S I I A S @ C S I Archaeology Study Collection

The MacDonald Collection - A Documentary History

The former MacDonald collection consists of some 300 antiquities from Egypt, the Levant, Greece, and Italy, collected by Mr. Francis MacDonald and his wife Elizabeth (Eliza) Wallace MacDonald in the 1870s. The collection was donated by their son, Mr. David Wallace MacDonald, in memory of his mother who died on August 21, 1911. The MacDonald bequest forms the bulk of the SIIAS@CSI exhibit, and it is also the best documented part of the collection. This account is the result of research conducted since 2000. It is based upon original, unpublished documents authored by the MacDonalds and others, including letters, a journal, and handwritten catalogues, along with newspaper articles, obituaries, photographs and other archival materials. Some details have even been retrieved from old labels still attached to the artifacts and from SIIAS inventory cards. Some of these sources are preserved in the SIIAS archives, where they were first studied by Gail K. Schneider in preparation for the 1965 exhibit From the Shipwreck of Time (Letter to J.N. Jacobsen, Jr., dated July 17, 1964, SIIAS archives) but a study of the collection's history was not published. Others are to be found in the public record, while a number are still owned by descendants of the MacDonald family. We are grateful to Barbara Gardner, the great, great, grand-daughter of Francis and Elizabeth MacDonald, for her interest in the SIIAS@CSI project and for supplying copies of family records and photographs. Credit for genealogical sleuthing must go to Barbara Gardner and other family members who researched some important documents and the MacDonald family tree. One must also acknowledge the kind efforts of Bartholomew Bland, Patricia Gentile-Salmon and Dorothy D'Eletto at SIIAS in searching their archives for MacDonald materials. Although these documents do not cover every aspect of the collection's history, one hopes that more materials will come to light to fill in gaps in our knowledge. Nonetheless, surviving sources offer important details of the history and provenance of the antiquities, and the personal histories of their collectors. The MacDonald collection and archive therefore offers significant insights not only on collecting, but also on the tastes and aspirations of an upper middle class family in mid-nineteenth-century New York.

The MacDonald Family

Francis MacDonald (1825-1878) and his wife were Scottish immigrants to the United States. Francis was a native of Helensburgh, north of Glasgow, Scotland, and his writings and career reveal a man of good education from a respectable middle class background. Francis was educated in Glasgow where he served an apprenticeship in the shipping business. This experience is evident from Francis' writings which show a familiarity with sea captains and immigrants to America. It was these contacts and business opportunities abroad that may have swayed him in the decision to emigrate to the United States. At the age of 23 years Francis set sail for New York, departing from Glasgow on September 16, 1848 aboard the barque Augusta.
The principal source for these events is a Journal or "Logue" of the voyage composed by Francis for his fiancé and future wife Elizabeth (Eliza) Wallace (1825-1911) who remained in Scotland. This unpublished journal is still owned by their descendants, and it offers a vivid account of the immigrant experience in the mid nineteenth century. Like most immigrants, Francis hoped to make a better life for himself and his future family in America. In the 1848 Journal he wrote: "Yes, Eliza, I leave my native land to provide for thee a home and to place myself in a position whereby the wants of that home will be fully supplied so that it will be rendered as happy and comfortable as possible." The voyage to New York was an unusually stormy and lengthy one, lasting at least 42 days due to violent gales that blew the ship off-course. Unlike steerage passengers, Francis could afford his own berth, but he was still subject to seasickness and periodic food poisoning. On one occasion a freak wave damaged the ship and flooded his compartment, drenching his clothes and papers.
[image from http://www.gareloch.org.uk/]
[map from http://www.travel-uk.org/maps.html]

Francis had prepared carefully for a new career in New York, having obtained testimonials and letters of introduction before his departure. One of these letters survives in the hand of Ralph Waldo Emerson, dated London, 21 April, 1848. Emerson wrote: "I enclose a couple of notes of introduction to two excellent young men, men of business and of large acquaintance in Boston who, I am sure you will be glad to know. On my return, which will be I think in the month of July, I shall be happy to greet you on the other shore." The Journal does not record the eventual arrival of the Augusta in New York, but Elizabeth joined Francis in America in 1849 and the couple were married in Brooklyn on 21 September, 1850. The officiant was the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the Congregational minister of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn and a famous abolitionist and preacher. Beecher was a New York celebrity and his sermons drew large crowds - a sign perhaps that the MacDonalds fitted quickly into respectable society. Their marriage was apparently a happy one and produced two children; a son, David Wallace, born in 1854, and a daughter, Janet, born in 1855.

