St. Valentine’s Day, Romance, and the Huntington’s

by Nancy Armitage

All the good things for St. Valentine’s Day: a heart-shaped box of chocolates or “bonbons”, a bottle of champagne, red roses or a red rose plant, conversation candy hearts., pretty gold and white plates or teacups. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

We know that Mr. & Mrs. Henry E. Huntington (Arabella) were both romantics. I feel like they were romantic in many different ways in their lives. They both had a amazing ability to search & capture beauty & elegance in their homes and lives. They were rich enough to purchase anything that they desired.

I feel like there is romance in the books that they read, the flowers that enhance their gardens, & the Louis XVI (& Queen Marie Antoinette) style furniture they sat on. The master paintings that they chose for their walls of the Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch. The elaborate plates she served at her dining room table, the exotic fruit Mr. Huntington grew in the massive lath house on the Ranch. Everything they collected, had a romance to it, whether it be in the garden, the mansion, or the library.

The Huntington Mansion on the San Marino Ranch. The Loggia to the left and the mansion to the right. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

But as I’m thinking about romance at the San Marino Ranch – inside the Huntington’s Mansion. For the Huntingtons….every day would have been felt like St. Valentine’s Day or Christmas!! The Huntington’s would have received parcels everyday of the week!! It kind of makes me laugh, during Covid-19 lockdown, we had dog food, dog toys & treats delivered to us. The Huntington’s had master paintings by Gainsborough & Reynolds, hand delivered to their home.

Massive white marble vessel on a white marble column with swag of bows and flowers, outside of the Large Library Huntington Mansion, San Marino Ranch (now the Huntington Library, CA). Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

I’m sure everyday, while the Huntington’s were “in-residence” at the Ranch there were many exciting deliveries! They would have opened packages at the library of rare books, manuscripts, & exciting antique diaries, Master oil paintings, French XVI chairs, & fancy French gold clock with sweet gold angels.

In the gardens, everyday Mr. Hertrich and Mr. H.E. Huntington would have received parcels. Or trunk loads of seeds, seedlings, plants, or 9 ft. tall trees. There would have been exotic plants like mango (South America) or kiwi trees from New Zealand & yellow acacia trees (from Paris), new varieties of fruit trees & vegetables, special seeds from the head butler at the Chateau Beauregard, newest gorgeous multi-color roses & fragrant herbs, & colorful spring flowers, & Dutch bulbs (from Holland).

Mr. Huntington was known to take a daily walk around the San Marino Ranch grounds. Sometimes, Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) would take a drive around the property to see what was new on the Ranch. They would have known about all the new & exciting parcels coming in. I’m sure that there were some parcels that Mr. & Mrs. Huntington would have wanted to open up themselves.

Mr. & Mrs. Huntington (Belle & Edwards) stunning large library with a Marie Antoinette chandelier. It was on the San Marino Ranch & became the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. This room is bursting with treasures of rare books & Louis XVI (& Marie Antoinette) Furniture, & fabrics. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

Romantic Writers (books & manuscripts HEH collected)

In Mr. H. E. Huntington book collections, we see that he collected the great romantic writers (of the British Islands) of all time. He had Shakespeare books, poems from Percy Shelley notebooks, illuminated books of Wm. Blake, Robert Burns, Yeats, & James Joyce. He had manuscripts of Thoreau’s Walden (Famous Walden Pond). Walt Whitman, & Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Per the Head Butler, Mr. Alfonso Gomez, Mr. Huntington often would find a passage or great poem in a book & recite it out loud at dinner for his family & guests.

“O my Love, is like a red, red rose, That’s newly sprung in June; O my Love is like the melody, That’s sweetly played in tune. ” The sweet romantic poem called “A red, red rose” by Robert Burns. It was originally published in 1794 in Scottish. Burns is one of the writers/books that Mr. H. E. Huntington collected. Also, Mrs. Arabella Huntington was born in June! The red rose pictured could be “Mr. Lincoln” or “Olympiad” or “Oklahoma”. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

A lovely romantic poem: “To a Skylark” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Yet if we could scorn, Hate, & pride & fear; If we were things born, not to shed a tear, I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better then all measures, Of delightful sound, Better then all treasures, That in books are found, Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness, That thy brain must know, Such harmonious madness, From my lips would flow, The world should listen then, as I am listening now.”

A red & white striped fragrant rose called “Scentimental”. Photo credit: Nancy Armitage

H. E. Huntington romancing & courting Southern Belle: Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington (1911-1912)

In my research, I found what I call the “courtship bills” of Mr. Henry E. Huntington’s. These were in his personal bill ledgers, dated 1911 & 1912. Mr. Henry “Edwards” Huntington gave Mrs. Arabella Huntington numerous items that had a amorous vibe. There was Apricot Cordial, French Chocolate BonBons, expensive Jewelry from Cartier Jewelers / Tiffany & Co. , Gorham silver pieces, & lots of flower bouquets sent to her mansion in New York City.

