The art of building a fortune lies not so much in making it as in keeping it. This maxim was doubtless embossed in 22-karat letters on the Moroccan-leather heart of Hamilton McKown Twombly, a very correct 19th-century Bostonian and Harvard man possessed of a keen financial mind, a gift for money management, an affinity for railroad stocks and real estate, and an inheritance of $20 million. Grave of manner and far too sober a gentleman to flit off to Europe on his graduation to while away the warm days of youth on the golden waters of the Aegean or in the gardens of France, as did many men of leisure who were his contemporaries, Twombly instead indulged his taste for hard figures and cool calculations, taking a position with William H. Vanderbilt, president of the New York Central Railroad. Twombly’s talents so impressed the patriarch that the older man entrusted him with the management of many of the family’s vast assets—including his daughter, Florence, whom Hamilton married in 1877.
Twombly was the poster boy for pecuniary prudence, the prototype, in a sense, for today’s wealth managers. Over the proceeding decades, Twombly would be called upon by the family for advice in every crisis, working tirelessly—and, ultimately, in vain—to preserve his father-in-law’s $200 million estate, which, after Vanderbilt’s death, gradually succumbed to the majestic excesses of his heirs. Fortunately for Florence—whose tastes were no more democratic than those of her siblings—Twombly’s fiscal ingenuity enabled her, for 98 years, to enjoy her cailles en sarcophage and eat it too. The Twomblys’ combined worth, at the time of their marriage, was reputedly $70 million, which yielded an income exceeding $3 million per year. This allowance provided generously for the upkeep of a mansion at 684 Fifth Ave., a “cottage” called Vinland in Newport, R.I., and Florham, the couple’s 1,000-acre estate near Morristown, N.J., for which the firm of McKim, Mead and White designed a 110-room manor house in the style of Christopher Wren’s addition to Hampton Court. These necessities would eventually crimp the standards of Florence’s brothers and sisters (even her sister-in-law would be forced eventually to sell Cornelius Vanderbilt’s $2 million art collection for a mere $325,000), whereas Hamilton’s shrewd planning permitted his wife to prolong her queenly existence well past the days of the Depression. Twombly seems even to have passed on to his wife some of his own business acumen: Prior to her own death, she gifted to each of her two daughters $7.5 million in order to avoid the ravages of a recently imposed inheritance tax. But her daughter and principal heir took no such precautions: Of the $22 million constituting Ruth Twombly’s estate in 1954, a staggering $18,360,000 went to taxes, leaving insufficient funds to pay out the nominal donations bequeathed in her will to charity.
Thus, in one generation, was a fortune (and a way of life) wiped out—not through calamity, but through a stroke of the political pen. Worse, of course, can happen: Many a fortune, along with its owner, has been wiped out by a stroke of the political sword. One may rest certain in the knowledge that Hamilton McKown Twombly would have defended the family purse worthily against either attack. Although our pages concern themselves most often with the spending of money (if not always on a scale with which Florence and family would have deemed appropriate), a fair number of those in our July 2003 issue are devoted to the subject of protecting what hard work and generations have built. “Preserving Your Family’s Wealth,” page 73, asks four top wealth managers to examine the challenges confronting four different families, and to provide insights on how these individuals can avoid the sort of fiduciary calamities visited upon the Twombly tribe. We like to think Mr. Twombly, ever vigilant, would have approved.
Corrections The charter price given for the Languedoc, France, region’s Roi Soleil barge (book through the Barge Lady, 800.880.0071, www.thebargelady.com) in “A Grand Tour of Grapes: Wine Countries for All Seasons” in the May 2003 issue was incorrect. The correct price is $27,000.
The phone number given for Riva in Best of the Best Speedboats in the June 2003 issue was incorrect. The correct number is 954.618.0440, which will put you in contact with Emarine, the exclusive Riva dealer in the United States.
The price range given for Marquis Jet Partners (866.JET.1400, www.marquisjet.com) in Best of the Best Flight Services in the June 2003 issue was incorrect. The correct price range for 25 flight hours is from $109,900 to $299,900, depending on the type of aircraft.