Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973) was the heiress to the Post Cereal empire and the owner of General Foods, Inc. She was a charitable “adopted” Southern socialite who spent a portion of her fortune collecting Russian and French art and jewelry. Learning about her life, style and purpose prompted a study on the art of collecting and what we can learn from Post. While most of us do not have the spending budget of an heiress, there are some things we can learn from her experiences, and we can use them to make mindful use of our own life experiences and collect with a long-term purpose in mind.
Use your unique life experiences to educate yourself
Her interest in Russian fine art and jewelry was prompted by her second husband, Joseph E. Davies’ 18-month assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Russia. While many of us have the opportunity to live abroad or travel extensively, do we mindfully take full advantage of the blessed opportunities as Post did? She became a serious student of the Russian Empire’s jewelry, religious art and such treasures as the famed Faberge eggs. She created relationships with others who had access to the art and purchased many pieces while she lived there.
Collect with a purpose
After her divorce from Davies, Post purchased a stately 1920s mansion and wooded property in Washington, DC. She named it Hillwood. Her intent was to have it transformed into a museum after her death to show her fabulous collections of French and Russian art. The curators of the museum aptly call it, “Where fabulous lives.”
The Hillwood Mansion and Museum has gathered many of her jewelry pieces from various museums and created an exhibit to be enjoyed by the public until January 2018. The exhibit showcases individual pieces of fine jewelry from the Russian and French empires. With her discerning eye, she collected historical jewelry pieces as well as pieces with a more modern flair of the 1950s and 1960s. It also highlights the workmanship from Harry Winston, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels.
An important point to address is Post collected and wore the jewelry. This teaches us that if we intend to collect, we must also enjoy what we have collected. Gratefully, Post generously shared her collection of fine jewelry with several museums to be admired by many.
Don’t be a second-hand snob
Even the rich and famous happily add used items to their collections. While Post commissioned famous jewelry designers, such as Harry Winston and Cartier to create original jewelry for her, she also enjoyed collecting pieces with history. One of her notable pieces is the “Marie Louise” diadem (crown) originally given as a wedding gift from Napoleon to his bride, Marie Louise of Austria.
Repurpose items to fit your lifestyle
Originally, the Marie Louise diadem had 79 emeralds. In 1953, Van Cleef & Arpels acquired it and sold off the emeralds and replaced them with turquoise, which was a very popular stone at that time. In the 1960s, Post borrowed the “re-purposed” crown and paired it with other diamond and turquoise jewelry by Harry Winston and Cartier. The occasion was a Red Cross ball in Palm Beach, Fla. In 1971, she purchased the diadem for the Smithsonian Institution.
Post owned several brooches that could be used as pendants, which is still a popular versatile use of jewelry today. My favorite versatile piece in the collection was a crown that is an example of floral jewelry that was popular in the mid-19th Century. Many of its flowers are set on springs to tremble with each movement of the head. Some of the sprays can be detached and worn separately as brooches. Love the versatility! It was previously owned by the Royal House of Saxony. Her husband, Joseph Davies, presented it to Post as a gift.
Final tidbit about the heiress:
Marjorie Merriweather Post was the original owner and builder of Mar-a-Lago, a large estate in Palm Beach, Fla. At the time of her death, she donated it to the National Parks Service in the hopes that U.S. presidents would use it as a retreat or a Winter White House. For security and budgetary reasons, the government did not use it in that capacity. It was returned to the Post Foundation in 1981. Eventually, it was sold to Donald Trump in 1985. As the current POTUS, Trump stays there often and refers to it as his “Southern White House.” I guess the heiress finally got her way. ■