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The Hope Diamond-The most famous diamond in the world

The Hope Diamond, also known as “Le Bijou du Roi” (“the King’s Jewel”), “Le bleu de France” (“the Blue of France”), and the Tavernier Blue, is a large, 45.52-carat (9.104 g), deep-blue diamond, and now housed in the National Gem and Mineral collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. It is blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron within its crystal structure, and exhibits red phosphorescence after exposure to ultraviolet light. It is classified as a Type IIb diamond, and is notorious for supposedly being cursed. It has a long recorded history, with few gaps, in which it changed hands numerous times on its way from India to France to Britain and eventually to the United States, where it has been regularly on public display since. It has been described as the “most famous diamond in the world”.

The_Hope_Diamond_-_SIA
The Hope Diamond in 1974

Several accounts, based on remarks written by the gem’s first known owner, French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, suggest that the gemstone originated in India, in the Kollur mine in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh (which at the time was part of the Golconda kingdom), in the seventeenth century. It is unclear who had initially owned the gemstone, where it had been found, by whom, and in what condition. But the first historical records suggest that a French merchant-traveler named Jean-Baptiste Tavernier obtained the stone in the mid-1600s, possibly by purchase or by theft. Tavernier brought to Paris a large uncut stone which was the first known precursor to the Hope Diamond. This large stone became known as the Tavernier Blue diamond. It was a crudely cut triangular shaped stone of 115 carats (23.0 g). Another estimate is that it weighed 112.23 carats (22.446 g) before it was cut. Tavernier’s book, the Six Voyages (French: Les Six Voyages de J. B. Tavernier), contains sketches of several large diamonds that he sold to Louis XIV in possibly 1668 or 1669; while the blue diamond is shown among these, Tavernier mentions the mines at “Gani” Kollur as a source of colored diamonds, but made no direct mention of the stone. Historian Richard Kurin builds a highly speculative case for 1653 as the year of acquisition, but the most that can be said with certainty is that Tavernier obtained the blue diamond during one of his five voyages to India between the years 1640 and 1667. One report suggests he took 25 diamonds to Paris, including the large rock which became the Hope, and sold all of them to King Louis XIV. Another report suggested that in 1669, Tavernier sold this large blue diamond along with approximately one thousand other diamonds to King Louis XIV of France for 220,000 livres, the equivalent of 147 kilograms of pure gold. In a newly published historical novel, The French Blue, gemologist and historian Richard W. Wise proposed that the patent of nobility granted Tavernier by Louis XIV was a part of the payment for the Tavernier Blue. According to the theory, during that period Colbert, the King’s Finance Minister, regularly sold offices and noble titles for cash, and an outright patent of nobility, according to Wise, was worth approximately 500,000 livres making a total of 720,000 livres, a price about half Tavernier’s estimate of the gem’s true value. There has been some controversy regarding the actual weight of the stone; Morel believed that the 112316 carats stated in Tavernier’s invoice would be in old French carats, thus 115.28 metric carats.

Tavernier's original sketch of the Tavernier Blue
Tavernier’s original sketch of the Tavernier Blue

 

In 1678, Louis XIV commissioned the court jeweller, Sieur Pitau, to recut the Tavernier Blue, resulting in a 67.125-carat (13.4250 g) stone which royal inventories thereafter listed as the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France (French: diamant bleu de la Couronne de France). Later English-speaking historians have simply called it the French Blue. The king had the stone set on a cravat-pin. According to one report, Louis ordered Pitau to “make him a piece to remember”, and Pitau took two years on the piece, resulting in a “triangular-shaped 69-carat gem the size of a pigeon’s egg that took the breath away as it snared the light, reflecting it back in bluish-grey rays.” It was set in gold and was supported by a ribbon for the neck which was worn by the king during ceremonies.

At the diamond’s dazzling heart was a sun with seven facets – the sun being Louis’ emblem, and seven being a number rich in meaning in biblical cosmology, indicating divinity and spirituality.
—report in Agence France-Presse, 2008

Louis XV wearing the
Louis XV wearing the “Order of the Golden Fleece”

