A rare Tiffany & Co tea caddy that was made for the wealthy widow of an American shipping magnate has sold at auction for £26,250* after appearing on the open market for the first time since it was made.
Mary Jane Morgan (née Sexton) was such a familiar customer and patron of Tiffany & Co that she appears in their ledgers simply as ‘MJM’, the monogram that appears on the tea caddy sold in Salisbury on Tuesday.
The school teacher daughter of New York East India Merchant, Francis Sexton, Mary Jane met Charles Morgan while teaching French and mathematics at his daughter’s school. Morgan was a shipping merchant and railroad owner, and cousin of the banker J P Morgan, who was widowed in 1850 following the death of his wife of 33 years. He married Mary Jane (some 28 years his junior) in June 1851 and they commissioned the construction of a large mansion at 7 East 26th Street.
Morgan died in 1878, a few weeks after transferring shares of his company to his second wife, and two of his daughters and their husbands. Mary Jane wasted no time in ploughing her fortune into the decorative arts, and over the next six years amassed a collection of fine and decorative arts that was sold in 1886 for over $1,200,000. On her death in 1885, Mary Jane Morgan owed Tiffany over $90,000; a debt which was recouped by the company purchasing some of their pieces back direct from the estate.
When the collection was sold by Thomas E. Kirby via the American Art Galleries in New York in 1886, it included 154 pieces of Tiffany & Co, while many items from her collection had been handed down to her heirs - Alice Newcomb or Emily Moir. The tea caddy sold at Woolley and Wallis was among the latter items and has been passed down through the family ever since, meaning that the auction on 16th July was the first time it had been available for sale since Mary Jane commissioned it. In common with many of her commissions it was made in the Japanese manner, using a technique called Mokume which uses mixed metals to simulate wood grain.
Silver specialist, Rupert Slingsby, attributes the caddy’s high price to its outstanding provenance and quality. “The late Mrs Morgan clearly had a good eye for design and deep enough pockets to pay for exceptional quality. In addition, it is very rare to be able to track an object back to the point of purchase over 130 years ago, and to such a well-known patron of Tiffany & Co.”
*price includes buyer's premium.