• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2132

    Important American Silver

    23 January 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 83

    THE MEIGGS TESTIMONIAL: A MONUMENTAL PARCEL-GILT SILVER PRESENTATION CENTERPIECE DESIGNED BY JAMES H. WHITEHOUSE

    MARK OF TIFFANY & CO., NEW YORK, 1871

    Price Realised  

    THE MEIGGS TESTIMONIAL: A MONUMENTAL PARCEL-GILT SILVER PRESENTATION CENTERPIECE DESIGNED BY JAMES H. WHITEHOUSE
    MARK OF TIFFANY & CO., NEW YORK, 1871
    The massive quatrefoil base supported by four poncho-clad laborers with four side plaques, one engraved with a presentation inscription, another cast with an oncoming train, another with initals HM and the last depicting a scene of mountain surveyors, the lobed corners each applied with two cartouches with link suspension chains and engraved with lists of Suscritores, with two elaborate openwork bifurcated reeded foliate scroll branches, each supporting two circular dishes with die-rolled reeded palmette rims, enclosed by four putti terms issuing from acanthus and holding aloft the massive octangonal central standard applied with bow-and-arrow trophies, scrolling cornucopiae filled with tropical fruit alternating with fascia and below a globe applied with a band of ovals below two sun-bursts, surmounted by the allegorical figure of America, marked under base and on each dish, also marked 2463/5061.
    41½ in. high; 784 oz.


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    The Meiggs centerpiece commemorates the completion of Peru's legendary Mollendo-Arequipa railway and was presented to Henry Meiggs by his fellow stockholders on the completion of the project in 1871. Meiggs was a natural-born entrepreneur from New York State, who made his first fortune managing lumber-yards in California during the Gold Rush. He then traveled to Latin America to pursue other ventures, including railroad construction in Chile and Peru, where he typically served as building manager, generating profits due to his efficiency in both time and budget. Meiggs became known as "Yankee Pizarro" or "The Yankee Genius" due to his widely respected engineering abilities, and he often told reporters, "I will locate the rails wherever the llamas go."

    Meiggs revolutionized the Peruvian railway system, building over a thousand miles of rail, beginning with the Mollendo-Arequipa line. This railway ran from Mollendo, on the coast, to Arequipa, 90 miles inland and elevated high in the Andes. Construction began in 1867, and although interrupted by the earthquake of 1868, Meiggs forged ahead and completed the railway in January, 1871. The new railway line was a remarkable feat of engineering, traversing the treacherous Andes mountains to reach Arequipa at a grand altitude of 7,550 feet. Meiggs was hailed, "The Messiah of the railways for the salvation of the Peruvian Republic."

    Meiggs organized extravagant entertainments surrounding the Mollendo-Arequipa railway inauguration, allegedly spending $600,000 in presentation medals. It was decided that this celebration should be one of great national pride, inclusive of many influential Peruvians, who would gather for days of dancing, dining, and amusements. Meiggs even arranged for the transportation of 600 guests to arrive from Lima aboard the chartered steamship Panama. Following this grandiose trip, passengers returning home aboard Panama decided to present Meiggs with a gift as a souvenir of the voyage and to commemorate his masterpiece railway. Thus, the idea of the Meiggs Testimonial was born, and soon thereafter the massive silver centerpiece was commissioned from Tiffany's and presented to Meiggs.

    The Meiggs Testimonial is, without doubt, one of the finest examples of Tiffany's presentation silver. Tiffany's work was unparalleled in this field, largely due to the efforts of James H. Whitehouse, who designed and modelled many of the most important pieces, such as this lot, and the Bryant Vase (1876), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These presentation pieces were uniformly monumental in scale and superb in craftsmanship. They were often exhibited by Tiffany & Co. as sculptural works of art in silver, as the Meiggs Centerpiece was when it was displayed at Union Square in June 1871. For more information on the career of James H. Whitehouse, see lot 86.

    (See John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 2001, pp. 75-95).

    Provenance

    Henry Meiggs (1811-1977), railroad builder in the Andes
    Minor C. Keith (1848-1929), nephew of above, and founder of International Railways of Central America and United Fruit Company
    Henry Meiggs Keith (1901-1988), great-nephew
    Christie's, New York, 22 & 23 October 1993, lot 187


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY OF A NEW YORK FAMILY


    Literature

    Watt Stewart, Henry Meiggs: Yankee Pizarro, 1946, illus. p. 149
    John Loring, Magnificent Tiffany Silver, 2001, p.81, illus. pp. 94-95


    Exhibited

    Pan American Union, Washington, D.C., 1925-circa 1940


    Post Lot Text

    Caption:
    Arequipa, Railway Bridge, Designed by Gustav Eiffel, circa 1875
    Courtesy Elio Galessio