“Come and see me for a cup of tea”… -Belle Huntington

“The Blue Boy” arrives at the San Marino Ranch (1922)

by Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington’s had many English tea sets & porcelain plateware: Coalport (blue, white, & gold), Coalport Blue “Batwing”, Copeland & Garrett (gold & white), several Minton patterns (Tiffany & Co.), Wedgewood, Crown Staffordshire, Blue Transferware, & English Whieldenware “Pheasant” or “Pink pheasant”, etc. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

We know that one of the Huntingtons fine bone china patterns was English Whieldenware “Pheasant”; I found this pretty pink tea plate that is called “Pink Pheasant” in Whieldenware, also, Mrs. Huntington loved pink & birds. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage’s w/c sketch of Whieldenware.
The “Blue Boy” in all his glory! The Huntingtons were so excited when he finally arrived at the San Marino Ranch!! Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

“I want them to come & see me for a cup of tea…” said Arabella Huntington. On Tuesday, March 21, 1922, Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Edwards & Arabella) had a exciting delivery to their residence at the San Marino Ranch. The famous painting “Blue Boy” & “the Tragic Muse” by Gainsborough was hand-delivered by Sir Joseph Duveen himself, their antique dealer & friend. It was a joyful day indeed!! In Burke Journals, it was noted that the “Blue Boy” was hung the very next day in the Large Drawing Room. Mr. Huntington was so excited about this purchase (highest painting ever paid for at the time). The Huntington’s Head Butler, Alfonso Gomez states that when Mr. Huntington would leave the mansion, he would go into the Large Drawing Room & salute “Blue Boy” to a goodbye. A very sweet gesture.

It was a big trip west for ‘Blue Boy”, Duveen set up a art exhibition in London before they ever left the country. They sailed by steamship across from London to New York City. Again, Blue Boy had another art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was very well received. People stood in line for hours just to catch a glimpse of “Blue Boy”. Duveen wrote Mr. Huntington a humorous letter how “his boy” couldn’t wait to get home. Then, Duveen & “Blue Boy” traveled by private railroad car from New York City to the San Marino Ranch taking about 7 days.

So after the arrival of “Blue Boy”, the Huntingtons start getting numerous letters. These requests were from random people & strangers to come see the “Blue Boy” painting. Movie stars like Ethel Barrymore & Douglas Fairbanks would write to Mr. Huntington & ask to see his “Blue Boy”. This annoyed Mrs. Huntington quite a bit. In some publications is Mrs. Huntington is incorrectly quoted that she didn’t want anyone to come to the house. That is not true. I think its all wrapped up with this one quote. Mrs. Huntington loved having family & friends to the San Marino Ranch. The Huntington’s entertained often for formal luncheons with 12 guests, especially in 1920-1922. What she actually said was…..

The Huntington’s Head butler, Alfonso Gomez documents years later, “Mr. & Mrs. Huntington had a very strong idea the last few years. They didn’t want to hear one single word about people wanting to see the place [Huntington Mansion at the San Marino Ranch] because they thought that if people were coming to see their “Blue Boy” or “Fortune Tellers” or any of their paintings (“pictures”), that people were already coming to see a museum, when it was still a private house. And they said they wanted to keep it as a private residence & there would be plenty of time (to come see the paintings), after their deaths”. So Mrs. Huntington stated, “regardless of that, I want my house to stay as a private house. Anyone who walks into my house, it will be for luncheon or to see me for a cup of tea, not to see the paintings.” Fair enough, I agree.

So what did the Huntington’s do when “Blue Boy” arrived? Did they have a little English Teaparty or a English Dinner to celebrate?? Arabella loved theme parties. We know that the Holladay Family came over to the Huntington Mansion that day to see the famous painting quickly; they left to dress & “to dine” at the Marshall residence in Pasadena. Were the Huntingtons & Duveens invited to Marshall’s party? I’m not sure. We know that Sir Joseph Duveen was the Huntington’s houseguest, maybe Mrs. Duveen, too.

A very English tea could have been made for Mrs. Huntington & guests in a moment’s notice. She would instruct the Butler to use one of her numerous English tea pattern maybe the English Coalport because it was blue, gold & white or her fancy silver tea set.

A lovely English tea menu could be: Prince of Wales Tea Blend, Salmon with Dill & Cucumber Tea Sandwiches (like the London Ritz), Homemade Scones made with Heavy Cream, served with San Marino Ranch Orange Marmalade, Petit Lemon Curd tarts , small Chocolate tarts, Apple & Gooseberry Tarts (he grew Loganberries), Custard Tart, or Roly Poly Pudding with Raspberry Jam rolled up inside.

Prince of Wales Tea Recipe (1921) – London, England

This tea is made in a variety of ways, but it always has a hint of black currant in it.

1 oz. Assam

1 oz. Keenum

1 oz. Lucky Dragon

1 oz. Gunpowder, a green tea from China

1 oz, Larkspur blossoms, dried

1 oz. Oolong tea

1 oz. Black Currant berries, dried

Mix all teas & fruit in a stainless steel bowl & stir well. Add mixture to 1 pt. mason jar. For 1 cup of tea: add 1 t. dry tea to a tea strainer to 1 c. hot water. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

On August 30, 1919, the “Trust Indenture” that Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington signed, donated all their property including “the Blue Boy” (a world treasure): H. E. Huntington Library & Art Gallery to the great State of California. When Mr. Huntington bought the San Marino Ranch is was 501 acres. H.E.Huntington continued to buy many of the ranches around it enlarging its size. Aren’t we so very lucky to enjoy such a beautiful property!!

Document: HEH Coll. HEH 19/1-18 (Uncat) Alfonso Gomez interview tapes; Alfonso was HEH’s Gentlemen’s Valet & Head Butler to the Huntingtons, HEH Coll. MS 10968 (Burke Holladay Journals), HEH Coll. MS 38/6 (HEH’s Wills), HEH Coll. HEH MS Correspondence (Barrymore & Fairbanks letters) Huntington Library San Marino, CA

We know Mrs. Huntington had English Coalport Fine Bone China that was Blue, White & Gold. This pattern is called Coalport “Batwing”, it would be perfect to serve tea for a “Blue Boy” celebration.
For a “Blue Boy” welcome ….a English Tea Party: Prince of Wales Tea, Enghish Tea sandwiches like Cucumber or Salmon with dill, English Scones with Chantilly Cream and Orange Marmalade or Raspberry Jam, Tea Cakes & Roly Poly Pudding
Mrs. Arabella Huntington had several of these large ornate silver tea sets. They were made by Gorham Co.; the silver pieces in each of the tea set included tea pot, coffee pot, cream & sugar, & water pot with silver tray. Mrs. Huntington gave one of these tea sets to her niece: Carrie Huntington Holladay for her wedding on Feb. 12, 1896. That tea set was Gorham “Imperial Chrysanthemum”, on display at the Huntington Library. It is highly likely Mrs. Huntington’s pattern was the same.
March 21, 1922: It was a grand day for the Huntington’.s! It was the day- “The Blue Boy” painting by Gainsborough arrived at Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch. The very next day they hung it up in the Large Drawing Room. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage’s my watercolor/sketch of “Blue Boy” in the Large Drawing Room. Illustration credit: Nancy Armitage

  1. Nancy your sketches and paintings are wonderful! This is such a wonderful blog, thanks for sharing all this history, you have done quite a bit of research and I certainly appreciate it.


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