Archaeological Revival cameo of railroad president F. N. Finney found at Baltimore Show
Hardstone and 14 karat gold, inscribed " F N Finney 1889"
F. N. Finney’s home, Milwaukee, WI
The Baltimore Summer Antiques show is fabulous. I have attended for almost twenty years and each year I come home with treasures. In 2016, among my purchases was a beautifully carved hardstone cameo that had both a name and date scratched into the back. I love high quality cameos and have inspected hundreds if not thousands but this cameo struck me as very unusual. Why? First of all it depicts a specific person rather than a mythological figure like Aphrodite or Diana, second it depicts a man and one contemporary to the year 1889 inscribed verso. Third, the quality of the carving is superb. I bought the cameo and brought it home but it took a couple of weeks before i sat down to try and find the name "F N Finney," inscribed above the year. To my surprise, I was able rather quickly to pull up the name Frederick Norton Finney, and to even find a photograph that closely corresponded to the cameo likeness. Then it got VERY interesting! It turns out that Finney was a railroad baron and major art collector, as well as being the uncle to the prominent American painter and art critic Kenyon Cox. Finney's father, Charles Grandison Finney, was an evangelical minister of considerable fame and the second president of Oberlin College; Finney Chapel, paid for by Frederick Finney and dedicated to his father, with artwork by Kenyon Cox, still stands on the Oberlin campus. Moreover, Frederick published a book titled Three Months in Italy in 1890, wherein he mentions a trip beginning late in 1889, and recounts a visit to the famous museum in Rome run by the Castellani family. Not only were the Castellanis collectors of antiquities, they ran perhaps the most famous jewelry company in the world, renowned for their jewelry inspired by ancient Greek and Italian examples. These are rare, valuable, and highly sought-after. Given the date of 1889 inscribed on the cameo, and Finney's reference to visiting the Castellani museum, perhaps this cameo was made by Castellani, thought I. The gold mount is designed in an historicizing style associated with the firm, but other jewelers were also using this type of design and without a signature or a specific reference in Finney's book to commissioning the cameo from Castellani, the maker remains a mystery. But what a great story!