.

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Here ends our archive’s extant correspondence between Carl and Steinway, but we can safely assume that payment was eventually rendered.

Today, we are left with an incredible, fantastic, one-of-a-kind piano and a remarkable story of Carl’s determination, in the face of mounting economic uncertainty, to faithfully render his family’s dream of Salisbury House.

David Ross, one of our long-time tour guides, plays the Salisbury House Steinway.

 

Beginning on May 10, 2017, learn how YOU can secure an opportunity to play the Salisbury House Steinway. Call our offices at (515) 274-1777 and ask about The Steinway Experience. 

 

(re)Discovering History in the Salisbury House Library

The Library at Salisbury House is the stunning manifestation of Carl Weeks’ longtime love of collecting books. From fifteenth-century incunabula, to Grant Wood, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and D.H. Lawrence, the collection includes a trove of wonders.

Most of these books are still displayed on the shelves in the Library at Salisbury House, as they were during the Weeks family’s residency (from 1926 to the early 1950s).

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Archival Image of the Library, c. 1930

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The Library Today

Our records include several Library inventories from over the years, but it became clear that a newly-updated catalog was necessary. Thus, we embarked upon a multi-year project of revisiting every entry in the collection inventory. Each book was taken off the shelves, meticulously examined for condition issues, ephemera, signatures, etc. and – crucially – each book’s location in the Library was confirmed and/or corrected as well.

We could not have finished this mammoth project without the assistance of our wonderful Library volunteers: Christine Whitney, Charles Timberlake, and Judy Ford were integral to the inventory’s successful completion.

Two and a half years later: we’re done! The dream, from our museum staff’s perspective, would be to make the inventory fully available and searchable online. For now, though, we wanted to share a very special discovery that Judy and I made during the final day of updating the collection.

Two medieval Books of Hours number among the most visually stunning works in the Library. These volumes typically contained a range of psalms, hymns, and prayers, and became immensely popular among laymen and women between the 13th and the 16th centuries. The two Books of Hours in the Salisbury House collection contain elements typical of most works in this genre – illumination, decorative borders, full-page illustrations (called miniatures), and text in Latin.

Pictured below is one example from our collection, including the cover, full-page miniature, and decorative text:

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The second Book of Hours in the collection is slightly larger. It dates to the late 14th century and is also highly decorative:

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These two volumes represent the full extent of the Books of Hours in the Salisbury House collection.

….or do they??

As it turns out: we have a third Book of Hours! Now, we did start to wonder as we neared the end of the inventory. We had noted a third entry for a Book of Hours in the old inventory but, believing as we did that the two known copies were all we had, assumed that the third item in the inventory was a duplicate/erroneous entry. Soon, though, we rediscovered a bit of history lost among the shelves in the Library at Salisbury House.

It all began innocuously enough. We pulled a volume enclosed in a very nice, custom-made case with the label “Novum TestamentumJohn Trumbull’s Copy – 1794″ on its spine.

“Well, that’s interesting,” we agreed, “it must be early American artist Trumbull’s copy of the New Testament.”

As with every book we pulled from the shelves during the process of updating the inventory, we removed it from the case for a closer inspection of condition, etc.

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First, we noticed that the book itself didn’t quite fit into its custom-made enclosure:

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Odd.

And then we opened the front cover.

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Hmm. Well, that certainly doesn’t look like it’s from the late 18th century, we agreed. That feeling grew as we leafed through subsequent pages.

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And then we realized – we’d found it! There actually was a third Book of Hours! It had, many years ago, been mistakenly placed in a case that belonged with the Trumbull New Testament (which sat, uncased, a few books down the shelf).

This third Book of Hours includes less decorative elements when compared to the other two, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts. All in all, it’s not a bad day at work when you (re)discover a late 14th/early 15th century book in your museum’s collection!

On 15th-Century Books; or, How I Learned to Pronounce “Incunabula”

The term “incunabula” [in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh] signifies the first generation of books produced in western Europe using movable type. Johannes Gutenberg’s bible, the signal achievement which heralded the advent of movable type among Europeans, rolled off his printing press in 1455. Later scholars settled on the entirely arbitrary date of January 1, 1501, as the cutoff point for incunabula: those produced after Gutenberg and before 1/1/1501 were outfitted with the fancy incunabula designation, and those produced on or after after that date were, for the most part, simply considered plain ol’ books.

