Monday, July 4, 2016

July 2016

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIII, Number 7                                                                     July 1, 2016

THE AUCTIONS:  My friend, Rebecca English, who lives near Charlottesville and has done pioneering research on the fate of the four “Levy lions” that once graced the grounds at Monticello, has dug up some great new material on the second of two 1928 auctions of Jefferson Levy’s Monticello furniture and furnishings.

As I wrote in Saving Monticello, when Jefferson Levy sold Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923 for $500,000 he agreed to convey everything inside the house as well.

But the Foundation’s director of restoration Fiske Kimball did not want one stick of Levy’s furniture in the house. That’s why the Foundation held a public auction of Jefferson Levy's former furniture at Monticello on November 17, 1928, to, in essence, erase all traces of the 89-year ownership of Monticello by Jefferson Levy and his uncle Uriah Levy. 

“We are making room at Monticello for more of the original relics and furnishings which belonged to Thomas Jefferson,” the Foundation’s President Stewart Gibboney said the day before the sale. When Gibboney explained what furnishings were going up for auction, he did not mention the names Uriah Levy or Jefferson Levy.

“Only those furnishings which did not belong to Jefferson but which were placed there during the years when Monticello was in private hands will be sold,” he said. That meant that all the tables and chairs, sofas, carpets, chandeliers, clocks, vases, statuary, paintings, lamps, beds, bureaus, dressers, chests, and a pair of twin bed, that Jefferson Levy had purchased and conveyed with the sale would go to the highest bidders.

After the November 17 auction in Virginia, a second sale (of the larger items) took place December 4-8 at the Art Rooms at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Foundation officials pasted a label on each item that said that the piece had come from Monticello during the Levy period.

As Rebecca found out, Levy’s Monticello items were only a part of that sale, which took place over five days. The auction also included items from the collection of a mining magnate named John Markle. What’s more, many of the Jefferson and Monticello-related items appear to have been donated to the Foundation by their owners for the auction, the proceeds of which would be used to pay off the mortgage at Monticello and for the Foundation’s operating expenses. Above is an image of page two of the catalogue.

Rebecca found that more than a thousand items were sold during the sale. Of that group, she saw thirteen listed in the catalogue as having once been at Monticello during Jefferson Levy’s stewardship (from 1879-1923).

The group included a gilt bedstead; two green and gold, hand-carved bedsteads said to come from Mad King Ludwig; a bronze and rosewood inkstand; a set of 22 flags of the nations; a statue of Marcus Aurelius from Monticello’s lawn; a Pandora clock and pedestal “that once adorned the palace of Louis XV”; a blue and gold clock with two four-branch candelabra; and a set of three Royal Sevres vases and a clock from France.

The latter (in photo below from the catalog) sat atop the dining room mantel, the one on which Jefferson Levy had replaced the distinctive Wedgwood insets that had been destroyed by vandals in the 1870s. 

The Greek-style statue of a woman (below) also was listed in the catalogue. The photo is among those in the Holsinger Studio Collection of Monticello photographs taken from 1912-1917 that are now in Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library.


For more on Rebecca English’s work on the auctions, go to

EVENTS:  I am about to begin working with the copy editor on next book, a biography of Barry Sadler, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” guy, which will come out in March of next year. I soon will be doing more speaking on my books, including Saving Monticello.

I have just one event scheduled this month, Monday, July 4, a live appearance at 7:50 a.m. Eastern time on the “The Warren Pierce Show,” on WJR Radio, Detroit. I’ll be talking about Francis Scott Key and the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The show streams live at

Please email me if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including my Francis Scott Key, biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, and Lafayette: Idealist General, my concise bio of the Marquis de Lafayette—at  For more details on other upcoming events, go to  That’s the “Author Events” page on my website,

Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Or go to this page of my website: to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.