Treasures: Miniature painting may have belonged to prominent philanthropist


Dear Helaine and Joe:

I purchased this miniature painting at a local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store for a penny. I love it and hope you can tell me more about its history.

Thank you,

A. R.

Dear A. R.:

A penny for our thoughts we understand. But a penny for a painting encased in an elaborate frame is a bit more than we can comprehend in these times. To be sure, religious paintings such as this one depicting Mary holding the baby Jesus are not hot sellers, but a penny does seem like an extremely low price.

This is a small painting on an oval porcelain plaque in a curlicued brass frame that is European in origin. We would speculate it was probably made in Germany (our first choice) or Italy (the runner-up). We feel the piece was probably purchased around the turn of the 20th century by a person on the tour of Europe.

More specifically, we think it was purchased near one of the great Gothic cathedrals in Germany, Italy or perhaps even France as a souvenir of a visit to a spiritually significant place by a devout individual. But who? Luckily, in this case we have a clue that leads us to a theory.

On the back of the painting is written, “W. H. McCurdy, 206 Worthington, Wyoming,” and this leads us to some conclusions. At first the word “Wyoming” made us think of the square state north of Colorado. But we think it refers to the town of Wyoming, Ohio, which is a suburb of Cincinnati.

If this is the case, it follows that “W. H. McCurdy” might be the rather famous industrialist William Harvey McCurdy, who is associated with Cincinnati and later Evansville, Indiana. McCurdy (1853-1930) moved to Cincinnati in 1889 and became secretary of the Favorite Buggy Company.

McCurdy met Julius Rosenwald, whose firm Rosenwald and Weil supplied Sears, Roebuck with men’s clothing. With Rosenwald’s financing, McCurdy founded the Brighton Buggy Company, which became an important supplier of farm wagons and buggies to Sears.

With the help of Rosenwald and Sears, the company was so successful McCurdy had to build a new manufacturing facility. He chose Evansville for the location, and the Hercules Buggy Company was formed. McCurdy has been called Evansville’s first modern industrialist, and he was involved with everything from truck bodies and gas engines to refrigeration units, farm tractors, hotels and trolley car companies.

But he is also remembered today for his philanthropy, including significant financial donations to help the struggling Evansville College (now Evansville University). McCurdy is something of a national figure, and if this small anonymous painting is not associated with him, the insurance value would be in the $200 to $300 range. With this association, the price should double and might be of interest to the Evansville Museum.

Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson have written a number of books on antiques. Do you have an item you’d like to know more about? Contact them at Joe Rosson, 2504 Seymour Ave., Knoxville, TN 37917, or email them at [email protected]. If you’d like your question to be considered for their column, please include a high-resolution photo of the subject, which must be in focus, with your inquiry.

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