Thus, incunabula hold a special place in the hearts of many collectors of fine and rare books. Carl Weeks, who certainly numbered among the finest collectors of his day, acquired several examples of incunabula for his Library collection.

Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start, as Maria Von Trapp once said. Here, in all its fifteenth-century glory, is our Gutenberg bible leaf. Carl Weeks acquired this piece from New York book dealer Gabriel Wells in the 1920s.

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Leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, c. 1455. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Gutenberg worked primarily in Mainz, a city in modern-day Germany. Soon thereafter a robust trade in printing emerged in Venice, where deep Italian pockets bankrolled book production for generations. Two Bavarian brothers, John and Wendelin de Spire, established one of the first presses in Venice in 1469. The incunabula leaf below was printed by Wendelin in 1472 and is from an edition of Cicero’s On Duty.

 

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Leaf from Cicero’s On Duty by the de Spira Press, 1472. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Back at Strassburg in 1472, Johann Mentelin was hard at work on a mammoth production of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam Bibliam, which was the first major work of commentary on the bible. Some accounts suggest that Mentelin learned his craft from Gutenberg himself. At any rate, the book produced by Mentelin is a show-stopper. It includes decorated capitals, rubrication, innovative design and, delightfully, annotations from some long-ago reader.

 

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Nicolas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam Bibliam by the Mentelin Press, 1472. Salisbury House Permanent Collection 

 

Venice in 1475 was a wonderful confluence of geography and talent: in addition to the de Spire brothers, Nicolas Jensen, roundly considered one of history’s greatest printers and typographers, turned out beautiful volumes from his Venetian workshop. The leaf below from Jensen’s edition of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers remains representative of his incomparable design and execution.

 

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Leaf from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers by the Jensen Press, 1475. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The works of Thomas Aquinas, the prolific Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, and theologian, proved a popular subject for many early printers. Anton Koberger, who established the first printing press in Nuremberg in 1470, produced in 1475 a gorgeous edition of Aquinas’ Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia (basically, a commentary on the four Gospels). The opening page of the book is a stunner:

 

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Thomas Aquinas’ Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia by the Koberger Press, 1475.Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

One of the most frequently-reproduced books of the Middle Ages, The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, chronicled the exploits of several Roman Catholic saints. In 1480, the Italian printer Antonio de Strata published a version of Voragine’s work in Venice.

 

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Leaf from Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend by the de Strata Press, 1480. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The second-oldest book in the Salisbury House collection, and our oldest complete bible, had its origins in Venice as well. Johannes Herbort de Seligenstadt was a German printer who worked first in Padua in 1475 and moved to Venice six years later. He ultimately issued three editions of the bible; the version at Salisbury House dates to 1483.

 

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Bible by the Seligenstadt Press, 1483. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

If commentaries on the obscurities of 13th-century canon law really blow your hair back, then this next incunabulum is for you. It’s an edition of Bernardus Parmensis’ exegesis of the Decretals of (Pope) Gregory IX printed in 1487.

 

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Bernardus Parmensis’ Commentaries on the Decretals of Gregory IX, 1487. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Typically, the authors of most books printed during the incunabula period were already dead. Werner Rolewinck was one of the few exceptions. His Fasciculus temporum combined secular history with biblical history and commentary. This edition was published in Strassburg in 1490, likely by Johann Pruss.

 

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Werner Rolewinck’s Fasciculus temporum by the Pruss Press, 1490. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, completed in 1320, remains a classic in world literature. This incunabula leaf is part of the complete Divina Commedia printed in Venice by Petrus de Piasio in 1491.

 

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Leaf from Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia by the Piasio Press, 1491. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Anton Koberger, the prolific printer of Nuremberg, offered for sale in 1493 one of the most richly illustrated works of the incunabula period. His edition of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle continues to be roundly considered one of the finest works of this era.

 

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Leaf from Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle by the Koberger Press, 1493. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The last of Carl Weeks’ incunabula collection dates to 1496. The Epistolae Sancti Hieronymi, or the letters of St. Jerome, rolled off the Venetian press of Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis in 1496. Interestingly, the book was printed to include rubrication and illustrated capitals; however, our edition only includes the blank spaces where these additional decorative elements would have been added.