In 1749, Louis’ descendant, King Louis XV, had the French Blue set into a more elaborate jewelled pendant for the Order of the Golden Fleece by court jeweler André Jacquemin. The assembled piece included a red spinel of 107 carats shaped as a dragon breathing “covetous flames”, as well as 83 red-painted diamonds and 112 yellow-painted diamonds to suggest a fleece shape. The piece fell into disuse after the death of Louis XV. The diamond became the property of his grandson King Louis XVI. During the reign of her husband, Marie Antoinette used many of the French Crown Jewels for personal adornment by having the individual gems placed in new settings and combinations, but the French Blue remained in this pendant except for a brief time in 1787, when the stone was removed for scientific study by Mathurin Jacques Brisson, and returned to its setting soon thereafter. On September 11, 1792, while Louis XVI and his family were confined in the Palais des Tuileries near the Place de la Concorde during the early stages of the French Revolution, a group of thieves broke into the Garde-Meuble (Royal Storehouse) and stole most of the Crown Jewels during a five-day looting spree. While many jewels were later recovered, including other pieces of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the French Blue was not among them and it disappeared temporarily from history. In 1793, Louis was guillotined in January and Marie was guillotined in October, and these beheadings are commonly cited as a result of the diamond’s “curse”, but the historical record suggests that Marie Antoinette had never worn the Golden Fleece pendant because it had been reserved for the exclusive use of the king.

Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.
Marie Antoinette before her public execution by guillotine in 1793.

A likely scenario is that the French Blue or sometimes also known as the Blue Diamond was “swiftly smuggled to London” after being seized in 1792 in Paris. But the exact rock known as the French Blue was never seen again, since it almost certainly was recut during this decades-long period of anonymity, probably into two pieces, and the larger one became the Hope Diamond. One report suggested that the cut was a “butchered job” because it sheared off 23.5 carats from the larger rock as well as hurting its “extraordinary lustre.” It had long been believed that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue until confirmation finally happened when a three-dimensional leaden model of the latter was rediscovered in the archives of the French Natural History Museum in Paris in 2005.

Historians suggested that one robber, Cadet Guillot, took several jewels, including the French Blue and the Côte-de-Bretagne spinel, to Le Havre and then to London, where the French Blue was cut in two pieces. Morel adds that in 1796, Guillot attempted to resell the Côte-de-Bretagne in France but was forced to relinquish it to fellow thief Lancry de la Loyelle, who put Guillot into debtors’ prison.

There is speculation that George's wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.
There is speculation that George’s wife, Caroline of Brunswick, may have helped procure the diamond for the British monarch, but records are lacking.

In a contrasting report, historian Richard Kurin speculated that the “theft” of the French Crown Jewels was in fact engineered by the revolutionary leader Georges Danton as part of a plan to bribe an opposing military commander, Duke Karl Wilhelm of Brunswick. When under attack by Napoleon in 1805, Karl Wilhelm may have had the French Blue recut to disguise its identity; in this form, the stone could have come to Britain in 1806, when his family fled there to join his daughter Caroline of Brunswick. Although Caroline was the wife of the Prince Regent George (later George IV of the United Kingdom), she lived apart from her husband, and financial straits sometimes forced her to quietly sell her own jewels to support her household. Caroline’s nephew, Duke Karl Friedrich, was later known to possess a 13.75-carat (2.750 g) blue diamond which was widely thought to be another piece of the French Blue. This smaller diamond’s present whereabouts are unknown, and the recent CAD reconstruction of the French Blue fits too tightly around the Hope Diamond to allow for the existence of a sister stone of that size.

A blue diamond with the same shape, size, and color as the Hope Diamond was recorded by John Francillon in the possession of the London diamond merchant Daniel Eliason in September 1812, the earliest point when the history of the Hope Diamond can be definitively fixed, although a second less definitive report claims that the Hope Diamond’s “authentic history” can only be traced back to 1830. The jewel was a “massive blue stone of 45.54 carats” and weighed 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat). It is often pointed out that the 1812 date was almost exactly twenty years after the theft of the French Blue, just as the statute of limitations for the crime had taken effect. While the diamond had disappeared for two decades, there were questions whether this diamond now in Great Britain was exactly the same one as had belonged to the French kings, but scientific investigation in 2008 confirmed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the Hope Diamond and that owned by the kings of France were, indeed, the same gemstone, in the sense that the Hope Diamond had been cut from the French Blue.

King George IV
King George IV

There are conflicting reports about what happened to the diamond during these years. Eliason’s diamond may have been acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom, possibly through Caroline of Brunswick; however, there is no record of the ownership in the Royal Archives at Windsor, although some secondary evidence exists in the form of contemporary writings and artwork, and George IV tended to mix up the Crown property of the Crown Jewels with family heirlooms and his own personal property. A source at the Smithsonian suggested there were “several references” suggesting that King George had, indeed, owned the diamond. After his death in 1830, it has been alleged that some of this mixed collection was stolen by George’s last mistress, Lady Conyngham, and some of his personal effects were discreetly liquidated to cover the many debts he had left behind him. Another report states that the king’s debts were “so enormous” that the diamond was probably sold through “private channels”. In either case, the blue diamond was not retained by the British royal family.

Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.
Thomas Hope in oriental dress; colour print after the portrait of 1798 by William Beechey.

