Guide to the 1883 Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball Album Collection , 1883


The Preservation Society of Newport County
424 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840
Tel: 401-847-1000
amatyi@newportmansions.org

Published in 2021

Collection Overview

Title: The 1883 Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball Album Collection
Date range: 1883-1883
Creator: Jose Maria Mora
Extent: 1 album
Abstract: The 1883 Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball Album Collection is comprised of portrait photographs taken by Jose Maria Mora of attendees to the fancy dress ball hosted by Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (nee Alva Erskine Smith) on the night of March 26, 1883 at the Vanderbilts' newly completed residence at 660 Fifth Avenue, New York City. The subjects of the photographs are all dressed in the costumes they wore to the event, and appear in staged poses in front of backgrounds provided by Mora's studio.
Language of materials: English
Repository: The Preservation Society of Newport County
Collection number: PSNCA.H.018

Scope & content

The 1883 Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball Album Collection is comprised of the photographs extant within the photograph album. The album dates from 1883 and was made at the request of Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (nee Alva Erskine Smith) to contain the photographs taken by portrait photographer Jose Maria Mora of the costumed guests who attended the Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball of March 26, 1883.

This collection has been fully digitized and is available for viewing onling at newportalri.org

Arrangement

This collection is arranged by the order in which items appeared in a single photograph album. The collection is a single series.
  • Series 1: Photographs

Biographical/Historical Note

The Vanderbilt Family:

Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt was born Alva Erskine Smith to the successful cotton broker Murray Forbes Smith and his wife Phoebe Ann Desha in Mobile, Alabama on January 17, 1853. When the Civil War made the family's social life in America untenable and ruined them financially, they relocated to Paris. They returned to the United States four years later, and Alva began making strides to advance herself in New York society in order to re-establish her family's wealth and social standing. Her childhood friend Consuelo Yznaga assisted Alva by introducing her to William Kissam Vanderbilt in 1874. William (born December 12, 1849) was the third child of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam and the grandson of Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt, who had built the shipping and railroad empire on which the family's substantial fortune had been made. By the time of Alva and William's meeting, the Vanderbilt family was the richest in the world. Despite their exorbitant wealth, the Vanderbilts had nevertheless been snubbed by Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Aster, the then undisputed leader of New York high society, who disapproved of the nouveau riche in general and "railroad money" in particular.

Alva and William married in 1875, a year after meeting, and would have three children. However, the marriage was an unhappy one, with Alva's domineering will and strong opinions ever at odd with William's gentle and non-combative nature. She considered him to be a "weak nonentity," while he increasingly left her to her own devices rather than be subjected to her haranguing. The chief occupation to which she dedicated herself was the building and decorating of mansions. In 1879 Alva turned her attention to the creation of a new Manhattan residence and contracted Richard Morris Hunt, one of the most prominent and influential architects of the era. Located at 660 Fifth Avenue on the corner of Fifty-Second Street, the French chateau-style mansion took three years to complete.

On March 26, 1883, Alva hosted a lavish 1,200-guest fancy dress ball as a housewarming party for the newly completed mansion. The purpose of the ball was not just to celebrate the completion of the opulent residence; it was also a strategic maneuver designed to thrust the Vanderbilts into the echelons of New York high society. The sheer financial excess of Alva's ball made it the most anticipated social event of the year, which even Mrs. Astor could not afford to ignore. When Mrs. Astor called on the Vanderbilts in order to secure an invitation for her daughter, she effectively demonstrated her acceptance of the family as members of high society, just as Alva had wished.



Jose Maria Mora:

Born in 1849 to a wealthy Cuban family, Mora initially studied painting in England. When an 1868 independence uprising in Cuba forced his family to emigrate to the United States, he left his studies to join them in New York City. There he found employment in the city's preeminent photography studio, and eventually opened his own studio in 1870. Mora quickly amassed the largest collection of hand-painted portrait backgrounds in the world as well as an astounding array of props, all of which made him the photographer of choise for the famous and well-to-do within the decade. His fantastical and dramatic style of portrait photography was especially popular for commemorating the fancy dress balls, tableaux, and other social events favored by American high society. After abruptly closing his studio in 1893, Mora faded into obscurity and eventually died in 1926.

