10 February, 2011

A Plumb Rolls Royce

Not long ago a visitor to Villa Turicum asked me about a photo taken of Edith in 1927. She is shown exiting an automobile with Edwin Krenn to her left. The automobile was at the heart of the question, and my correspondent wanted to know if I had any documentation on the car.

I replied that I only knew that the photo was taken in 1927 and that the car was probably a Rolls Royce, as Edith owned two of them at the time of her death in 1932. I know this because I have the inventory taken by Chicago Title and Trust the fall of that year, two months after Edith died.

Inventories taken at the time of someone's death are macabre to begin with, but with Edith being such an avid collector it also provides interesting insight. This list gave the appraised "present value" of the items inventoried, and in the case of the autos it states: "In the garage are two Rolls Royce automobiles, one at $2,500; the other, nearly new, $3,500." This illustrates how extraordinarily screwed up things were at the time, as $3,500 in today's dollars would amount to $55,000. (I googled the price of a 2010 Phantom and it was $380,000)

I was delighted to receive these photos a day or so later:

The top two photos are identified as a 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom (the car in my photo) and the photo shown above is a 1931 Rolls Royce Phantom II. These are likely very close in style and year to the models that Edith owned. I especially like the bottom photo, as it's color reminds me of the renowned plumb colored Rolls Royce that Edith once owned; with it's "two men on the box," each of whom wore her plum colored livery. It is also fun because the 1927 Phantom is in the background.

The 1932 inventory in and of itself is fascinating in that it illustrates just how not broke Edith was at the time of her death. Yes, 1000 Lake Shore Drive was heavily mortgaged (as was an adjacent property at 118-120 East Oak) but none of the diamonds, emeralds, pearls, antique tapestries, furniture and furs listed in her personal property had been encumbered.

Furthermore, when it came to Villa Turicum, the mansion itself was unencumbered by debt. A bank did hold a $250,000 mortgage on property adjacent to Villa Turicum, but the 44 room villa itself with the costly pieces of marble adorning the grounds and the rare Gobelin tapestries, oils and furniture in it's rooms was free and clear. So, despite the enormous shrinkage of her fortune, our lady was far from bankrupt.

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