The stone was later reported to have been acquired by a rich London banker named Thomas Hope, for either $65,000 or $90,000. It has been suggested that Eliason may have been a “front” for Hope, acting not as a diamond merchant venturing money on his own account, but rather as an agent to acquire the diamond for the banker. In 1839, the Hope Diamond appeared in a published catalog of the gem collection of Henry Philip Hope, who was a member of the same Anglo-Dutch banking family. The stone was set in a fairly simple medallion surrounded by many smaller white diamonds, which he sometimes lent to Louisa de la Poer Beresford, the widow of his brother, Thomas Hope, for society balls. After falling into the ownership of the Hope family, the stone came to be known as the “Hope Diamond”.

Henry Philip Hope died in 1839, the same year as the publication of his collection catalog. His three nephews, the sons of Thomas and Louisa, fought in court for ten years over his inheritance, and ultimately the collection was split up. The oldest nephew, Henry Thomas Hope, received eight of the most valuable gems, including the Hope Diamond. It was displayed in the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1855, but was usually kept in a bank vault. In 1861, Henry Thomas Hope’s only child, Henrietta, married Henry Pelham-Clinton, Earl of Lincoln (and later Duke of Newcastle). When Hope died on December 4, 1862, his wife Anne Adele inherited the gem, but she feared that the profligate lifestyle of her son-in-law might cause him to sell the Hope properties. Upon Adele’s death in 1884, the entire Hope estate, including the Hope Diamond, was entrusted to Henrietta’s younger son, Henry Francis Pelham-Clinton, on the condition that he add the name of “Hope” to his own surnames when he reached the age of legal majority. As Lord Francis Hope, this grandson received his legacy in 1887. However, he had only a life interest in his inheritance, meaning that he could not sell any part of it without court permission.

Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.
Yohé in The Era Almanack, 1894.

In 1894, Lord Francis Hope met the American concert hall singer May Yohé, who has been described as “the sensation of two continents”, and they were married the same year; one account suggests that Yohé wore the Hope Diamond on at least one occasion. She later claimed that she had worn it at social gatherings and had an exact replica made for her performances, but her husband claimed otherwise. Lord Francis lived beyond his means, and this eventually caught up with him, leading to marriage troubles and financial reverses, and he found that he had to sell the diamond. In 1896, his bankruptcy was discharged, but, as he could not sell the Hope Diamond without the court’s permission, he was supported financially by his wife during these intervening years. In 1901, the financial situation had changed, and after a “long legal fight,” he was given permission to sell the Hope Diamond by an order of the Master in Chancery to “pay off debts”. But May Yohé ran off with a gentleman friend named Putnam Strong, who was a son of the former New York City mayor William L. Strong. Francis Hope and May Yohé were divorced in 1902.

Lord Francis sold the diamond for £29,000 (£2,641,880 as of 2015), to Adolph Weil, a London jewel merchant. Weil later sold the stone to the diamond dealer Simon Frankel, based in New York and/or London who took it to New York. One report stated that he had paid $250,000.[27] However, in New York it was evaluated to be worth $141,032 (equal to £28,206 at the time).

Accounts vary about what happened to the diamond during the years 1902–1907; one account suggested that it lay in the William & Theodore safe during these years while the jewelers took it out periodically to show it to wealthy Americans; a rival account, probably invented to help add “mystery” to the Hope Diamond story, suggested that some persons had bought it but apparently sold it back to Frankel. There were reports in one story in The New York Times of several owners of the gem, perhaps who had bought it from Frankel and owned it temporarily who met with ill-fortune, but this report conflicts with the more likely possibility that the gem remained in the hands of the Frankel jewelry firm during these years. Like many jewelry firms, the Frankel business ran into financial difficulties during the depression of 1907 and referred to the gem as the “hoodoo diamond.”

In 1908, Frankel sold the diamond for $400,000 to a Salomon or Selim Habib, a wealthy Turkish diamond collector, reportedly in behalf of Sultan Abdulhamid of Ottoman Empire; however, on June 24, 1909, the stone was included in an auction of Habib’s assets to settle his own debts, and the auction catalog explicitly stated that the Hope Diamond was one of only two gems in the collection which had never been owned by the Sultan. A contrary report, however, suggested that Sultan Abdul Hamid did own the gem but ordered Habib to sell it when his throne “began to totter.” Habib reportedly sold the stone in Paris in 1909 for $80,000. The Parisian jewel merchant Simon Rosenau bought the Hope Diamond for 400,000 francs and resold it in 1910 to Pierre Cartier for 550,000 francs. In 1910, it was offered for $150,000, according to one report.

Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.
Washington Post scion Edward Beale McLean and his wife, mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, in 1912. The couple owned the diamond for many years.