 

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Epistolae Sancti Hieronymi by the Vercellensis Press, 1496. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Getting Stoned at Salisbury House

If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”

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Friendship Hall

Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.

During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”

Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.

Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.

Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?

In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.

Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.

My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.

I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.

I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.

I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.

Rock from Gibraltar

Rock from Gibraltar

 

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

 

Pipestone

Pipestone from Minnesota

 

Geode from Iowa

Geode from Iowa

 

Water Stones

Water Stones

From Overalls and Shovels to Fedoras and Cuban Cigars: The Gilded Age Inspiration for Salisbury House

There were three distinct aristocracies in Washington. One of these, (nick-named the Antiques,) consisted of cultivated, high-bred old families who looked back with pride upon an ancestry that had been always great in the nation’s councils and its wars from the birth of the republic downward. Into this select circle it was difficult to gain admission. No. 2 was the aristocracy of the middle ground . . . No. 3 lay beyond; of it we will say a word here. We will call it the Aristocracy of the Parvenus—as, indeed, the general public did. Official position, no matter how obtained, entitled a man to a place in it, and carried his family with him, no matter whence they sprang. Great wealth gave a man a still higher and nobler place in it than did official position. If this wealth had been acquired by conspicuous ingenuity, with just a pleasant little spice of illegality about it, all the better. This aristocracy was “fast,” and not averse to ostentation.

The aristocracy of the Antiques ignored the aristocracy of the Parvenus; the Parvenus laughed at the Antiques, (and secretly envied them.)

-From Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today

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Carl and Edith Weeks, c. 1930

Before Armand – before Salisbury House – few would have assumed Carl Weeks to be any more extraordinary than any other Midwestern businessman of his era. In fact, when roaming the halls of Salisbury House, one tends to forget his humble and, at times, impoverished origins. Born the fourth child of a hog farmer and his wife on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1876, Carl’s prospects were quite modest. When his father’s swine herd was wiped out by cholera around 1880, the Weekses were forced into selling their farm. They set off for Kansas in search of a new start. His father, however, still had trouble finding work and was often away from home. Carl helped out by picking up bison chips for use as fuel in their little sod house and once recalled how his mother had had to trade one of their bedsteads for a bag of flour. Eventually, his mother’s brothers, Lowell and Davis Chamberlain, brought them back to Iowa and settled them in Des Moines. Carl left public schooling at the age of 13 and it was only with his uncles’ financial assistance that he was able to attend Highland Park College of Pharmacy to obtain his pharmacist certification in 1892.

Little of Carl’s early life foreshadows the great success he would eventually achieve when he established what would become an international cosmetics empire in 1915. But he was born into an unusual era. One where American society had one foot planted deep in the agrarian soils of its hard-working, ancestral pioneers just as it was stepping into a quickly industrializing, burgeoning urban culture obsessed with leisure, pleasure and wealth. It was an era as rampant with corruption and materialism as it was entrepreneurial optimism where every man had the potential to become the next Carnegie or Rockefeller. This time period, known as the Gilded Age and sometimes referred to as the American Renaissance, spanned the years following the Civil War to the early 1900s with some historians extending it as far as the stock market crash of 1929. The term was lifted from Mark Twain’s 1873 satirical novel, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, that depicts the greed and corruption endemic in American politics and society in the late 1860s and early 1870s. This era, however, also laid the foundations of our modern, secular culture and shaped the minds of many Americans, including Carl Weeks.

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Cover of Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, 1873.

After the Civil War, industrialization and mechanization increased at a rapid rate in the United States. It centralized the economy in urban centers and concentrated wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer men. Immigrants and formerly-rural Americans descended upon the cities in search of new opportunities. Mass-produced goods, department stores and mail order catalogues brought the modern idea of shopping to the masses. The extension of the railroads connected the East and West coasts of the United States and new refrigerated boxcars allowed for fresh produce out of season, exotic fruits, Midwestern-raised beef, and beer to be transported to retailers all across the nation. Telephones and transatlantic cables knitted the world closer together through faster methods of communication. Amusement parks, dance halls, theaters, libraries and opera houses flourished, providing entertainment, education, and, at times, opportunities for vice to the burgeoning urban population.