Francis' hoped-for career in the shipping business proved very successful, and he became a respected member of the merchantile community. Important sources for his business career are the obituaries published soon after his death in 1878. The New York Times for November 9, 1878, records that Francis worked for two years as a clerk before forming a business partnership with a James Hutchinson. Their firm of Francis MacDonald & Co. was established in 1850 to export grain and provisions. This partnership was to endure until Hutchinson's death in 1867. In the words of The New York Times obituary: "[Francis MacDonald] was very successful in business, and his name became known as well in London, Liverpool, and Glasgow, as `on Change' in this city."

In 1863 Francis became the New York agent for the Anchor Shipping Line, a position that he was to hold for the rest of his life. "The Anchor Line of Transatlantic, Peninsula & Mediterranean Steam Packet Ships" was founded in Glasgow in 1856, and quickly became one of the leading trans-Atlantic cargo carriers, with routes between New York, Glasgow and Mediterranean ports. In 1872 The company entered partnership with the Barrow Steamship Co., and in 1911 the Anchor Line was acquired by Cunard. A number of documents preserved in the SIIAS archives were written by Francis MacDonald on Anchor Line stationery, and reveal that his offices were located at 7 Bowling Green in Manhattan. Francis prospered greatly in the service of the company and in 1868 he became a member of the firm of Henderson Brothers of Glasgow, owners of the Anchor Line. According to the Times obituary: "It was by his foresight and energy that the business of the steam-ship line was increased, until now [1878] Anchor Line steam-ships arrive or sail from New York two or three times a week." Francis was also active in promoting commerce in New York, being a founder member of the Produce Exchange, established in 1851.
Francis' success enabled the family to move to the suburb of Clifton on the north-eastern shore of rural Staten Island, an area then much favored by the wealthy middle classes. The MacDonald house was named "Roseneath Cottage" according to the The New York Times obituary, perhaps after Eliza's home village. The house was actually a large wooden-framed Victorian and still stands at 120 Townsend Avenue in Clifton. As Francis had hoped, his family prospered, and on his death in 1878 the governing committee of the Produce Exchange published the following resolution: "That in the death of Francis MacDonald, the Produce Exchange has lost one of its oldest and most energetic members, who in his long connection with the export trade of this City, and ocean steam traffic, has contributed in a most effectual manner to the material development of this Metropolis."

The Collection

The prosperity of the MacDonalds explains their means to acquire a collection of antiquities, but surviving documents also explain their motivations. The 1848 Journal reveals that Francis was a well educated man who exemplified the Victorian ethos of self-improvement through knowledge. He wrote: "Our great aim always ought to be to enlarge our minds as much as possible and there is is no definate point we can attain. The more we enlarge, the greater the capacity of enlargement and that enlargement can only take place from reading and reflection and a close habit of observance." This interest in education and culture is confirmed by Francis' correspondance and the New York Times obituary, which noted that, "Mr. MacDonald was a man of fine feelings, cultivated by long travel in Europe and the United States. He was a lover of the arts, a student and collector of ceramics, and had a nice taste for the selection of bric-a-brac." Such ceramics and "bric-a-brac" were a contemporary euphemism for what would eventually enter SIIAS as the MacDonald Collection. Little is yet known of the cultural inclinations of Elizabeth Wallace MacDonald, whom the collection memorialized at SIIAS. All known documentation is in the hand of Francis MacDonald, but one may presume that at the very least Elizabeth acquiesced in his collecting, or even shared the same interests as her husband. This is suggested by Elizabeth's support of progressive causes, even in old age. In 1893, for example, she was one of the founder members of The Woman's Club of Staten Island, a society initially dedicated to "Reform, Sanitation, and Philanthropy." Elizabeth served first as Vice-President of the Club in 1894-95 and then President in 1895-96 (Lasch, The Women's Club of Staten Island (1993), pp. 10-11). Personal motivations aside, the MacDonalds are also representative of other prosperous middle class families of the nineteenth century, who emulated with more modest means the art collecting of the super-rich. The MacDonalds could never afford the grandiose acquisitions of a Pierpoint-Morgan or a Vanderbilt, but their purpose was the same. Such collections were not only personal creations, they were also a sign of social and material success that displayed the taste and culture of their owners.