Pierre Cartier tried to sell the Hope Diamond to Washington D.C. socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband in 1910. Cartier was a consummate salesman who used an understated presentation to entice Mrs. McLean. He described the gem’s illustrious history to her while keeping it concealed underneath special wrapping paper. The suspense worked: McLean became impatient to the point where she suddenly requested to see the stone. She recalled later that Cartier “held before our eyes the Hope Diamond.” Nevertheless, she initially rejected the offer. Cartier had it reset. She found the stone much more appealing in this new modern style. There were conflicting reports about the sale in the New York Times; one account suggested that the young McLean couple had agreed to purchase the diamond, but after having learned about its unfortunate supposed history, the couple had wanted to back out of the deal since they knew nothing of the “history of misfortunes that have beset its various owners.”

Both Ned McLean and his pretty wife are quite young, and in a way unsophisticated, although they were born and reared in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. All their lives they have known more of jewelry, finery, banquets, automobiles, horses, and other articles of pleasure than they have of books, with their wealth of knowledge.
—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The brouhaha over the diamond’s supposed “ill luck” prompted a worried editor of The Jewelers’ Circular-Weekly to write:

No mention of any ill luck having befalled Eliason, Hope, or any of their descendants was ever made. The Frankels surely were very prosperous while the stone was in their possession, as were the dealers who held it in Europe. Habib’s misfortune referred to in the newspaper accounts occurred long after he had sold the stone… As Francis Hope never had the stone and May Yohe probably never saw it … the newspaper accounts at the time mentioned were laughed at, but since then it has been the custom not only to revive these stories every time mention of the stone appears in the public press, but to add to them fictitious incidents of misfortune as to alleged possessors of the stone at various times.
—T. Edgar Willson, in an editorial in The New York Times, 1911

The tenuous deal involved wrangling among attorneys for both Cartier and the McLeans, but finally, in 1911, the couple bought the gem for over $300,000, although there are differing estimates of the sales price at $150,000 and $180,000. An alternative scenario is that the McLeans may have fabricated concern about the supposed “curse” to generate publicity to increase the value of their investment.

Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph “with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds” -Smithsonian (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)
Evalyn Walsh McClean wears a reset version of the Hope Diamond in this photograph  (Photo: Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress)

A description was that the gemstone “lay on a bed of white silk and surrounded by many small white diamonds cut pear shaped”. The new setting was the current platinum framework surrounded by a row of sixteen diamonds which alternated between Old Mine Cut and pear-shaped variants. Mrs. McLean wore it to a “brilliant reception” in February 1912 when it was reported that it was the first time it had been worn in public since it had “changed owners.” She would “sport the diamond at social events” and wore it numerous social occasions that she had organized.

The Hope Diamond in its original pendant must have looked fantastic at parties circa the 1920s, when it hung around the neck of owner Evalyn Walsh McLean’s Great Dane, Mike.
—report in The Wall Street Journal, 2010

There were reports that she misplaced it at parties, deliberately and frequently, and then make a children’s game out of “finding the Hope”, and times when she hid the diamond somewhere on her estate during the “lavish parties she threw and invite guests to find it.” The stone prompted elaborate security precautions:

William Schindele, a former Secret Service man, has been engaged to guard the stone. He in turn will be guarded by Leo Costello and Simeon Blake, private detectives. The stone will be kept at the McLean mansion during the day and each night will be deposited in a safe deposit vault. When Mrs. McLean wears the gem at balls and receptions arrangements have been made to keep the safe deposit building open until after the function that the stone may be safely stored away. A special automobile has been purchased to convey the guards to and from the house to the trust company’s building.
—report in The New York Times, 1911

But the stone was not stolen during their ownership. When Mrs. McLean died in 1947, she bequeathed the diamond to her grandchildren through a will which insisted that her former property would remain in the custody of trustees until the eldest child had reached 25 years of age. This requirement would have prevented any sale for the next two decades. However, the trustees gained permission to sell her jewels to settle her debts, and in 1949 sold them to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston. He purchased McLean’s “entire jewelry collection”. Over the next decade, Winston exhibited McLean’s necklace in his “Court of Jewels,” a tour of jewels around the United States, as well as various promotional events and charity balls. The diamond appeared on the television quiz show The Name’s the Same, in an episode which first aired on August 16, 1955, when a teenaged contestant with the actual name Hope Diamond was one of the mystery guests, as well as at the August 1958 Canadian National Exhibition. At some point, Winston also had the Hope Diamond’s bottom facet slightly recut to increase its brilliance.

Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.
Hope Diamond in the National Museum of Natural History.

Smithsonian mineralogist George Switzer is credited with persuading jeweler Harry Winston to donate the Hope Diamond Institution for a proposed national gem collection to be housed at the National Museum of Natural History. On November 10, 1958, Winston acquiesced, sending it through U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper as simple registered mail insured for $1 million at a cost of $145.29, of which $2.44 was for postage and the balance insurance. Upon its arrival it became Specimen #217868.

