Art of the Automobile

21 November 2013

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Lot 140

1892 Brewster Park Drag

  • Coach no. 19407

Sold for $253,000

  • A masterpiece of functional fine art from the Victorian Age
  • Vanderbilt livery: “A dash of burgundy mixed with plum”
  • Built for Vanderbilt family members Hamilton and Florence Twombly
  • Documented history from the day it was built

“You’re the top; you’re a Brewster body.” When Cole Porter wrote those lyrics in 1934, Brewster & Company was almost more than a century old. Having been established in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1810, it predated the automobile by a full eight decades, and it was known as America’s leading coachbuilder to America’s finest families. In those days, of course, people of means traveled between and within cities in bespoke coaches and carriages that were built to their demanding specifications and tastes. It was those same early coachbuilders, both in the United States and overseas, that frequently made the successful transition from traditional “coachbuilding” to motor cars. As a result, names like Vanden Plas, Mulliner, Park Ward, and Brewster have adorned automobiles for many years.

The Park Drag presented here was precisely the sort of carriage favored by those families for formal occasions, be it a night at the theater, a wedding, or another such celebratory event where the arrival of an elegant carriage would certainly have made a statement. The Park Drag, which was a lighter and more elegant version of Brewster’s Road Coach, was the 19th century equivalent to a stretch limousine; it had four well-matched carriage horses, which were driven from a rooftop seat by the liveried chauffeur, and the passengers rode snugly within the enclosed carriage in enclosed comfort. This was the vehicle in which wealthy men and women arrived at Delmonico’s and the original Madison Square Garden during the Gilded Age.

This particular carriage was ordered from Brewster in February 1892 by wealthy New York business executive Hamilton McKown Twombly. Born to a shipping merchant, raised in Boston, and a graduate from Harvard, Twombly joined one fortune after another when, in 1877, he married railroad heiress Florence Adele Vanderbilt. Together, in the spirit of the times, they maintained a residence in New York, on Fifth Avenue of course, as well as “cottages” in the country, which included Vinland at Newport and Florham in Morristown, New Jersey. