J.D. PARKS BUILT HIS COLLECTION BASED ON UNIQUE NARRATIVES, IMPORTANT PIECES THAT REPRESENT ‘MOMENTS IN HISTORY’
By Karen Rigdon
A fortuitous afternoon stop at the Battleground Antiques Show in Franklin, Tenn., brought J.D. Parks into contact with silver dealer Michael Weaver. “Michael took all the time in the world to talk to me about silver,” Parks recalls. “He was enthusiastic, kind and outgoing. The seed was sown!”
SILVER & VERTU SIGNATURE® AUCTION 8015
Featuring Presentation & Trophy Silver from the Collection of J.D. Parks
Nov. 17, 2020
Pieces from the Presentation & Trophy Silver Collection of J.D. Parks will be previewed at Heritage New York Oct. 20-22, 2020, by appointment only.
So started Parks’ fascination with silver.
Parks had taken time off from his family’s business in 2000 to slow down and see the world. Weaver shepherded him into the world of silver collecting, and over the next 20 years, Parks created one of the greatest collections of American Presentation and Trophy silver.
Parks’ collecting story began as a young boy, watching his father Owen’s passion for antiques. His father frequently included the family in his collecting adventures. They took road trips to search out treasures, and the repeated stories of those quests became the family legends that molded him.
At 17, Parks made his first independent step as a collector when the opportunity arose to acquire a log cabin. In much the same spirit as his father, the cabin had to be acquired. With his passion ignited, he planned and brought friends together to disassemble the log cabin, load it onto a flatbed, and store it on the property of a family friend. Months passed, preparation was made to leave home for college, and after determining he needed to dispose of the cabin, he placed an ad in the Nashville newspaper.
The material was easily and effectively sold after receiving numerous responses. With money in hand and a list of potential clients, Parks was motivated. He continued acquiring and selling cabins through his college years. After graduation, he focused on growing the family electronics business and branching out into the area of information technology, with great success.
Twenty years passed before his unexpected introduction to silver.
From Weaver, Parks learned that silver speaks, and has stories to tell. His collecting initially focused on 18th and 19th century English silver. He increasingly sought out examples with unique narratives, and learned how to “read” silver, first learning how to identify the marks of the silversmiths. As his collection grew, he delved deeper into the story, identifying the patrons who commissioned the works and the families and individuals who were honored through engraved inscriptions. “Each piece,” he says, “presented a microcosm of a moment in history.”
Convinced that English silver reflected his growing passion, Parks was caught off guard when he was challenged to consider collecting American silver. “I pushed the thought aside,” he says, “as there was no competing with the splendor of pieces I was buying, which had endless provenance.” At the same time, his interests expanded beyond what his network of dealers could provide. In conversation with a well-established antiques dealer in Nashville, Parks was introduced to catalogs from major auction houses. This was the next major turning point for Parks as he learned that the finest silver objects ever created were sometimes available to the public through auction.
He continued growing his collection of English silver, buying regularly at auction, until the moment he spotted a dramatic American silver urn-shaped vase with bifurcated dolphin-form handles and draped with a wreath of laurel leaves. The vase was further elaborated with an intricate acid-etched scene of triumphant mermaids and mermen before ancient vessels. Much like his experience with that first log cabin, Parks had to have this vase. He ended up winning the item in a 2005 Christie’s auction, paying more for the vase than he’d ever spent or expected to spend on silver.
Shortly after this purchase, a letter arrived in the mail from the auction house requesting a loan of the newly acquired trophy for an upcoming exhibition at Florida’s Flagler Museum, Tiffany Silver at the Columbian Exposition, curated by John Blades of the Flagler Museum and John Loring, design director at Tiffany & Co.
To his surprise, Parks learned that the cup was displayed at the Columbian Exposition, the great world’s fair that took place in Chicago in 1893. Soon, he also learned that the cup he had to have, because of its beauty, was considered historically important. The cup was made by the most important of late 19th century American silver producers, Tiffany & Co., and bears the inscription Goelet Cup 1892. Ogden Goelet, a wealthy Gilded Age New York City yachtsman and landowner (second only to the Astors), commissioned the cup for the annual races in August off the coast of Newport, R.I., held during the New York Yacht Club cruise. It is one in a series of magnificent cups commissioned by Goelet from 1883 until his death in 1897.
The purchase of the 1892 Goelet Cup was significant and marks the point where Parks became a serious collector of American Presentation and Trophy Silver. He discovered that this category had all the traits he sought and more. Late 19th century American silversmiths were recognized as the greatest in the world. The stars of the Gilded Age, with their storied lives, were the patrons, and it was fashionable to memorialize great events and great lives with specially commissioned silver. In addition, his first major purchase brought with it an awareness of world fairs, which showcased the best the world had to offer. American silver, while lacking a 300-year history, had rich stories to tell.
Since that first purchase, Parks sold his English collection at auction to focus on American Presentation and Trophy silver. Now, 15 years later, these important pieces from the collection of J.D. Parks are scheduled to be offered Nov. 17, 2020 at Heritage Auctions.
A second Goelet Cup in Parks’ collection is the 1893 Goelet Cup for schooners. The cup is monumental in scale with majestic sweeping movement created by the intertwined seaweed-draped mermaid and dolphin supporting a shell-form cup, fluted in waves cresting in a seafoam rim. This trophy was presented Sept. 11 to the schooner Lasca, owned by John E. Brooks (of Brooks Brothers fame, and responsible for bringing button-down collars into vogue in America). The race itself was challenging as the breeze died out, not picking up even into the night. Of the nine starters in the schooner class, only two crossed the finish line.
One week later on Aug. 17, as a continuation of the New York Yacht Club cruises, another race was held for those yachts attempting to defend the America’s Cup in September. John Jacob Astor II commissioned two cups for the two-day race. One cup was offered for the first day’s winner, and one for the winner of the second day’s race. If not the same yacht, they raced a third day, and the winner took both cups. The Heritage auction includes one of the two cups won that day. This magnificent trophy with figureheads rising from an undulating form of swirling seagrass fronds bears an acid-etched inscription mimicking the waves; ASTOR CUPS WON BY to one side, and the other NEWPORT, RI 1893.
The two days could not have offered a better test for the contenders, with storms the first day followed by calms on the second. The yacht Vigilant was the winner, crossing the finish line on the second day 25 minutes and 18 seconds ahead of the Pilgrim. As anticipated, Vigilant went on to win the America’s Cup that year as well.
The story behind each trophy and presentation piece is unique, encouraging research, travel and even a little sleuthing. “It has been an honor to care for these silver masterpieces commissioned by the legends of the Gilded Age for events and people who impacted their lives.”
Living with these pieces has inspired Parks.
“The time has come to part ways with these old friends,” he says. “It’s exciting to think of where they may go next, who might be privileged to ‘hear’ their stories, care for them and appreciate them as have I and their previous owners. My world is opening to areas of reinvention, and setting parts of the past aside will make space for change.”
It is now time to release, and in doing so, each piece will continue its unique history in the hands of a new owner.
KAREN RIGDON is director of fine silver and decorative arts at Heritage Auctions.
This article appears in the Fall 2020 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.