Entrepreneurs were the driving force behind this explosion of modernity. A lucky few, however, through hard work, shrewd business decisions, and more than a little back-room subterfuge, succeeded in building business empires that reached far beyond their own little corners of the world. Many of these men, such as Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, arose from humble means to become industrial tycoons with massive fortunes. They were household names and served as role models for the businessmen of Carl’s generation. Several biographies of these infamous American entrepreneurs grace the shelves of the Library at Salisbury House and probably had a great impact on Carl as he made his way in the business world.

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The Rouge Room at the Armand Factory in Des Moines, Iowa, c. 1920.

Though these nouveau riche Americans of the Gilded Age had the world at their fingertips and, at times, groveling on its knees before them, there was one thing money could not buy: pedigree. For much of recorded human history, wealth was concentrated in land and passed down through strict and often complicated inheritance laws and customs formulated to keep everything within one family line. But the world had been turned upside down by the Industrial Revolution. With advances in manufacturing technology in the late 18th century, hand production methods of textiles and other goods fell by the wayside as factories sprung up in urban centers and produced goods more cheaply and efficiently than ever before. People, once tied to the land and rarely traveling more than 50 miles from their places of birth, descended upon the cities in search of work. The European aristocracy and the “old money” families of the United States, whose income traditionally depended upon the productivity of the people who lived on their lands, saw their economic power shrink as an ever greater share of the world’s wealth flowed into the hands of the savvy factory owners and businessmen of the middle class.

Two things the European aristocracy and American “old money” retained, however, was their social position and status as the arbiters of good taste. An air of self-consciousness pervaded the newly wealthy and powerful as they sought to emulate the nobility in a subconscious effort to prove both to themselves and their “social betters” that they were worthy of their newfound elite status. Instead of seeking new forms of architecture, they copied styles long used by the European aristocracy. At first, Classical styles were mimicked as wealthy Americans embraced the notion of the United States as heir to the cultural traditions of ancient Greece and Rome and the European Renaissance. Later, especially during the time of the Weekses’ rise in wealth, many embraced the picturesque nature of the rambling, built-through-the-centuries styling of the houses of the medieval and Tudor nobility of England. Salisbury House, however, is unique in that it incorporates both stylistic influences in its interior furnishings.

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: grille above Welte-Mignon Organ in the Common Room

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Classical and Renaissance style detailing: chandelier detail in the Dining Room. Both the Common Room and Dining Room are overall Elizabethan or late Tudor style in the architectural details and most furnishings but also include Neoclassical touches such as these.

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Tudor style detailing of 16th century fireplace surround in the Great Hall featuring a Tudor rose flanked by quatrefoils.

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Tudor style, 16th century carved door detail in the hallway outside the master suites featuring linenfold, which was a common type of carving to decorate plain panels in Europe between the 14th and 16th centuries.

In a time where what you owned was an unspoken announcement of who you were as an individual, collecting art and antiques from around the world became an obsession for the nouveau riche who wanted nothing more than to appear sophisticated, worldly, educated and powerful. The Weekses were no different. Much like J.P. Morgan, who had spent a whopping $60 million on art and rare books in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Rockefeller family who splurged on artwork from around the world, Carl and Edith sought after all of the trappings of the leisured class. Carl was an avid bibliophile and Edith’s bachelor’s degree in Art History provided her with a discerning eye for both fine art and period-specific furnishings.

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Late 18th century alabaster urns with Classical style detailing in the Great Hall.

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Elizabethan style carving on Carl’s c. 1600 bed.

The economic devastation in Europe after World War I led to easy pickings for the Weekses and other wealthy Americans who snatched up whatever Europeans wanted to sell, including antiques, art, and architectural detailing. Though they did not spend anywhere close to what Morgan had, Carl and Edith did spend nearly $3 million to build and furnish their house. In today’s money, that would equal about $40 million.

Patronage of artists skyrocketed in the United States during the Gilded Age as well, continuing a centuries-old European tradition where artists relied on wealthy patrons for work and financial support. Artists were sought after as companions as well as for their ability to beautify the homes of the wealthy and public spaces. Rather than pushing the social envelope as many artists do today, the artists of this era reinforced the new status quo and soothed the egos of wealthy Americans through their attention and commissioned works. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson once said of Gilded Age artists that their social function was to “provide a setting of leisured elegance bearing the patina of class and taste for people who were frequently one generation removed from overalls and shovel.”