Hope_Diamond_US_Mail_parcel-1958
Registered Mail package used to deliver the Hope Diamond to the National Museum of Natural History.

Winston had never believed in any of the tales about the curse; he donated the diamond with the hope that it would help the United States “establish a gem collection.” Winston died many years later, in 1978, of a heart attack. Winston’s gift, according to Smithsonian curator Dr. Jeffrey Post, indeed helped spur additional gifts to the museum.

For its first four decades in the National Museum of Natural History, the Hope Diamond lay in its necklace inside a glass-fronted safe as part of the gems and jewelry gallery, except for a few brief excursions: a 1962 exhibition to the Louvre; the 1965 Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg, South Africa; and two visits back to Harry Winston’s premises in New York City, once in 1984, and once for a 50th anniversary celebration in 1996. To guard against theft during the diamond’s trip to the 1962 Louvre exhibition, Switzer traveled to Paris with the Hope Diamond tucked inside a velvet pouch sewn by his wife. The Hope Diamond was placed into the pouch, which was pinned inside Switzer’s pants pocket for the flight.

When the Smithsonian’s gallery was renovated in 1997, the necklace was moved onto a rotating pedestal inside a cylinder made of 3-inch (76 mm) thick bulletproof glass in its own display room, adjacent to the main exhibit of the National Gem Collection, in the Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals. The Hope Diamond is the most popular jewel on display and the collection’s centerpiece.

There is evidence of several newspaper accounts which helped spread the curse story. A New Zealand newspaper article in 1888 described the supposedly lurid history of the Hope Diamond, including a claim that it was “said once to have formed the single eye of a great idol”, as part of a confused description that also claimed that its namesake owner had personally “brought it from India”, and that the diamond’s true color was “white, [although] when held to the light, it emits the most superb and dazzling blue rays.” An article entitled “Hope Diamond Has Brought Trouble To All Who Have Owned It” appeared in the Washington Post in 1908. An additional account of the Hope Diamond’s “cursed origins” was a fanciful and anonymously written newspaper article in 1909. It was followed by another article in 1911 which detailed a rather lengthy list of supposed cases of ill-fortune but with few confirmations from other sources:

  • Jacques Colet bought the Hope Diamond from Simon Frankel and committed suicide.
  • Prince Ivan Kanitovski bought it from Colet but was killed by Russian revolutionists.
  • Kanitovski loaned it to Mlle Ladue who was “murdered by her sweetheart.”
  • Simon Mencharides, who had once sold it to the Turkish sultan, was thrown from a precipice along with his wife and young child.
  • Sultan Hamid gave it to Abu Sabir to “polish” but later Sabir was imprisoned and tortured.
  • Stone guardian Kulub Bey was hanged by a mob in Turkey.
  • A Turkish attendant named Hehver Agha was hanged for having it in his possession.
  • Tavernier, who brought the stone from India to Paris was “torn to pieces by wild dogs in Constantinople.”
  • King Louis gave it to Madame de Montespan whom later he abandoned.
  • Nicholas Fouquet, an “Intendant of France”, borrowed it temporarily to wear it but was “disgraced and died in prison.”
  • A temporary wearer, Princess de Lamballe, was “torn to pieces by a French mob.”
  • Jeweler William Fals who recut the stone “died a ruined man.”
  • William Fals’ son Hendrik stole the jewel from his father and later “committed suicide.”
  • Some years (after Hendrik) “it was sold to Francis Deaulieu, who died in misery and want.”
Source: The New York Times, January 29, 1911

The mainstream academic view is that these accounts are specious and speculative since there are few, if any, independent confirmations or historical scholarship to back them up. A few months later, perhaps compounded by inaccurate reports in The New York Times on November 17, 1909, it was incorrectly reported that the diamond’s former owner, Selim Habib, had drowned in a shipwreck of the steamer Seyne near Singapore; in fact, it was a different person with the same name, not the owner of the diamond. There was also speculation that jeweler Pierre Cartier further embroidered the lurid tales to intrigue Evalyn Walsh McLean into buying the Hope Diamond in 1911.

The theme of greedy robbers stealing a valuable metal from the tomb or shrine of an ancient god or ruler, and then being punished by it, is one which repeats in many different forms of literature. A likely source of inspiration for the fabrications was the Wilkie Collins’ 1868 novel The Moonstone, which created a coherent narrative from vague and largely disregarded legends which had been attached to other diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor and the Orloff diamond. The theme can be seen in the stories about the curse of Egyptian king Tutankhamun and in more recent films such as the Indiana Jones films. In keeping with these scripts, according to the legend, Tavernier did not buy the Hope diamond but stole it from a Hindu temple where it had been set as one of two matching eyes of an idol, and the temple priests then laid a curse on whoever might possess the missing stone. Largely because the other blue diamond “eye” never surfaced, historians dismissed the fantastical story. The stories generally do not bear up to more pointed examination; for example, the legend that Tavernier’s body was “torn apart by wolves” is inconsistent with historical evidence which shows that he lived to 84 and died of natural causes.

