The Hope Diamond and the USPS
A Brief History
1642: The history of the blue stone began with Jean Batiste Travenier, a French merchant adventuring in India. It is not certain how the diamond came into Jean’s possession but It is strongly mentioned he stole a crudely cut 115.28 carat diamond from the eye of a jade idol in Golconda. Upon discovery of the theft the priests placed a curse on whosoever possessed the jewel.
1668: Travenier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV, the Sun King, for 140 kilos of pure gold and the title of Baron d’Aubone.
The court jeweler, Pitau re-cut the stone into a heart shaped 68.97 carat stone. This 2 year rehab essentially shaved 46.31 carats from the original to capture all its blue glitter; (wonder where those carats went? Did they become dust, chips or smaller stones?). The re-cut was named “Blue Diamond of the Crown” but more commonly referred to as “French Blue.” It was fashioned as a pin set in gold and enamel that prominently secured the scarves of Louis XIV.
1749: King Louis XV had the stone reset again by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin. It was mounted into a ceremonial piece, “Insignia of the Golden Fleece.”
1791: The French Revolution caused Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee with all the jewels of the French Royal Treasury. The royal couple were apprehended, divested of their loot and eventually beheaded.
1792: The French Government secured the collection of the royal jewels and placed them in the Garde Meuble de la Couronne (Royal Treasury) one of the pavilions of the Place de la Concorde.
These jewels, as well as The French Blue, placed in the Royal storehouse for safety were stolen during the chaos of revolution. They migrated to London with the thieves. Many of the jewels were recovered, the rest, re-cut, re-set and sold except for the French Blue.
1812: The French Blue turned up in the possession of Daniel Eliason, an English diamond merchant by way of a shadowy group of men unlikely to posses such a jewel, just as the statue of limitations for the theft expired. It weighed in at 45.52 carats; (Another 23.45 carats gone. Where did the 23.45 carats go?).
1830: There is some documentation to indicate that George IV of the United Kingdom came into possession of the French Blue. It is assumed that the diamond was sold privately at his death to pay his voluminous debts. Afterwards it passed through many hands, owners and nations.
1839: Henry Philip Hope acquired the diamond and to this day the French Blue is referred to as the Hope Diamond. It is estimated he paid around $90,000 for the pleasure of ownership.
1901: The grandson of Hope’s nephew sold the diamond to a London dealer to pay off debts. The dealer sold the diamond to Joseph Frankels & Sons, NYC. When they needed cash they sold it to Selim Habib who tried to auction the diamond in Paris. It did not sell but was ultimately privately sold to C.H. Rosenau who, in turn, sold it to Pierre Cartier.
Cartier again reset the diamond to encourage Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean and her husband, Edward owner of The Washington Post, to purchase the blue diamond. Two years later Evalyn purchases the diamond after Cartier enchants her with a new setting and tales of the curse.
Evalyn declared she could banish the curse of the stone. Unfortunately after the purchase, her young son died in an automobile accident, her husband left her for another and drank himself into an asylum. Evalyn became a morphine addict and her daughter committed suicide. The family lost their fortune and with it, The Washington Post.
On her death, the entire jewelry collection was acquired by Harry Winston, who once again re-cut the stone to increase its brilliance and used the diamond to promote charity and promotional events.
In 1958 Winston donated the Hope to the Smithsonian to join the museums’ gem collection. On November 8, he sent the gem to the Smithsonian via the United States Postal Service. Postage cost $2.44 first class, registered plus $142.85 for 1 million of insurance. To date, only the Mona Lisa is more viewed than the Hope Diamond.
Winston told the Washington D.C. Evening Star that “the Post Office Department is the safest way to mail gems. I’ve sent gems all over the world that way.”
After delivering the diamond, the mailman, James Todd, had his leg crushed by a truck; he suffered a head injury and his house burned down.
If this diamond has peeked your interest there are two fun sources to explore. The 15 episodes of the film are being restored and digitally transferred. It features Boris Karloff in his first major film role.
The book, The Mystery of the Hope Diamond, published in 1921 is a fascinating and fanciful retelling of the diamonds history and its curses.