The opportunity to collect antiquities apparently arose in the 1870s when the MacDonalds visited southern Italy. The Anchor Line had started a direct service from New York to Naples via Palermo in 1869, and another route from Glasgow to New York via Genoa, Naples and Palermo in 1870, and so it seems likely that Francis MacDonald first visited Italy on company business. The earliest datable label in the collection is found on a matchbox containing mosaic tesserae "...from Pompeii and Herculaneum, October 10th, 1870" [X50.30.44]. Visiting ancient sites and picking up such mementos may well have fueled Francis' interest in antiquities. By 1878 the MacDonalds were residing in Naples, perhaps on business or even due to Francis' failing health. The New York Times obituary records that Francis suffered from tuberculosis (consumption) for two years before his death in 1878, and so the mild climate of the Bay of Naples may have been considered more conducive to his health. A small group of papers transferred with the collection to SIIAS indicates that the antiquities were acquired by the MacDonalds while in Italy. This is confirmed by a hand-written inventory of the antiquities prepared by Francis MacDonald in Naples on 25 July, 1878, preparatory to shipping the collection to the United States. The majority of the Classical antiquities are of southern Italian origin (west Greek, Etruscan, Italic, Daunian, and Roman) and were probably purchased through local dealers. Although the descriptions are brief, the inventory notes provenances for some of the antiquities. Listed findspots include Paestum, Nola, Capua, Pozzuoli, Stabiae, Bari, Cumae and Pignatori; elsewhere in the catalogue MacDonald notes that other artifacts were "found in different parts of the Campagna Romano" south of Rome. It seems likely that many of these antiquities were excavated from Roman, Etruscan, and Greek cemeteries and sanctuaries in the region. The same 1878 catalogue notes that mosaic tesserae and "a slab, marble with inscription," were acquired in Pozzuoli on the Bay of Naples (this marble slab is no longer in the collection). Documentation attached to one of the Roman amphoras indicates that it was raised from a shipwreck. On the whole, the MacDonalds did not collect large pieces, avoiding the larger and more expensive antiquities, such as marble sculpture. Instead they concentrated on smaller, less expensive and portable items, such as terracotta figurines, vases, coins, and bronzes.

The Egyptian antiquities in the collection did not result from a visit of the MacDonalds to Egypt, but rather formed part of a job lot of up to 70 miscellaneous items, including antique furniture, plate, engravings, and "curiosities," purchased from the Rev. Dr. Hermann Philip in 1877-1878. Philip (1813-1882) was a Protestant clergyman holding a Master and Doctorate of Divinity, who was apparently engaged in missionary work in the Mediterranean. Philip's gravestone, located in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, records that Philip was: "For 40 years missionary to his brethren the Jews; the last 12 years of his life in Rome." (Rahtz ed., p. 185-186, Stone #1813). Correspondance between Philip and Francis MacDonald preserved at SIIAS indicates that since at least 1853 Philip had travelled in Egypt, Malta and the Levant before settling in Rome. In 1875 Philip published a pamphlet entitled The Ghetto in Rome which offers further insights on his travels and career. Philip wrote: "When I first came to Rome about nine years ago [1864] after having for many years seen and taken an interest in the ruins of Northern Africa, including Egypt, Palestine and Syria, I made it a point to study the monuments of Rome. I was above all anxious to visit that part of Rome where the Jews were located, even before Christ..." (Philip, The Ghetto in Rome, p. 7, n. 1). The pamphlet reveals Philip as a historian and advocate of the Jewish community of Rome, and he deplored Jewish persecution under the "priestly tyranny" of Papal rule. Philip applauded the emancipation of the Jews after the Unification of Italy in 1870, but he also saw opportunities for Protestant missions. He wrote: "Nothing will materially improve [the Jews] so much as the institutions of education and industry for both sexes... What an opening is here for Christian enterprise, for ladies to teach and reform them... Many of the Jews now frequent the places where evangelical worship is held, and it may be hoped that God will not leave these efforts without abundant blessings..." (Philip, op. cit., p. 42-43). Philip's missionary zeal is further alluded to in a letter to Francis MacDonald, dated February 14, 1878, where Philip regrets his inability "to collect money [in America] for our work here." Philip's mention of the British and Foreign Bible Society, an evangelical movement dedicated "to encourage a wider circulation of the Holy Scriptures," may suggest a link to that organization and explain Philip's travels. How Philip met MacDonald is as yet unknown, but their correspondance does offer details of their business transaction. By 1878 Philip was an elderly widower residing in Rome. In his letter dated February 14, 1878 to Francis MacDonald, Philip explained his reasons for disposing of his effects: "As I take not much interest any more in the things of this world, I am anxious to dispose of all my things which I have still, such as antiquities, carved furniture, table, chairs, [.....]; as well as also my wife's paintings, and all for far under their value, should you or any of your friends like to have them, Mr. Lauce is a good judge, and knows the price is as good as any here in Rome. The fact is too that I have a large family, and find that money is more necessary than all these things." In the course of his travels Philip had acquired a diverse range of antiquities, including statuettes, shabtis, and scarabs. The majority of these antiquities date to the Late Period (7th-4th centuries BCE), and the Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine periods (323 BCE - CE 641). The correspondence between Philip and Francis MacDonald reveals their shared interests, as well as important information on the provenance of the objects. Two pages survive of a hand-written catalogue of sale prepared by Philip, listing at least 70 items sold to MacDonald. Each item is briefly described, along with measurements and sale price. Many of the Egyptian antiquities listed in the sale catalogue were bequeathed to SIIAS in 1911 and are on display in the SIIAS@CSI Collection. Other items suggest that Philip was a man of eclectic tastes. Cat. #66 reads: "A pilgrim staff from Mecca, ebony laid in with mother of pearl - broken in the middle and mended." Cat. #69 reads: "A large watch silver case, outside case in tortoiseshell, with repeater. Not in working order. The watch is curious; it belonged to Mohammed Ali of Egypt. Description given how it came into my hand." Whether such curiosities were also donated to SIIAS requires further research. On January 26, 1878, MacDonald wrote to Philip with a list of questions, requesting more information about the identity and provenance of the antiquities. In his reply, dated 14 February, 1878, Philip offered clarifications, noting that, "All would be a great acquisition to any museum." Philip's clerical education and interest in antiquity is apparent from his 1875 pamphlet and the scope of his collection, which reveal him as a pious dilettante. Some of Philip's responses to Macdonald's questions offer fanciful interpretations drawing upon Christian Scriptures; others are more prosaic. Concerning sale catalogue item #12, MacDonald had written: "#12 - Was this found at Heliopolis? If so, why was it there and not in the land of Israel?" Philip wrote in reply: "#12. Found near Samaria: two of them, by a dragoman, the one I bought, the second was bought by a Jew, an antiquarian in Malta, by the name of Neersiah, who sold it to an English gentleman whom I saw in Malta at the time in 1858, he gave £27 for it." Regarding item #58 MacDonald wrote: "How old? any history to them?" Philip responded, "I bought it in Cairo in 1853." Further research is needed to establish a concordance between the antiquities described in the SIIAS documents and the objects donated in 1911, but old artifact labels and pencilled numbers may yet offer clues.

