Past Auction

Jewels from the Wilson Family Collection

Wed, Dec 16, 2020 at 12pm EST |
New York
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Featured Section of the Important Jewelry Auction


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  • Auction of Jewels from the Wilson Family Collection took place on Wednesday, December 16, 2020
  • Featured Section of the Important Jewelry Auction
  • Prominent Family of New York's Gilded Age Aligned with the Astors, Goelets and Vanderbilts, as well as English Nobility

NEW YORK, NY -- Doyle was honored to auction important jewels from the Wilson Family Collection on Wednesday, December 16, 2020. The three exceptional pieces were offered as a featured section of the Important Jewelry auction.

The Wilson Family

The journey of the Wilson family from the deep antebellum South to the pinnacle of New York Gilded Age society began with the marriage in 1852 of the enterprising Georgia-born Richard Thornton Wilson, the son of a tanner and shoemaker, to Melissa Clementine Johnston, the daughter of a prosperous Tennessee merchant and planter. With an initial investment from his new father-in-law, Wilson’s early business ventures flourished. During the Civil War, Wilson served in important roles in the office of the Commissary-General of the Confederacy, traveling to London to broker the Southern cotton crop. Emerging from the war $500,000 richer, he began buying up defunct railroads.

Portrait of Melissa Clementine Johnston Wilson by Léon Bonnat (1833-1922). She is wearing the tiara, lot 111.
Portrait of Melissa Clementine Johnston Wilson by Léon Bonnat (1833-1922). She is wearing the tiara, lot 111.

Wilson moved his family north to New York, where he established the successful banking firm, R. T. Wilson & Co., joining the ranks of the city’s millionaire financiers. The family settled into an elegant mansion on Fifth Avenue at 43rd Street, midway between the Astors at 34th Street and the Vanderbilts in the 50s. With Melissa’s connections, the Wilsons quickly became intimate with “Old New York Society,” summering with their new peers in Newport and traveling to London and Paris. The top lot of the December 16 auction was an antique natural pearl and diamond tiara with provenance of Melissa Clementine Johnston Wilson, which with an estimate of $80,000-120,000 achieved an astounding $423,000. She is seen wearing the tiara in a portrait painted by French artist Léon Bonnat (1833-1922).

The couple’s five children all made brilliant marriages, aligning the Wilsons with the some of the most elite families of New York and Great Britain and earning them the moniker, “The Marrying Wilsons.”

The Wilsons’ elder son, Marshall Orme Wilson married Caroline Schermerhorn Astor in 1884. She was the daughter of William Backhouse Astor, Jr. and Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, known as “The Mrs. Astor” who created the Four Hundred, a list of New York society. Featured in the auction is a Ceylon sapphire and diamond devant-de-corsage with provenance of Caroline Astor Wilson. This stunning piece soared past its estimate of $30,000-50,000 to achieve $118,750. Marshall Orme Wilson and Caroline Astor Wilson’s son, Orme Wilson, married Alice Borland in 1910. He had a long career in the diplomatic service and was named U.S. Ambassador to Haiti by FDR. A diamond ring in the auction has provenance of Mrs. Orme Wilson, Jr and also surpassed its estimate to achieve $28,125.

Of the Richard T. Wilsons’ four other children, Mary Rita "May" Wilson married Ogden Goelet, a New York real estate heir in 1878. Their daughter, Mary Goelet became the Duchess of Roxburghe upon her marriage to Henry Innes-Ker, the 8th Duke.

Leila "Belle" Wilson married Sir Michael Henry Herbert in 1888. He was the British ambassador to the United States during Theodore Roosevelt's administration and the younger brother of the 13th and 14th Earls of Pembroke.

Richard Thornton Wilson, Jr. married Marion Steedman Mason in 1902. He was a prominent figure in Thoroughbred racing circles and owned a number of successful racehorses.

Grace Graham Wilson married Cornelius “Neily” Vanderbilt III in 1896. The couple traveled frequently to Europe where they became friends with various members of European royalty. The last of the great Vanderbilt hostesses, Grace was known as the “Queen of New York Society.”

The auction on December 16 featured exquisite jewels from one of America’s storied families of the Gilded Age. These jewels have been worn by generations of the Wilson family to legendary balls, the old Metropolitan Opera House’s “Diamond Horseshoe,” elegant dinners and brilliant soirées on both sides of the Atlantic. Historic jewels such as these bring their glittering past to every future event at which they will be worn.


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Consignments are currently being accepted

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  • Estate of Arlene Deichmann
  • Property from an Important Jewel Collector
  • Property from the Wilson Family Collection
  • Property of a California Collector
  • Property of a Marco Island Lady
  • Property of a Pennsylvania Philanthropist
  • Property of a Southern California Lady

A Selection of Auction Highlights

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