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Elihu Yale

Merchant, Collector & Patron

Diana Scarisbrick, Benjamin Zucker

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An original and vivid biography of the great art collector, philanthropist, and early benefactor of Yale University


Elihu Yale's name is famous for the great educational institution, Yale University, of which he was an early benefactor. He made his fortune in India, mostly through trading in diamonds. Arriving in Madras in 1672, through his outstanding abilities he rose through the hierachy of the East India Company from clerk to governor. When he returned to London in 1699 he brought with him Indian gems, furniture and textiles. In the milieu of portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and physician Sir Hans Sloane he established a fashionable household where in the end he had assembled some ten thousand items, including fine English furniture.

Yale's collection was dispersed at seven auction sales after his death in 1721, and the catalogues of those sales survive, providing information about the lively London art market. Hitherto neglected by historians, the Yale sales prove to be a landmark in the history both of collecting and of auctioneering art in early 18th-century England. In addition, the detailed analyses of the various categories throw light on Yale's personality and interests: he is revealed as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a dedicated churchman and a philanthropist, totally in tune with the English Enlightenment.

The authors explore Elihu Yale's life in the society of Madras and London, and his interests, including musical and scientific instruments and books, and then turn to a study of Yale as a dealer (particularly in gems) and a collector of diamonds and jewelry and works of art - some of which are now at Yale University, and some in national collections around Britain.

The story is one with many appeals: the society of the East India Company and of early 18th-century London; furniture, both Indian and English; the fashion for things Oriental in the West; gemstones and jewelry; and collecting works of art.

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'Handsomely produced … the book’s strength is its portrayal of the material and visual culture of a wealthy London merchant'
The World of Interiors

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.3 x 16.0 cm

Extent: 288 pp

Publication date: 21 April 2014

ISBN: 9780500517260

Contents List

Part I Merchant, Gentleman, Philanthropist: 1 Boston to Fort St George; 2 London Life; 3 At Home; 4 Gentleman of Fashion; 5 The Pleasures of Music, Books, and Science; 6 Philanthropist • Part II Dealer and Collector in London: 1 A Fortune from Jewels; 2 The New Western Taste for the East; 3 Yale and the Art World in England

About the Author

Diana Scarisbrick is an art historian specializing in the history of engraved gems and jewelry. Her publications include Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty and Portrait Jewels: Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs, and (as co-author) Elihu Yale: Merchant, Collector & Patron, all published by Thames & Hudson.

Benjamin Zucker, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, is one of the world’s leading gem dealers.

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