Access & Use

Access to the collection: The collection is open to the public, and there are no restrictions on access. However, the collection can only be seen by scheduled appointment.
Use of the materials: All researchers seeking to publish materials from the collections of the PSNC Archives and Special Collections are requested to contact the archivist, prior to reproducing, quoting, or otherwise publishing any portion or extract from this collection. Although the Preservation Society has physical ownership of the collection and the materials contained therein, it does not claim copyright ownership. It is up to the researcher to determine the owners of the copyright and to obtain any necessary permission from them.
Preferred citation: "Courtesy of the Preservation Society of Newport County"
Contact information: The Preservation Society of Newport County
424 Bellevue Avenue
Newport, RI 02840
Tel: 401-847-1000
amatyi@newportmansions.org

Administrative Information

ABOUT THE COLLECTION  
Acquisition: Album made at the request of Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt (later Alva Vanderbilt Belmont). Given by Alva V. Belmont to Harold S. Vanderbilt, who bequeathed it to the Preservation Society of Newport County upon his death in 1970. The bequest came into the Preservation Society in 1979.
ABOUT THE FINDING AID  
Encoding: Finding aid encoded by Angela Matyi, Digitization Archivist, 2021
Descriptive rules: Finding aid based on Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS).

Additional Information

Inventory


1883 Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball Album Photographs, 1883-1883
Box 1

Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man in Louis XVI costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.1
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Joseph Stone
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.2
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of H.B. Richardson as a brigand
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.3
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Roland Redmond as an Arnaut
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.4
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Bradley Martin as Mary Stuart
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.5
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed as a Knickerbocker
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.6
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Fernando Yznaga costumed as a bolero
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.7
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss Eleanor Hewitt as a Dutch maiden
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.8
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Paran Stevens as Queen Elizabeth
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.9
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.10
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss Leroy as Mme. Angot
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.11
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman as the Daughter of the Forest
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.12
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man as the four of clubs
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.13
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man in Bavarian costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.14
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Senator Alfred Wagstaff as Daniel Boone
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.15
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of J. Low Harriman as a Circassian prince
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.16
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of H.C. Dickinson in contemporary English court dress
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.17
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman in Russian costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.18
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed as a Huguenot
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.19
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed as a Huguenot
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.20
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed as a Knickerbocker
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.21
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of C. Stacy Clark in unidentified costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.22
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Frederick Harrison Baldwin
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.23
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed as a Hungarian Hussar
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.24
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss Pussie Breese as Frega, the Bride of the North
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.25
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Leonardo(?) de Monte
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.26
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss Frances Swan (later Mrs. Benjamin Welles), part of the Dresden Quadrille
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.27
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.28
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. W.D. Sloan (nee Emily Vanderbilt) dressed as Little Bo-Peep
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.29
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.30
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Lady Mandeville (nee Consuelo Yznaga) as Princess de Croy
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.31
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman as Lady Luck
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.32
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of John E. Cowdin as a member of the Dresden Quadrille
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.33
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man costumed for the Dresden Quadrille
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.34
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.35
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified man in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.36
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Alva E. Vanderbilt as a Venetian princess
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.37
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. Frederick Kernochan (nee Mary Stuart Whitney) as a witch
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.38
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Jean Turnure (later Mrs. John C. Mallory) costumed as an Egyptian princess
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.39
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. W.H. Vanderbilt
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.40
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.41
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss Elizabeth "Bessie" Ramsen Webb (later Mrs. George B. Parsons) as Mme. Le Diable
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.42
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Mrs. James Benkard as Carmen
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.43
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of an unidentified woman in costume
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.44
1883 March 26
Box 1 Photograph of Miss (Emily Marie) Lafarge as Diana
Accession Number: PSNCA.H.018.45
1883 March 26