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French & Company: Correspondence and Related Documents

Repository: Dumbarton Oaks Archives, Washington, D.C.

Call Number: House Collection/French & Company, Correspondence and Related Documents

Location: Archives 058, House Collection Vertical Files and SUB-3, boxes 029 and 120

Name of Creator(s):  Elizabeth H. Bland, Mildred Barnes Bliss, Robert Woods Bliss, Alberta S. Carpenter, Charles H. Benson, Paul W. Burk Jr., Mrs. Henry Dimock, Lilllian Draper, Herbert Freston, Grazino J. Gagliardi, Gerhard Gerlach, Neshan G. Hintlian, S. Hlopoff, Janusz Ilinski, Norman Johnson, Dorothy Kingsford, Persis W. Mason, Samuel A. Morrow, Harry B. Pangburn, Hiram H. Parke, Norma Ramírez, Ellis Russell, Milton Samuels, Mitchell Samuels, Robert Samuels, Spencer Samuels, Berta Segall, Barbara Sessions, G. Butler Sherwell, Marie Sterner, Anne Sweeney, John S. Thacher, and Lawrence Grant White.

Title: French & Company, Correspondence and Related Documents

Inclusive Date:  1920–1967 (bulk dates: 1945–1967)

Languages:  English

Quantity:  7 folders and 1 box

 

ADMINISTRATIVE INFORMATION

Acquisition Information: These papers came to the Dumbarton Oaks Archives at an unknown date.

Processing Information: These papers were inventoried by James N. Carder in 1999 and processed by Mary Ferranti in 2015.

Terms of Use and Access: These papers can be used for research and publication purposes.

Physical Access: An appointment is required for access to these papers. For appointment and queries, contact James N. Carder, Archivist, carderj@doaks.org.

Preferred Citation: French & Company, Correspondence and Related Documents, Dumbarton Oaks Archives. Courtesy of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.

 

HISTORICAL NOTE

An art dealership based in New York City, P. W. French & Company, Inc. (commonly known as French & Company), bought and sold decorative arts as well as paintings and sculpture. For over half a century after Mitchell Samuels (1880–1959) co-founded the firm in 1907 in New York, French & Company was considered one of the largest art dealerships in the world. Under Mitchell Samuels' directorship, French & Company worked with many wealthy American collectors eager to develop collections in decorative art objects and paintings of European provenance. Among the firm’s clients were J. Paul Getty, William Randolph Hearst, J. P. Morgan, the Vanderbilts, and the Rockefellers. During this period, the firm also served as agents and decorators for the Huntingtons, Fricks, Mellons, and Astors. The French & Company building on East 57th Street housed more than fifty showrooms, eight fireproof vaults, and a ten thousand-volume art reference library.

Spencer Samuels, Mitchell's son, took over as president of French & Company in the 1950s. During his presidency, Spencer Samuels collected sales records from major worldwide art auctions dating to as far back as the 1700s in order to provide complete documentation for the artworks the firm sold. After his father's death, Spencer sold the firm to City Investing in 1959 and went to work for Duveen Brothers. In 1968, City Investing sold the firm to Martin Zimet. Much of the stock of decorative arts objects that remained at French & Company was sold at auction in 1968. The firm continued under the same name after the 1950s, but with a changing inventory and clientele.

The above taken from the finding aid for French & Company records 1910–1998, Bulk 1950–1960 (Getty Research Institute)

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss were clients of French & Company from at least 1920. After the transfer of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940, household furnishings and some art were consigned to French & Company for sale.

 

SCOPE AND CONTENT

The French and Company Correspondence and Related Documents collection contains correspondence, inventories, appraisals, and some photographs pertaining to the acquisition and sale of decorative art objects by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and by Dumbarton Oaks.  These objects include several important tapestries and antique furniture. The collection also reflects the financial difficulties and eventual reorganization of French and Company and the subsequent liquidation of objects held on consignment for Dumbarton Oaks.

List of abbreviations: 

ABB:  Anna Barnes Bliss (mother of Mildred Barnes Bliss)

DO:  Dumbarton Oaks

EHB:  Elizabeth H. Bland (Registrar and Assistant for the Collection 1946-58; Assistant Curator for the Byzantine Collection 1964-65, Dumbarton Oaks)

ER:  Ellis Russell (Robert Woods Bliss’s secretary in New York)

HP:  Hiram H. Parke (co-founder of the auction house Parke-Bernet Galleries)

JT:  John S. Thacher (first director of Dumbarton Oaks, 1940–1969)

MBB:  Mildred Barnes Bliss

MS:  Mitchell Samuels (Co-founder of French and Company; his brothers are Robert and Milton Samuels and his son is Spencer Samuels)

RS:  Robert Samuels

RWB:  Robert Woods Bliss

SS:  Spencer Samuels

SW:  Sydney Wetzler (Wetzler, Freston & Files, Law Offices, Los Angeles)

 

ASSOCIATED MATERIALS

French & Company records, 1910–1998, bulk 1950–1960, Getty Research Institute, Research Library.

 

EXTENT

7 series housed in 7 folders and 20 photographs housed in 1 box.

 

COLLECTION INVENTORY AND DESCRIPTION

Series 1 of 7:  1920–1929 (56 Items)

Series 2 of 7:  1930–1934 (69 Items)

Series 3 of 7:  1935–1939 (78 Items)

Series 4 of 7:  1940–1944 (82 Items)

Series 5 of 7:  1945–1949 (135 Items)

Series 6 of 7:  1950–1959 (130 Items)

Series 7 of 7:  1960–1967 (56 Items)

Box 1: Photographs (20 Items) (Location: 058/SUB-3, Box 029)