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Altman, Benjamin (12 July 1840–07 October 1913), merchant and art collector, was born in New York, New York, the son of Philip Altman, a dry goods merchant, and Cecilia (maiden name unknown). His father, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria who had come to the United States in 1835, operated a small dry goods store named Altman & Co. on Third Avenue near Tenth Street. Young Altman worked with his brother Morris in his father’s shop in the afternoons. He left school at the age of twelve to work there full time and later held a variety of sales jobs with other dry goods shops in New York City and in Newark, New Jersey. When his father died in 1854, Altman and his brother took over the store, changing its name to Altman Bros. The business prospered, and by 1865 they moved to Third Avenue and Tenth Street; they moved again to a larger building on Sixth Avenue between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Streets in 1870. Morris left the business but remained a partner, and when he died in 1876, Altman became sole owner, later changing the name of the firm to B. Altman & Co....

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Albert C. Barnes Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 102 P&P).

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Barnes, Albert Coombs (02 January 1872–24 July 1951), collector, educator, and entrepreneur, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of John Jesse Barnes, a butcher, and Lydia A. Schafer. Barnes’s father lost his right arm in the Civil War, and his ability to support his family proved sporadic. However, Albert’s mother, to whom he was devoted, was hardworking and resourceful. Among his most vivid childhood memories were the exuberant black religious revivals and camp meetings he attended with his devout Methodist parents. Accepted at the academically demanding Central High School, which awarded bachelor’s degrees, his early interest in art was stimulated by his friendship with the future artist ...

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Gilcrease, Thomas (08 February 1890–06 May 1962), oilman and art collector, was born William Thomas Gilcrease in Robeline, Louisiana, the son of William Lee Gilcrease and Mary Elizabeth Vowell, farmers. When Tom was an infant, the family moved to Indian Territory where his mother, who was one-quarter Creek, was entitled to live. As the eldest of fourteen children, Gilcrease grew up working on the family farm and attending school only sporadically. In 1896, when the federal government ordered the Five Civilized Tribes to compile membership rolls in preparation for an allotment of land, Gilcrease became an official member of the Creek tribe by virtue of his one-eighth blood heritage. In 1899 he was awarded his 160-acre plot of land. It proved an immensely lucky piece of property. Located twenty miles south of Tulsa, the land was in the middle of the Glenn Pool, one of the most profitable oil fields in Oklahoma....

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Solomon R. Guggenheim With one of his daughters on the deck of the Aquitania. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-75062).

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Guggenheim, Solomon Robert (02 February 1861–03 November 1949), industrialist, art collector, and museum founder, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Meyer Guggenheim, businessman, and Barbara Meyer, Swiss immigrants who had accompanied their parents to Philadelphia in 1847 to escape restrictions on Jews in their native land. By the time of Solomon’s birth, the family had prospered, its good fortune hastened by Meyer’s shrewdness in providing clothing and food supplies for the Union Army during the Civil War. After attending public school in Philadelphia, Solomon was sent to the Concordia Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, to polish his German and study business techniques. Together with his brothers Isaac, Daniel, and Murry, he became a partner in M. Guggenheim’s Sons, the family lace and embroideries manufacturing and importing company (1877; incorp. 1882), and remained in Europe as manager of a branch of the family business in Saxony. The four brothers became the masterminds behind the Guggenheim empire....

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Reed, Luman (04 June 1785–07 June 1836), merchant, art collector, and art patron, was born at Green River (now Austerlitz), in Columbia County, New York, the son of Eliakim Reed II and Rebecca Fitch, farmers. The family lived in Connecticut until Reed’s father bought a New York farm in 1779. In 1792 they moved to nearby Coxsackie, where Reed attended a district school. There, in partnership with his cousin Roswell Reed, his father opened a store for the sale of agricultural produce and dry goods, in which Luman Reed worked after school; when his father sold the business, Reed worked for the new owner, Ralph Barker. In 1808 Reed married Barker’s sister Mary (known as Polly); the couple had two children....