It is possible that the overblown story of the curse, possibly fueled by Cartier and others, may have caused some hesitation on the part of the prospective buyers, the McLeans, around 1911. When a lawsuit between buyer and seller erupted about the terms of the deal, newspapers kept alive reports of the diamond’s “malevolent influence” with reports like this one, which blamed the stone’s “curse” on having caused, of all things, the lawsuit itself:

The malevolent influence that has for centuries dogged with discord and disaster the owners of the famous Hope diamond has started again and without waste of time, despite special precautions against ill-luck taken at the time of its last sale, according to John S. Wise, Jr., of 20 Broad Street, attorney for Cartiers, the Fifth Avenue jewelers, who are suing Mr. and Mrs. Edward B. McLean for $180,000, its alleged purchase price.—report in The New York Times, March 1911

The Hope Diamond was also blamed for the unhappy fates of other historical figures vaguely linked to its ownership, such as the falls of Madame Athenais de Montespan and French finance minister Nicolas Fouquet during the reign of Louis XIV of France; the beheadings of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the rape and mutilation of the Princesse de Lamballe during the French Revolution; and the forced abdication of Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid who had supposedly killed various members of his court for the stone (despite the annotation in Habib’s auction catalog). Even jewelers who may have handled the Hope Diamond were not spared from its reputed malice: the insanity and suicide of Jacques Colot, who supposedly bought it from Eliason, and the financial ruin of the jeweler Simon Frankel, who bought it from the Hope family, were linked to the stone. But although he is documented as a French diamond dealer of the correct era, Colot has no recorded connection with the stone, and Frankel’s misfortunes were in the midst of economic straits that also ruined many of his peers. The legend includes deaths of numerous other characters who had been previously unknown: Diamond cutter Wilhelm Fals, killed by his son Hendrik, who stole it and later committed suicide; Francois Beaulieu, who received the stone from Hendrik but starved to death after selling it to Daniel Eliason; a Russian prince named Kanitowski, who lent it to French actress Lorens Ladue and promptly shot her dead on the stage, and was himself stabbed to death by revolutionaries; Simon Montharides, hurled over a precipice with his family. However, the existence of only a few of these characters has been verified historically, leading researchers to conclude that most of these persons are fictitious.

Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery
Poster of the movie The Hope Diamond Mystery

The actress May Yohe made repeated attempts to capitalize on her identity as the former wife of the last Hope to own the diamond, and sometimes blamed the gemstone for her misfortunes. In July 1902, months after Lord Francis divorced her, she told police in Australia that her lover, Putnam Strong, had abandoned her and taken her jewels. In fact, the couple reconciled, married later that year, but divorced in 1910. On her third marriage in 1920, she persuaded film producer George Kleine to back a 15-episode serial The Hope Diamond Mystery, which added fictitious characters to the tale, but the project was not successful. In 1921, she hired Henry Leyford Gates to help her write The Mystery of the Hope Diamond, in which she starred as Lady Francis Hope. The film added more characters, including a fictionalized Tavernier, and added Marat among the diamond’s “victims”. She also wore her copy of the Hope, trying to generate more publicity to further her career.

Evalyn Walsh McLean added her own narrative to the story behind the blue jewel, including that one of the owners had been Catherine the Great, although there are no confirmations that the Russian ruler ever owned the diamond. McLean would bring the Diamond out for friends to try on, including Warren G. Harding and Florence Harding.

Since the Smithsonian acquired the gemstone, the “curse appears to have gone dormant.” Owning the diamond has brought “nothing but good luck” for the nonprofit national museum, according to a Smithsonian curator, and has helped it build a “world-class gem collection” with rising attendance levels.

Hope Diamond in the "Embracing Hope" setting.
The Hope Diamond displayed at the Smithsonian in the “Embracing Hope” setting, a temporary design created by jewelers at Harry Winston.

In 2007, an important discovery was made which enabled a slew of activity to help scientists, historians and gemologists further explore the history of the Hope Diamond, as well as create replicas of the larger pieces, from which it had been cut, believed to have been owned by eighteenth-century French monarchs. A lead cast of the French Blue diamond was discovered in the gemmological collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, reported in a bilingual French–English press release, and the unique finding triggered an investigation by an international team of researchers into the stone’s history.

