New biography of Elihu Yale: review

Elihu Yale : Merchant, Collector & Patron
Elihu Yale, Merchant, Collector and Patron has just been published  by Thames and Hudson. Its authors, Diana Scarisbrick and Benjamin Zucker, are specialists in jewellery and gems and the main emphasis of the book is on Yale’s activities as a collector and dealer based on the catalogues of the auctions of his collection after his death. The book contains 140 illustrations of paintings, furniture, musical instruments, scientific instruments, jewels, clocks, watches, diamonds, gems and other objets d’art from the period.
Yale was born in Boston in 1649 to Welsh parents who had emigrated to New Haven in 1637 and then moved because they disliked its puritanical atmosphere. Then in 1652 the family returned to England and settled in London. In 1671 Elihu joined the East India Company in Madras and remained there until 1699, acting as governor of the outpost for a short period. Employees of the Company were allowed to trade on their own behalf and Yale was highly successful trading in textiles, gems and other merchandise. By the time he arrived home he enjoyed the influence and status of the wealthy merchant class and continued to add to his private collection.
Yale used his wealth to support various Christian charities and schools and in 1718 he responded to a request from the trustees of the Collegiate School in New Haven by donating over 400 books as well as Indian textiles (the latter to be sold for the benefit of the  school.) His was the largest gift of any individual donor until 1837 and he was rewarded when the institution was named Yale College in the same year.
The book is well written and skilfully places Yale in the context of his time in India and London. The main emphasis, however, is on his collection and the text brims with detailed descriptions and magnificent illustrations of objects he owned himself or similar pieces. It is not, therefore, a typical biography and would appeal above all to those who share Yale’s interests as a merchant and collector – as indeed the sub-title suggests.
David Steedman, ’66, Ph.D.


From the publisher:
Elihu Yale: Merchant, Collector & Patron
Diana Scarisbrick, Benjamin Zucker
ISBN 9780500517260
23.30 x 16.00 cm, Hardback
288pp with 140 illustrations
First published 2014
£24.95Add to Basket

‘There can be few educational institutions named after a man with the force of character, powers of leadership, business acumen, and variety of intellectual and spiritual interests of Elihu Yale’

His career, which spans Puritan New England, Mughal India, and the London of the English Enlightenment, throws light on the religious, political, social, commercial, scientific, and cultural circumstances of the world of the later Stuarts and early Hanoverians.
Elihu Yale (1649–1721) is famous for the name of Yale University, of which he was an early benefactor. He made his fortune in India, trading in diamonds. Arriving there in 1672, he rose through the East India Company from clerk to governor. When he returned to London in 1699 he brought with him gems, furniture and textiles. In the milieu of portrait painter Sir Godfrey Kneller and physician Sir Hans Sloane he established a fashionable household where he had assembled some ten thousand items.
Yale’s collection was dispersed after his death and the catalogues of the sales survive, providing information about the 18th-century London art market. The Yale sales prove to be a landmark in the history both of collecting and of auctioneering. Analyses of the categories throw light on Yale’s personality and interests: he is revealed as a Fellow of the Royal Society, churchman and a philanthropist, totally in tune with the English Enlightenment.
The authors explore Yale’s life in Madras and London and his interests, including musical and scientific instruments and books, and then turn to Yale as a dealer and a collector of diamonds and jewelry and works of art. The story is one with many appeals: the East India Company and early 18th-century London; furniture, both Indian and English; the fashion for things Oriental in the West; gemstones and jewelry; and collecting works of art.
Diana Scarisbrick is a historian specializing in jewelry and engraved gems. She has curated exhibitions in the UK and abroad and has written many books, including Rings: Jewelry of Power, Love and Loyalty and Portrait Jewels: Opulence and Intimacy from the Medici to the Romanovs. She is a Research Associate at the Beazley Archive, Oxford, and recently collaborated with Professor Sir John Boardman on The Marlborough Gems.
Benjamin Zucker, a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, is one of the world’s leading gem dealers, based in New York. He has written extensively on gemstones, coloured stones and the history of ring collecting.

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