In July 1878 the MacDonalds prepared to return to the United States, probably due to Francis' declining health. For shipping and insurance purposes, Francis MacDonald prepared a hand-written inventory of antiquities and other belongings dated Naples, Italy, 25 July, 1878. The objects were packed in "two boxes and one trunk" and shipped to New York aboard the Anchor Line steamships SS Acadia (built 1866, rebuilt 1874; 1,082 tons) and SS Anglia (built 1870; 2,253 tons). Soon after returning to New York Francis MacDonald sold some of his acquisitions, for the New York Times 1878 obituary noted that, "A collection of articles of vertu made by him was recently sold in the this City." Francis MacDonald was in fragile health, however, and he died aged 53 of tuberculosis at Clifton, Staten Island on November 6, 1878. Obituaries were published in The New York Times (November 9, 1878) and in the Richmond Advance, the precursor to the Staten Island Advance. Francis was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Eliza was to join him over 30 years later. Nothing is known of the history of the collection in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Eliza lived at the Clifton house where the collection was presumably stored until her death on August 21, 1911.

The Collection at SIIAS

On the death of his mother in 1911, David Wallace MacDonald (1854-1939) offered his parents' collection of antiquities to the then Staten Island Museum (the precursor to the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences), along with other "bric-a-brac." In addition to the antiquities, the latter category also included "scientific" specimens, geological samples, and examples of the decorative arts (these objects were presumably dispersed to different curatorial departments; their identification is still in progress). Letters documenting the donation process between November 1911 and March 1912 are preserved in the SIIAS archives. Between 1911-1912 the collection was inventoried by Dr. Edward Robinson, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The oval paper inventory labels applied by Robinson are still a distinctive feature of the MacDonald objects. The artifacts were assigned four digit "A" or "C" numbers, presumably for the designations "Antiquity" and "Classical" respectively. After preliminary negotiations, the collection was duly installed on the ground floor of the Staten Island Museum, then located in the Norvell House on Stuyvesant Place. On March 8, 1912, the Acting Secretary of the Museum wrote to David Wallace MacDonald: "[The art objects] are now admirably displayed in seven large cases. There are large placards conspicuously placed announcing that this is the Mrs. Francis MacDonald Collection." In gratitude for the bequest the Trustees of the Association of Arts & Sciences made David Wallace MacDonald a patron of the Association. A notice placed in the Association Bulletin for January 1912 recorded that the MacDonald bequest included "many pieces of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek antiquities, as well as modern pottery."