Like their Gilded Age predecessors, the Weekses too befriended artists and even commissioned Joseph Stella to create one work specifically for Salisbury House. This commissioned piece, Apotheosis of the Rose, still hangs in the Breakfast Room today.

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Apotheosis of the Rose by Joseph Stella, 1926. Oil on canvas.

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The Birth of Venus by Joseph Stella, 1925. Oil on canvas. Hangs in the Great Hall at Salisbury House.

Finally assembled at home in Iowa, the Weekses’ collections lent an air of aristocratic pedigree to their new home meant to look centuries old the day it was built. Like the entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age and the European nobility, Carl’s house and collections were a signal to the world that he had arrived and was a force to be reckoned with. A man born to a hog breeder and who had picked up bison chips on the Kansas prairie was now a social and business leader who was well-traveled, well-connected, and a man of noble bearing.

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Salisbury House in early spring.

The Gilded Age gave birth to Salisbury House. The ideals of the era – wealth, consumption, pleasure and leisure – reside throughout its history, collections and architecture. Carl Weeks was born into this era and persevered until he could finally emulate those whose names were on the tongues of every American entrepreneur – Carnegie, Morgan, Rockefeller. The result was Salisbury House: a grand mansion distinctly English in flavor and filled with treasures that reveal how Carl and others of his ilk wished to be seen – worldly, aristocratic, powerful. It represents one final expression of a bygone era in which America itself came of age.

 

Tonight We’re Going to Pickle Like It’s 1797

We like to keep things light in August. It’s hot. It’s humid. And we’d all prefer to be sitting with our feet up, enjoying an adult beverage and some tasty snacks. To that end, our blog post last August explored a book from our collection that extolled the virtues of drunkards. This year, we turn our attention to the culinary arts: in particular, our 1797 edition of The Accomplished Housekeeper and Universal Cook, written by T. Williams and “the principal cooks at the London and Crown and Anchor Taverns.”

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First, a word on cookbooks more generally. The earliest cooking volumes found in America were, unsurprisingly, imports from England. Historians generally agree that Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery, or The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes….Adapted to this Country and All Grades of Life was the first cookbook native to the United States. Salisbury House’s own Accomplished Housekeeper fits into the former category of 18th-century British cookbooks published in London.

Prior to Carl Weeks, who first owned this volume? The inside cover provides a bit of information. First, this cookbook belonged to a gentleman named Samuel Coleby who likely purchased it in 1804. The inscription below also, upon first glance, seems to indicate that Samuel live in Charleston, but closer inspection leaves your correspondent not entirely certain of his location. At any rate, it is clear that Carl Weeks purchased the book in September 1928, perhaps for $12.50 (around $135 in today’s dollars). It also appears that Samuel did not often use the cookbook, as it remains in relatively fine condition today.

 

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The Accomplished Housekeeper makes for some entertaining reading. Its author rightly puts food safety first, advising the novice cook that, “Before we enter on the practical part of the Cook’s business, it may not be improper to make a few general observations, which are as necessary to be attended to as any part of the culinary profession. The first and most important of all these is cleanliness, not only in their own persons, but also in every article used in the kitchen.”

Well said, T. Williams. Well said.

 

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With the fundamentals of good kitchen hygiene in place (who knew that copper vessels and utensils were 18th-century deathtraps?!), the author turned to practical matters of food preparation. We’ve selected a few recipes to highlight below that seem appropriate for late summer cookery. First up: cherry pie and orange or lemon tarts.

 

cherry pie

 

If your palate is more adventurous, perhaps you might give mince pie or partridge pie a whirl.

 

more pies

 

Another summer favorite – homemade ice cream! With apricots “beat fine in a marble mortar”!

 

ice cream

 

Who doesn’t love seafood in summertime? The Accomplished Housekeeper has got you covered. Here’s the best way to pitchcock eels, fricassee oysters, and dress herring.

 

eels oysters herring

 

August offers an abundance of fresh, in-season foods, a phenomena not lost on T. Williams et al. To preempt any seasonal confusion, however, the authors kindly included a list of which foods were generally available during each month of the year.

