The Gilded Age. It was a time of plenty but for many it was…. well, a time of PLENTY. There were haves and have nots. And then there were the have more than you can imagines. Mary Goelet came from a family in the last category. One of the wealthiest heiresses of the time, back when American heiresses were marrying British and Scottish nobility because they had everything else here in America but a title, Mary Goelet Innes-Ker was the cream of the crop.
Her father, Ogden Goelet, was a real estate magnate worth millions and millions. But May had her own money – she herself was worth a $20 million dowry. Born in 1878, she entered into the monied elite of New York. Not only was her father worth serious money, but her great-great grandfather was an heir to one of the largest fortunes of the time, also made in real estate. She was a niece to Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Folks in her circle just oozed wealth.
So, it’s no surprise that she married well. During a period in time when the New York elite were marrying their daughters off to British nobility – nobles who held titles but had mostly run out of money to run their big mansions and estates – Mary was one of the lucky ones and married the 8th Duke of Roxburghe, Henry Innes-Ker, a Scotsman who had maintained his family’s wealth.
By all accounts the Duke was the consummate gentleman, not rushing around after Mary like so many of the other men (who might have just had grand fortunes on their minds). Instead, he exuded a cool detachment. Something that intrigued Mary. Rather than a public affair, their courtship took place in private and when they finally decided to marry, they were quite sure of one another.
Married in 1903, they settled in Floors Castle and Mary went to work gussying up the castle to make it a showpiece, much to her husband’s happiness. As was the custom, her brother inherited the bulk of her family’s money but that didn’t mean Mary was left out entirely. Upon her mother’s death, she came into $3 million….. in 1929. A tidy some of money indeed.
As would have been the norm for the day, her jewelry collection was outstanding. Many pieces were auctioned off by Sotheby’s in 2015*. It’s hard to say if the family had finally fallen on hard times, like their British counterparts so many decades before, or if today’s nobility just isn’t into the jewels and finery of their ancestors. Either way, we got to have a glimpse into an era gone by – a time when money was literally no object and the women dripped in jewels.
Which of the pieces here is your favorite? I have my own preference but I’d love for you to share yours with in the comments.
*There was a second Mary Innes-Ker, which would have been our Mary’s daughter-in-law. I believe the auction was of her estate but many of the pieces had been passed down, so we know the ruby necklace belonged to the first Mary, and many of the other pieces likely did, as well.