The lead cast of the French Blue, itself, has a history. It had been catalogued at the French museum in 1850 and was provided by a prominent Parisian jeweler named Charles Archard who lived during the same generation as René Just Haüy, who died in 1822. Most likely, the lead cast was made near 1815, since that was the year that similar entries from the 1850 catalogue had been made. The model was accompanied by a label stating that the French Blue was in the possession of a person known as “Mr. Hope of London”. Other archives at the Muséum suggests that Achard had Mr. Hope as a good customer for many long years, particularly for blue gems.

Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney
Gouache of the great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France, version 1 of 2008, painted by Pascal Monney

These findings have helped investigators piece together what may have happened during the rock’s anonymous years during the several decades following 1792. According to one line of reasoning, the first “Hope” to have the “Hope Diamond”—Henry Phillip Hope—might have possessed the French Blue that he had acquired some time after the 1792 robbery in Paris, perhaps around 1794-1795, when the Hopes were believed to have left Holland for London to escape Napoleon’s armies. At about the same time, Cadet Guillot, who may have been one of the thieves to have stolen the Golden Fleece, arrived in London.This places Mr. Hope and Mr. Guillot in London at the same time. According to a late nineteenth century historian named Bapts, a contract was made between Cadet Guillot and a French aristocrat named Lancry de la Loyelle, in 1796, to sell the 107-carat (21.4 g) spinel-dragon of the Golden Fleece. According to this line of reasoning, in 1802 Hope sold his assets, and the continental blockade by Napoleon led the Hope’s bank into a serious financial crisis by 1808, and the crisis peaked during the winter of 1811–1812. This put Mr. Hope in a financial bind. There is a possibility that, given his financial predicament, Hope pawned the French Blue to jewel merchant Daniel Eliason to get much-needed cash when the British currency, sterling, was highly depreciated. This is consistent with the entry in Eliason’s records about having the stone in 1812. However, the diamond’s owners may have felt pressure to recut the stone quickly to disguise its identity, since if the French government had learned of its existence, it may have sued the owners for repossession. Regardless of whether Mr. Hope had lost possession or kept it during these years, by 1824 it was again in his possession. It was around this time that Eliason died; Hope’s financial situation has been restored thanks to efforts by the Barings, who saved the Hope bank in the difficult financial years of 1812-1820. Accordingly, if this is correct, then the lead cast of the French Blue and the “Hope” diamond are likely to have been created in the same workshop, possibly in London, and probably a little before 1812.

Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.
Detailed view of the recreated great Golden Fleece of king Louis XV of France. Below the 107 carats (21.4 g) spinel Côte de Bretagne hangs the French Blue diamond and the fleece itself, set with hundreds of yellow diamond replicas.

The lead cast had important ramifications since it gave enough information to curators at the French museum to commission the first exact replicas of both the Tavernier and French Blue diamonds using a material which simulates diamonds called cubic zirconia, with the help of artisans who work with gems known as lapidaries, led by Scott Sucher. These replicas have been completed and displayed with the French Crown Jewels and the Great Sapphire of Louis XIV, a Moghul-cut sapphire of 135.7 carats (27.14 g). Artisans recreated the elaborate parure of different-colored gems known as the Golden Fleece of King Louis XV of France, which is arguably the most fabulous work in the history of French jewelry; this happened from 2007–2010. The original parure, created in 1749 by royal jeweler Pierre-André Jacqumin, was stolen and broken in 1792. The reassembled jewel contained the French Blue and the Bazu diamonds, as well as the Côte de Bretagne spinel and hundreds of smaller diamonds. Three years of work were needed to recreate this jewel, and it required exacting and precise skill which revealed not only the skill of today’s lapidaries, but the skill of its original eighteenth-century designers. The reconstructed jewel was presented by Herbert Horovitz, with François Farges of the French museum in attendance, at the former Royal Storehouse in Paris on June 30, 2010, which was the same site where the original had been stolen 218 years before.

Information and images from Wikipedia.com

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Jane Austen Novels Books life and times

Jane Austen Novels Books Life and Times

JANE AUSTEN – A LIFE IN TWO WORLDS?

Jane AustenIt is truth universally acknowledged that the author of these opening words, which are among the most famous in English literature, is perhaps the greatest writer the English language, indeed any language, has known, bar Shakespeare.

One might find it hard to think of a time when Jane Austen’s novels was not a byword for romantic fiction, and Pride & Prejudice, where the above quote derives, the last word on it. But there was, of course, such a time and this lasted up until the early years of the nineteenth century.

Once her novels began to be published, however, they came at a rate that would make Stephen King proud: Sense & Sensibility (1811); Pride & Prejudice (1813); Mansfield Park (1815); and Emma (1816). Add to this quartet the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818, a year after Austen died, and it becomes one of most impressive canons of any writer.