 

in season_2

 

The authors also encouraged readers to take advantage of these “articles in season,” and included several pages of recommendations for how best to preserve the fruits (and vegetables) of summer. “To pickle cucumbers” is still a common pursuit, though the late eighteenth-century methodology differs a bit from today’s general practices.

 

pickle cucumbers

 

If pickling cucumbers doesn’t blow your hair back, why not try nasturtium buds? Or mackarel caveach? We should note that caveach, or escabeche, is back on trend today. The more things change…

 

pickle nasturtium

 

Are you harboring a secret desire to craft small-batch wines? These recipes are for you.

 

wines

 

Do your culinary plans include carving venison, hare, partridge, pig, or pheasant? If so, be sure to Pin this handy-dandy cheat sheet.

 

carving

If you are adventurous in the kitchen, try out one of these recipes! Let us know if you try your hand at elder wine or pickled nasturtium buds, and we’ll update this post with your photos and comments. Happy cooking!

A Virtual Tour, c. 1927

By 1927, Salisbury House neared completion. The Weeks family had moved in the previous year, although the house would not be fully finished until 1928. During this year’s interim, a photographer captured images of the new home’s interior. These photographs, particularly when paired with exterior construction images, make a fascinating early study of the property.

The Weeks family, as we do on our tours today, welcomed visitors to Salisbury House in the Great Hall.

Great Hall_3

The iconic painting,  The Brothers LaBouchere, still dominates the center of the hall, though much of the additional furnishings have been removed today to accommodate our various public events and rentals.

From the Great Hall, visitors typically made their way down the east hallway to the Common Room.

East hallway

Here in the east hallway hung a painting of special importance. The large-scale piece hanging on the right is Joseph Stella’s Tree of My Life, painted by the artist in 1919-1920. The Weeks family originally acquired three Stella works on a scale similar to Tree of My LifeThe Birth of Venus (1922) and The Apotheosis of the Rose (1926), which both can still be seen at Salisbury House today. Tree of My Life, however, was sold at auction at Christie’s in 1986 for $2.2 million.

Lush furnishings, including ornate drapery, also appeared in the Common Room in 1927. However, the custom-made Steinway grand piano, which was later a centerpiece of the room, had yet to arrive from New York.

Common room_3

Common room

Lucky guests were also able to visit the library, which remains an extraordinary experience today.

Library_2

Note the empty shelves behind the hanging tapestry in the middle background above. By the time the Weeks family left Salisbury House in 1954, the library collection had expanded even beyond the library shelves. Eventually, locked cabinet doors were added to the bookshelves adjacent to the fireplace below.

Library_3

Guests invited to stay for the evening would have likely spent time in the Dining Room as well…

Dining Room

…followed by their morning coffee in the Breakfast Room. A portion of Stella’s Apotheosis of the Rose is visible on the right, where it still hangs.

Breakfast Room

To view the second floor of Salisbury House, guests in 1927 would have used the main staircase located just off of the Great Hall.

Main staircase hall

Not long after this photograph was taken, the Weekses added an elaborate runner to the stairs that included their family crest. A sixteenth-century suit of armor eventually replaced the chair pictured here as well.

Upon arriving at the top of the staircase, Carl and Edith would have retired to their bedrooms in the east wing of the house. Edith’s sumptuous bedroom suite, including a dressing room with adjacent bath, reflected her preference for French decor.

Edith dressing room

Edith’s bedroom was equally lovely.

Edith bedroom_1

Edith bedroom_2

Carl’s bathroom and bedroom – adjacent to, though not connected, to Edith’s rooms – displayed a much more masculine aesthetic.

Carl bathroom

 

Carl bedroom

The balcony, down the hallway from Carl’s and Edith’s suites, offered a fantastic view of the Great Hall.

Balcony hall

Great Hall_4

A small guest bedroom was accessed from the balcony hall.

Porch Room

Continuing westward down the hallway, the Queen Anne bedroom appeared on the left.

Queen Ann_2

Queen Ann_1

The four bedrooms for the Weeks boys – Charles, William, Hud, and Lafe – were on the west end of the second floor. Hud’s room, for reasons that are lost to us now, included two beds.

Hud's bedroom_1

Lafe’s room was the smallest of the boys’ bedrooms.

