The Collections ofBenjamin F Edwards III


2015-06-26 11:48:56


The Collections ofBenjamin F Edwards III

The affable businessman and collector

Benjamin F Edwards III was the fifth member of his family to run the stockbroker firm A G Edwards & Co, named after his great-grandfather who served President Abraham Lincoln as his Assistant Secretary of the Treasury.

He was also an enthusiastic collector of porcelain, and other antique collectibles, and gathered a collection to rival any of its kind in the world.

The younger Edwards joined the business after his education at Princeton, and three years' service in the US Navy. He worked there for 11 years and worked his way up the company, before taking over as president on the retirement of his father in 1967.

Rather than simply coast along, Edwards decided to expand the seasoned, but local, company into a nationwide business which served 49 of America's 50 states, multiplying the company's capital by 400 times to $1.6bn.

Whilst ambitious, Edwards was not by any means ruthless. The company regularly rated highly in Fortune magazine's 100 best companies to work for, and during his years as president Edwards never had an employee fired.

Likewise, on a matter of principle, Edwards would not allow his employees to market annuities or mutual funds, as he felt this would necessarily lead to pressure for customers to buy the in-house option, rather than the company being able to recommend the best products even-handedly.

Edward's instincts as a collector were ignited first by high quality furniture (especially English furniture), and he continued on the general theme of pieces which could be displayed naturally around a home: oriental rugs, silverware and especially fine porcelain.

A pair of Chinese Imari Soldier Vases Benjamin F Edwards sold in 2002A pair of Chinese Imari Soldier Vases (sold for $127,000 in 2002)

In particular, Edwards owned what was for some time the biggest collection of Imari porcelain in the world. "I just went nuts", Edwards explained cheerfully, in 2002.

Imari porcelain (for which the Japanese term is Arita-yaki) was originally porcelain created in the town of Arita which was exported exclusively through the port of Imari for the European market.

Edwards amassed a vast collection of Japanese Imari and later the Chinese version, before concentrating on Delft pottery from England and the Netherlands.

Delft image of Charles IIDelft plate of Charles II (To sell at Christie's for up to $120,000)

In January 2002, Edwards sold a substantial part of his porcelain collection at Christie's for $6m with some of the key lots breaking their estimates. A huge Imari vase sold for $49,350 against an estimate of $20,000-30,000 whilst a pair of Imari 'soldier vases' beat their $80,000-120,000 guide price to fetch $127,000.

This was not part of the collection he was keeping at home, where he had run out of space, but a substantial collection he had transferred to his company. In fact the top floor had become a kind of private museum.

As Edwards had retired by this time he had decided, somewhat reluctantly, that it would serve him better to have that part of the collection sold. But a great part of his collection remained with him until his death in April 2009.

Thisfinal pieces arescheduled to be auctioned on January 26 at Christie's- hopefully to collectors who cherish the pieces as much as he did.

Images: Christie's

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