Mrs. Huntington must have loved surprises because these treats were always labeled “G & D” meaning “gift-wrapped & delivered” to her residence in New York City. In January 4. 1912, he started strong by buying jewelry from Black, Starr & Frost – “D & G” for $220.00″; on the same day he bought her flowers from Chas. Thorley. On Jan. 13, 1912, he spends $1,790.00 for an expensive “something-something” at Arabella’s favorite store, Gorham Silver Co. in NYC. Document: HEH Coll. 13/8/1-13 (HEH Personal Ledgers 1910-1912); HEH Coll. MS 41-10 (10 Ledgers -Apricot Cordial) located at the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

Romancing with Box of Chocolates & French BonBons

In March of 1919, I found a Huyler’s of New York City (makers of Bonbons & Chocolates) invoice bill. It was dated: February 1919 & sold to H. E. Huntington at 2 E. 57th Street, NYC. The bill included 1/2 lb. cream peppermints, 1/2 lb. Glace nuts, 1/2 lb. chocolate, 1/2 lb. peppermint paste, 1/2 lb. cream peppermints, 1/2 lb. chocolate and 1/2 lb. Brazil Bonbons. Document: HEH Coll HEH 38/11 uncat (Huntington Library San Marino, CA)

Apricot Cordial (Recipe)

I thought Apricot Cordial sounded really delicious. I went to my gourmet store to find this Victorian “Apricot Cordial”. They didn’t carry it, so I made my own, & it tastes really nice.

1 qt. (750 mo) Potters triple distilled vodka (80 proof)

1 jar (10 oz.) apricot preserves

Spoon out the preserves into a 1 qt. measuring cup. Add vodka with a hand blender (Braun) mix thoroughly & puree preserves. Add more vodka. Blend. Let marinate for several weeks & strain through fine sieve or tea cloth. Pour into 5 (1 c.) jars. At afternoon tea, I will pour this apricot cordial in small cordial glasses & serve. It’s delicious! Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Mrs. Huntington’s pleasures:

What did Mrs. Huntington like in the culinary world? She liked French Champagne, Champagne Punch, & Creme de menthe. She liked Roquefort cheese made into Roquefort Puffs & Caviar Canapes. She liked fancy cakes or petit fours (petit little iced cakes), tea parties & mixed Bridge nuts, &ordan Almonds. She like chocolates, French bonbons (truffles), chocolate cake, lemon cake, & also orange cake. At her teaparties, she enjoyed Lobster a la Newberg (Delmonicos) and tea sandwiches and scones and nuts and chews.

She loved tableware especially dinner plates. She collected French plates, English plates, & American plates. At the San Marino Ranch, she loved white & gold plates with pink roses on them. For her “Entertainments” she used exotic plates like: Dutch Delft blue plates, Blue Transferware, Chinese rose medallion, Russian, Japanese red lacquer plates (perfect for St. Valentines Day) from all her travels.

Lobster a La Newberg (Delmonico’s) 1890’s

A fun Gilded Age dish to make for St. Valentines Day or for a fancy dinner or tea party. The lobster being so perfectly red and all.

12 lobsters (2 lb. each) cooked in salted water & cook for 20-25 mins. Then cut lobster into small pieces. For the sauce: add hot clarified butter, season with salt, add good heavy cream, 2-3 T. Madeira wine, 1 egg yolk or Wondra fine flour (to thicken), cayenne pepper, & butter to finish sauce. Place ingredients into a vegetable dish & pour the sauce over lobster. Adapted recipe from cookbook: The Epicurean

Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington English Chelsea Plates with pheasant and butterflies. There is a landscape behind the pheasant, and there are dragonflies and ladybugs. The the blue medallions the butterflies are gilted. Such romance all around in this one plate.

When Mr. Huntington gave Arabella Huntington a gift or a present they usually were big ticket items. For a wedding gift, he have her two massive gemstone necklaces, one was made of rubies & the other was made of sapphires. Gemstones which she really loved & collected.

In December of 1924, Mr. Huntington gives Arabella a massive set of dishes (from Royalty). He purchases this gold, white & blue porcelain plates & dishes & bowls from Duveen with over 100 pieces in it. Mr. Huntington knew this purchase would make her happy so he bought it for him. Document: HEH Coll. Anderson Gallery catalog 1926- Rare book #425016.

For St. Valentines Day, Mr. & Mrs. H. E. Huntington (Arabella) might have gone to their private clubs for Sweet heart dinner. They had many choices: California Club or Jonathan Club in Los Angeles; Annandale Gold Club or San Gabriel Country Club which were much closer. Or, they could have stayed home & asked several friends over to enjoy a wonderful evening together.
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