Following the removal of SIIAS to the new 75 Stuyvesant Place building in 1918 the MacDonald display was dismantled. Some items from the collection have featured in temporary exhibits since then, but the bulk of the antiquities remained in storage, unstudied and unpublished. A number of vases, terracottas and metalwork appeared for the first time in the exhibition and catalogue From the Shipwreck of Time: 100 Greek & Roman Antiquities. Two Classical vases and a terracotta figurine from the MacDonald collection featured in the 1981 SIIAS Centenary exhibit. Photographs and brief descriptions were reproduced in the Art Collection Handbook, 1881-1981 (items #4-#6) published to celebrate the event. A passing reference was also made to the MacDonald Collection in the introduction to this Handbook. A new phase in the history of the MacDonald collection began in late 1999 when the present co-curators, Professors Eric Ivison and Linda Roccos, learned of its existence and approached SIIAS staff. The SIIAS@CSI display opened in the conference room of the College of Staten Island Library in November 2000. Now the MacDonald Collection is being studied by a new generation of students and scholars who are rediscovering its history.

Works Cited

Archival Documents (in chronological order)

  • Francis MacDonald: Journal of the Voyage to America on Board the Barque Augusta for Elizabeth Wallace (the future Mrs. MacDonald). Handwritten in ink on paper notebook, dated Sept. 16 to October 28, 1848. Original document owned by MacDonald family descendants.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson: Letter of Introduction for Francis MacDonald, dated London, April 21, 1848. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document owned by MacDonald family descendants.
  • Rev. Henry Ward Beecher: Certificate of Marriage for Francis and Elizabeth Macdonald, dated September 21, 1850. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document owned by MacDonald family descendants.
  • Francis MacDonald: List of questions to A. Philip, dated January 26, 1878. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • H. Philip: Catalogue of collection of antiquities and other items sold to Francis MacDonald. Undated - 1877 or early 1878?. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • H. Philip: Letter to Francis MacDonald, dated February 14, 1878. Handwritten in ink on paper. Attached to this letter were Philip's "Answers to the Questions" about the antiquities. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • H. Philip: Answers to the Questions, addressed to Francis Macdonald, dated February 14, 1878. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • Francis MacDonald: Inventory of antiquities and other belongings shipped aboard the S.S. Anglia and the S.S. Acadia for New York City. Dated Naples, Italy, July 25, 1878. Handwritten in ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • C. L. Pollard, Curator-in-Chief of the Staten Island Museum: Letter to David Wallace MacDonald concerning the MacDonald bequest, dated October 3, 1911. Carbon copy on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • David Wallace MacDonald: Letter to C. L. Pollard concerning the MacDonald Bequest, dated November 27, 1911. Type-written and ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • David Wallace MacDonald: Letter to J. Q. Adams concerning the MacDonald Bequest, dated February 19, 1912. Type-written and ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • Acting Secretary of Staten Island Museum: Letter to D. Wallace MacDonald concerning the MacDonald Bequest. Carbon copy on paper, dated March 8, 1912. Original document in SIIAS archives.
  • Gail K. Schneider: Letter to J.N. Jacobsen, Jr., dated July 17, 1964. Type-written and ink on paper. Original document in SIIAS archives.

Newspaper Collections

  • The New York Times, "Obituary" of Francis MacDonald, dated November 9, 1878.
  • Richmond Advance, "Francis MacDonald's Funeral" notice, dated November 1878.
  • The New York Times, "Obituary" of Eliza Wallace MacDonald, dated August 23, 1911, p. 7.

Published Works

  • Art Collection Handbook 1881-1981, Staten Island Museum (New York, 1981)
  • From the Shipwreck of Time: 100 Greek & Roman Antiquities (Staten Island Museum, New York 1965)
  • Lasch, J.,The Women's Club of Staten Island, a Centennial Journal (New York, 1993).
  • Philip, Rev. Dr. H., The Getto in Rome: as it was, and as it is (Claudian Press, FLorence 1875).

Internet Resources

Additional resources on Scotland

Additional resources on shipping

Additional resources on NYC

Written by Eric Ivison; Material compiled by Eric Ivison and Linda Roccos with the help of the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences and Barbara Gardner
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