Lafe's Bedroom

Before our tour of Salisbury House c. 1927 draws to a close: a stop in the Indian Room. This space, located in the basement level of the house, was decorated with Carl’s extensive Native American collection. It was also, or so we are given to believe, used by the boys for some seriously raging parties.

Indian Room_use

Despite the fact that we are separated from these photographs by nearly a century, we are extraordinarily fortunate that much of the fine artworks and furnishings collected by the Weeks family remains intact today. Be sure to stop by and enjoy a tour c. 2015!

 

“The Michelangelo of Caricature”: Honoré Daumier at Salisbury House

Honoré Daumier, the nineteenth-century French artist, became most widely known during his lifetime as a skilled caricaturist. Indeed, he continues to be roundly considered the “Michelangelo of Caricature.”  Daumier’s work for Le Charivari, a French daily newspaper, and for the journal La Caricature, both founded in the 1830s, remain at the apex of caricature as social satire. To draw a modern parallel, perhaps, Daumier might be considered the Jon Stewart of French satirical commentary.

honore_daumier

Honoré Daumier

Still, there was more to the man than caricature. His other talents, particularly in terms of painting and sculpture, remained largely unrecognized until after his death in 1879 at the age of 71. A panegyric collection of essays celebrating Daumier and his work, published in 1922, suggests that “In his day [he] was celebrated as a caricaturist and only a few of the more discerning artists and critics realized that he was one of the giants of Arts, one of the salient individualities [sic]  of the nineteenth century.” A catalogue printed for a 1993 Daumier exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York describes the him as “an artist of exceptional genius and power.” Posthumous reevaluations of Daumier’s work laud, in addition to lithography, his paintings, sculpture, and drawings; he also worked in oil, watercolor, prints, and wood.

Today, Daumier remains widely collected. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, and the Hammer Museum at UCLA are only a few among the many world-class institutions that exhibit and/or hold Daumier works.

Our collections here at Salisbury House include Daumier images as well. While we are still in the process of researching our Daumier holdings, they’re just too cool not to share.

As you will see below, we have found translations and descriptions of the headings and captions paired with the works. Still, even for those of us who are not conversant in French, Daumier’s work transcends language. His renderings of human expressions and situations speak for themselves.

This first set of  Daumier images below are both amusing and puzzling. We do not yet know who created these cutouts of his caricatures, or who added paper tabs to the reverse of the cutouts that allowed figures’ arms and other appendages to be moved back and forth. The cutouts seem to be Daumier’s images, anonymously translated into folk art. Put simply: they’re awesome.

Messieurs en dames

Translation:  Ladies and gentlemen! Silver mines, gold mines, diamond mines are only thin gruel and stale rolls in comparison with coal . . . But even so, (you’re going to say), you’re selling your shares for a million? . . . I’m not selling my shares, gentlemen, I’m giving them away for 200 miserable francs, I’m giving two for every one, I’m giving away a needle, an ear-pick, a bodkin, and what’s more, I give you my blessing into the bargain. Bring out the big drum!

Description: Here, Daumier is aiming at [French politician] Girardin who had been offering mining shares to the public. The entire project was a scam and all participants, with the exception of Girardin, were sent to prison.

The reverse: the paper tab at the bottom, when pulled up and down, maneuvered the main figure’s right arm.

Messieurs en dames_reverse

Les enfants charmants

Translation: Crrrrr !…… woman….!…to leave a man alone for four hours with three crrrrrrrying children……. !

Description: A man is in a state of frustration over three crying babies.

The reverse:

Les enfants back (1)

Robert Macaire Magnetiseur

Translation: Robert Macaire hypnotist. Here is an excellent subject……… for hypnosis……. Certainly ! there is no connection between us, I do not have the honor of knowing Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand and you will see gentlemen, the effect of sleepwalking… (in her sleep Mademoiselle de St. Bertrand gives diagnoses on everyone’s diseases, advocates hidden underground treasures and gives investment advice to Mozart paper company, in gold mines and a host of other very fine operations).

Description: Robert Macaire is hypnotizing a woman. Robert Macaire may seem to be a realistic figure, however one should remember that in reality he is an artificial personality, created in 1823 by Benjamin Antier for his play “L’Auberge des Adrets.”

