Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955) the adopted son of railroad tycoon Collis Huntington, and the assistance of his wife Anna helped to influence and advance the field of Hispanic studies in the United States in founding the Hispanic Society of America and American Numismatic Society. The two more than any others during the first half of this century and today is considered one of the world’s most important.
Upon inheriting his father’s vast wealth, Huntington determined to support the arts. “Whenever I set my foot down,” Huntington later commented, “a museum sprung up.” Or, in the case of Audubon Terrace, several museums.
Hispanic Society of America
The Hispanic Society of America (pictured above before the Numismatic museum was built) was founded on May 18, 1904. Archer Milton Huntington developed Audubon Terrace as a cultural center, offering the land to other cultural institutions and frequently subsidizing the construction of their buildings. The Hispanic Society first opened its door in 1908 at the Beaux-Arts building on Audubon Terrace. Audubon Terrace, the block between 155th and 156th Streets west of Broadway in Harlem was originally part of a farm belonging to the painter and naturalist, John James Audubon (his home is pictured in Harlem around 1840′s below as part of Minniesland).
Under Huntington’s direct supervision, the Hispanic Society published more than 200 monographs by the Society’s curators and internationally noted scholars on virtually all facets of Hispanic culture. With over 800 paintings, 6,000 water colors, 1,000 sculptures, more than 6,000 textiles, iron works, jewelry, 15,000 prints, over 150,000 photographs and thousands of rare coins.
From its inception, the Hispanic Society has held important exhibitions beginning in 1909 with Spanish master from Francesca Goya, El Greco to painter Sorolla which was inaugurated in 1926.
The library offers unrivaled resources for researchers interested in the
history and culture of Spain, Portugal and their colonies, with
more than 250,000 books and periodicals, including 15,000
volumes printed before 1701, along with approximately 200,000
manuscripts from the twelfth century to the present.
The comprehensive collection of textiles, one of the finest in the world, attests to the richness of this art in the Iberian Peninsula from the Arab rule to the early twentieth century.
Huntington spoke to the Numismatic Society in 1906 offering to purchase land and build for the society the first museum and library devoted to the study and history of numismatics. The American Numismatic Museum would boast the singular distinction of being the only museum in existence devoted to numismatics1 while containing the largest collection of coins, medals and paper money in the United States. Its library would hold the largest reference collection devoted to numismatics.
Completed in 1907, the building for the American Numismatic Society was designed by Charles P. Huntington, Archer’s cousin, in the same Beaux-Arts style as the Hispanic Society. The frieze along the top of the Numismatic Society is inscribed with the names of distinguished numismatics scholars and collectors, and attests to the long and prestigious history of numismatics.
For centuries no type of object was more highly valued by collectors than numismatics. The inscriptions, emblems, and portraits on coins and medals enabled the study of history. The intrinsic value of the precious metals from which they were made, gold, silver and others, of course also added to their appeal. When it was built, the Numismatic Society was one of the first reinforced concrete structures in America. Later, in 1929, Huntington gave additional financial support to construct an addition that doubled the facility’s size.
The Audubon Terrace
The Terrace itself began as the brainchild of Archer M. Huntington. Four cultural and historical gems reside within the Audubon Terrace at Broadway and 155th Street: Trinity Cemetery, the Church of the Intercession, the Hispanic Society of America (far left), and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (formerly housed the Numismatic Society).
Photo credits: 1). The Hispanic Society (l) and Numismatic Society (r) as they appeared in 1908. The main entrance was then on 156th Street, seen in the foreground here. 2). Early photo of the the Hispanic Society of America before the Numismatic Society was added. 3). The John James Audubon home. 4) The Numismatic Society. 5). The Audubon Terrace.
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