Whitney Natural Strand

I have been able to spend some time with my mother to discuss the pearls. This is the history that we can offer for the necklace.

My mother's full name is Lois Clarke Abbott Whitney. She is currently living in Berkeley, California. Her grandmother, Virginia Clarke, was married to John H. Clarke, a successful banker in New York. He is likely the one who purchased the pearls for his wife around 1890-1900. The lived quite the wealthy "Age of Innocence" lifestyle along with Mellons and Rockefellers in turn of the century New York society. There were various other strands of pearls that floated down to other generations, but this particular strand was only recently in the estate of my mother's maiden aunt, Lois Clarke,  (who lived her whole life with her mother!) and died about 10 years ago at the age of 97. Her mother also lived a very long life, 96 or so, and now my mother is 94, so we have quite a legacy of longevity in that side of the family.


Those of us in later generations have heard stories of the elegant lives of our ancestors but we only remember two odd old ladies living in a residential hotel in New York who were anachronisms of our times, more like exotic characters in a play than relatives who played much of a part in our lives. As a young woman, Virginia Clarke was reputedly extremely self-absorbed and not a very good mother. Her elder daughter, my grandmother Dorothy, married in 1915 and moved to San Diego, California, where they raised three daughters, out from under all that decadent social scene. (Her husband was Clinton Gilbert Abbott, director of the San Diego Natural History Museum.) Virginia Clarke's younger daughter, Lois Clarke, never broke free of her mother and lived with her for her whole life.

Interestingly, John Clarke, the successful banker who was the source of the wealth, had a heart attack in the prime of life and, supposedly on doctor's orders, resigned from his position at the bank in the early 1920's, setting up his wife with plenty of money and taking off for a life of travel based in California. He was an exotic member of my mother's family in San Diego, coming and going from trips to the Orient with crates of art arriving periodically and never going back to New York. This wealth protected my mother's family from the Depression.

I include these details just to flavor the context of having a few remaining symbols of the era of wealth still in our possession, which are the pearl necklaces. When my great-aunt, Lois Clarke, died about 15 years ago, there wasn't much of an estate by then but two strands of natural pearls were handed down to my mother. One of them now belongs to my niece who wore them for her wedding and the other one is the one we are talking about. It doesn't suit me or any of my daughter's generation to own such valuable jewelry -- I pointed out that my daughter and her daughters would probably like Mardi Gras beads more! -- and the impetus to sell these pearls came about because this spring my little dachshund needed disc surgery on her neck to the tune of $7000. I borrowed money from my mother for this to save her life and said, "Let's sell the pearls." My priorities are my dog's neck over mine! I appreciate the help you gave me to direct me to a broker who will know the kind of person today who would want and can afford elegant, timeless jewelry and carry this story forward to other generations.

There we are! The whole story.

Elizabeth Abbott Whitney

Comments are closed.