The reverse:

Robert back

The figure of Robert Macaire became a proxy for Daumier and his publisher at Le CharivariCharles Philipon, for their criticism of French social and political life under Louis-Philippe (r. 1830-1848). Philipon often provided the captions for Daumier’s work, and they both had good cause to create a buffer between their work and their satirical commentary about the monarch. Daumier had been imprisoned for six months in 1832 for his caricature of the king as “Gargantua” while he was on staff at Philipon’s La Caricature. After Daumier’s release from prison, Philipon founded Le Charivari and continued to publish his work. Macaire remained particularly useful after 1835, when political satire was banned in France and Le Charivari ostensibly focused  on French daily life instead.

Our collections include a bound set of Daumier prints from Le Charvari. The collection is undated, but the originals would have been produced during Daumier’s tenure at the French daily from the 1830s to the 1860s.

Cover

DSC_0131

TranslationHow silly!. . . . just look at how they run away! . . . . that is what you get when you are in the wrong place!!! . . . . My little love, when you prevent to pass, you will burn the pellets from Sérail. . . . .

Description:  A terrified couple is walking very fast because they are afraid of two men who are looking at them and commenting on their behavior. Daumier succeeds to show the bourgeoisie with humor but also with that certain touch of bitterness and at the same time endeavors to help us understand how much we are all fighting to climb up the social ladder, while often forgetting our roots and damaging our own self-esteem as well as that of our surrounding.

DSC_0138

Translation: Robbed! . . . . Empty pocket street . . . . . .

Description: A man realizes that he has just been robbed. Reportedly, this street was the former “rue Vieille-Doucet”. Before the reconstruction of the Parisian roads was done by Haussmann, most street in Paris were narrow and dark, an ideal situation for pickpockets.

DSC_0150

 Translation: Oh here you are, darn it, how handsome you are! Come and give your father a kiss.

Description: Daumier portrays generational (and class) differences between father and son.

DSC_0137

Translation: This proves that when you patrol, you should never pass by your own house.

Description: A soldier is patrolling the streets and happens to look up at his window and see his wife with another man.

Another bound set of Daumier’s work in the Salisbury House collections is entitled “Les Cosaques Pour Rire,” or, “The Cossacks in Jest.” Daumier created these images during the Crimean War (1853-1856), and used his considerable skills to skewer Russian military command, soldiers, and the czar, though not all the images included in this set necessarily pertain to either the Crimean War or to the Cossacks.

DSC_0162

Translation: The best-disciplined soldiers in the world.

DSC_0169

Translation: IN BUCHAREST. – It’s here.. come in… we’ll pay you!…

Description: Some soldiers sitting in a tent in Bucharest are inviting an old man to join their forces.

DSC_0170

Translation: Having to also consult his little table in order to be sure that he is definitely the winner.

Description: Nicolas I, Nicolas Pavlovitch (1796-1855), became Emperor of Russia in 1825. Daumier pokes fun at the czar.

DSC_0174

Translation: Russian blind men’s bluff – New game, but more dangerous.

Description: A blindfolded soldier is playing blind man’s bluff.

Daumier’s prolific career reflected his uncanny ability to skewer both the machinations of kings and empires and the foibles of the everyday. Our collections include a selection from his Croquis de Chasse (Hunting Sketches) from the 1850s in which Daumier takes aim at the appearance of hunting mania among the French middle class, brought on by the loosening of laws which had traditionally maintained the hunt as the preserve of aristocrats.

DSC_0184

Translation:  What a hideous Thing this wild Boar is… without this tree I would be lost… it has the air of considering… wouldn’t it be nice if it just went

Description: A hunter is frightened by a wild pig.

DSC_0185

Translation: A misplaced shot.

Description: A hunter shooting at a hare has missed and accidentally shot another hunter in the buttocks.

DSC_0187

Translation: – Blast, what bad luck… he passes just when I am unable to fire!….

Description: A hare hops past a hunter just as he has put his gun down [and is pulling his pants back up].

DSC_0190

Translation: Two hunters were living in peace. A partridge passed and behold, the war began.  

We are still learning more about our Daumier collection here at Salisbury House, but the selection of images included here exemplify the artist’s remarkable skills and legacy.

We are indebted to the Brandeis Institutional Repository’s translations within their Honoré Daumier Digitized Lithographs collection.