MARK HOPKINS AND MARY FRANCES SHERWOOD
Mark Hopkins Jr. (1813 – 1878) was born in Henderson, New York. After an initial failed venture in 1849, he was successful in opening a consortium in Sacramento, California in 1850 to ship goods to the Gold Rush which had recently begun in the state. He briefly returned to New York in 1854 to marry his cousin Mary Frances Sherwood (1818 – 1891), before the couple returned to California and Hopkins expanded his business empire. In 1861, along with Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Collis P. Huntington, with whom he had formed a hardware and iron business in 1853, Hopkins formed the Central Pacific Railroad. In 1875, the couple began construction on their mansion in San Francisco on Nob Hill, designed by architects John Wright and George Sanders with interiors by the New York decorators Herter Brothers in a grand dark Neo-Gothic style. Three years later, though, Hopkins died aboard a Central Pacific Railroad train, leaving the majority of his fortune, estimated at the time at $21,700,000, to his wife, now dubbed by the newspapers of the time as “America’s Wealthy Widow.”
THE HOPKINS MANSION ON NOB HILL
Completed in 1880, the interiors of the Hopkins residence in San Francisco by the Herter Brothers were a dramatic amalgamation of the trendiest design styles of the time, including neo-Gothic, Second Empire, English Reform, and Japanesque influences. As reported in Artistic Homes of California, the parlor was French Gothic with “Indian” frescoes and embroidered silk, the Music Room was “frescoed in the manner in vogue in the Middle Ages,” the reception room had rosewood paneling and “frescoeing [sic.] after the English Gothic pattern,” the stair had Gothic arches, and the dining room was “finished in brown weathered English oak” – all complimented by a “great Moorish room” and black walnut library, while Mrs. Hopkins bedroom featured an ebony suite with ivory detailing, possibly from the 1878 Paris Exhibition. As the Herter Brothers were involved in numerous commissions throughout the company at the time, including their greatest work, the William H. Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue in new York, the firm employed a large staff, including a young designer named Edward F. Searles (1841 – 1920).
EDWARD F. SEARLES
Edward F. Searles was born in Methuen, Massachusetts. After training in carpentry and architectural drafting, Searles worked for the decorators Paul & Co. in Boston before joining the Herter Brothers in 1875. Searles worked for the firm until 1882, when an attack of Rheumatic fever caused him to move to California to recuperate. There, with a letter of introduction from the Herter Brothers, Searles met Mrs. Hopkins and her adopted son, and accompanied them on trips to Menlo Park, California to visit the Lathan residence Mrs. Hopkins was planning to purchase, and later in 1883 to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Mrs. Hopkins was furnishing a chapel and parish house. The following year, Mrs. Hopkins asked Searles to oversee the construction of a new house in Great Barrington. It was throughout this building period in the 1880s that Mrs. Hopkins grew close to Searles. It is said that she first proposed marriage to him in 1883, though the couple was not wed until 1887. It was during this time that Mrs. Searles ordered the extensive dinner service, of which the present lot was part.
THE HOPKINS-SEARLES SERVICE
Begun around 1884, the service commissioned by Mrs. Hopkins, which eventually went to Edward Searles following her death in 1891 after four years of marriage, was designed by Charles Grosjean (1841 – 1888) for Tiffany & Co. Grosjean joined Tiffany from his father’s firm in 1869, where his first major commission was the Mackay service, which he designed in 1877 with Edward C. Moore. The following year, Grosjean designed Tiffany’s Chrysanthemum pattern flatware, patented in 1880 and widely popular to this day. The patent for the flatware which was part of the Hopkins service was submitted 26 December, 1885, with descriptive vocabulary including “vine leaves and bunches of grapes,” “open-work ornaments,” and “a conventional Gothic ornament with bunches of grapes within it,” all of which can be seen on the present lot. This centerpiece and plateau was the most important and impressive work in the service, requiring 311.85 ounces of silver for the centerpiece and 178.25 ounces for the plateau. At a combined manufacturing cost of $4,575, this was one of the most important creations for Tiffany & Co. of the 1880s.
The extent of the service is not fully known as items under the order number for this centerpiece, #4728, include several patterns and extend for several years. The salad bowl from this service is currently in the corporate collection of Tiffany & Co. The flatware service for 18 persons most recently sold from the collection of Victor Niederhoffer, Sotheby’s, New York, 15 June 1998, lot 1635, while the dessert service was sold from the Charles H. Carpenter Jr. Collection, Christie’s, New York, 21 January 1994, lot 33. A wine cooler from the service sold at Christie’s, New York, 20 January 2017, lot 751, and a silver-mounted glass claret jug sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 15 January 1999, lot 56. Finally, a pair of gilt salvers were sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 15 June 2005, lot 342, while a set of twelve dessert plates were sold at Sotheby’s, New York, 18 January 2008, lot 44, the subsequent lot to the present centerpiece and plateau when it was last offered at auction.