For all the popularity of the novels during her lifetime, however, it was not until after her death that Jane Austen’s name became widely attached to them, having originally published them under the pseudonym A. Lady. And it is not until the last two decades has she achieved the world prominence reserved normally for pop stars and screen idols.

The question still remains though as to what exactly makes Austen so immensely popular in the modern day. The television and film adaptations have gone a long way, of course, but the fact remains that her books were being read, enjoyed and acclaimed more than a century before the first screen outing ever appeared.

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A History of Haiti and Regency Slavery

Apart from a few comments scattered throughout her books, and the plantation in Antigua that finances the running of Mansfield Park, Jane Austen manages to keep all mention of slavery from her work. Avoiding the topic as she did with the many wars waged throughout her writing career, she chooses, rather, to focus on “three or four families in a country village”. This ability to write without dipping into the deeper social issues of her time have helped keep her works feeling current and fresh. Still, the issue of slavery was a hot topic during her day.

1789 poster depicting the plan of the British ship Brookes.
1789 poster depicting the plan of the British ship Brookes.

When, in Emma, Jane Fairfax mentions “There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something—Offices for the sale—not quite of human flesh—but of human intellect”, Mrs. Elton replies, “Oh! my dear, human flesh!  You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave-trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.” One tends to think that Jane was also a “Friend to the abolition”, if Fanny Price’s feelings on the subject are meant to be any reflection of her own. Many in Austen’s own circle of family and friends fought for the rights of slaves. These included her brothers in the Navy, as well as several of her favorite authors, such as William Cowper, Doctor Johnson and Thomas Clarkson.

In 1792 the House of Commons voted in favour of “gradual” abolition, and in 1807 parliament outlawed the African slave trade by legislation. This prevented British merchants exporting any more people from Africa, but it did not alter the status of the several million existing slaves, and the courts continued to recognise colonial slavery. The abolitionists therefore turned their attention to the emancipation of West Indian slaves. Legally, this was difficult to achieve, since it required the compulsory divesting of private property; but it was finally done in 1833, at a cost of £20 million paid from public funds in compensation to slave owners. From August 1, 1834 all slaves in the British colonies were “absolutely and forever manumitted.” Continue reading A History of Haiti and Regency Slavery

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The Regency Red Cloak

My cloak is come home. I like it very much, and can now exclaim with delight, like J. Bond at hay-harvest, “This is what I have been looking for these three years.
-Jane Austen to Cassandra
June 2, 1799

For many years, the Regency Red Cloak was the staple of winter warmth in both England and the Americas. According to Jessamyn Brown, they were “common wear for several decades. Well-established garb by the onset of the Regency, they lasted into the 1830s, although they were out of style by then.” One researcher has pointed out that they were worn mainly in the country, (though the following fashion plate from the latter Regency shows a dressy “Town” version) and most often with Morning Dress, for walking, shopping, etc. Plush trim was also occasionally added, for a bit of dash.

 

Perhaps the most famous illustrator of the red walking cloak is Diana Sperling, who often captured scenes of young ladies out walking in her sketchbook, Mrs. Hurst Dancing. For some reason, the red cloak also became a symbol of the wandering gypsies (one wonders if they were worn by the Gypsy woman that accosted Harriet Smith, in Emma) and who could forget the role they played during the famous Battle of Fishguard, when the women of the town, dressed in their scarlet cloaks and tall Welsh hats were mistaken by the French for British Regulars!
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The Elephant of the Bastille

“Mr. Worthing. I must confess that I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution, and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to…”
Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde

Elephant of the Bastille

“Mr. Worthing. I must confess that I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred in a handbag, whether it have handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life which reminds one of the worst excesses of the French revolution, and I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to…”
Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde

The Elephant of the Bastille was a monument in Paris which existed between 1813 and 1846. Originally conceived in 1808 by Napoleon, the colossal statue was intended to be created out of bronze and placed in the Place de la Bastille, but only a plaster full-scale model was built. At 24 m (78 ft) in height the model itself became a recognisable construction and was immortalised by Victor Hugo in his novel Les Misérables (1862) in which it is used as a shelter by the street urchin Gavroche. It was built at the site of the Bastille and although part of the original construction remains, the elephant itself was replaced a few years after the construction of the July Column (1835-40) on the same spot.

 Elephant of the Bastille

When the Bastille fell in July 1789, there was some debate as to what should replace it, or indeed if it should remain as a monument to the past. Pierre-François Palloy secured the contract to demolish the building, with the dimension stones being reused for the construction of the Pont de la Concorde and other parts sold by Palloy as souvenirs. Most of the building was removed over the subsequent months by up to 1,000 workers. In 1792 the area was turned into the Place de la Bastille with only traces of the fortress that had once dominated the area remaining.

 Elephant of the Bastille
Prise de la Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

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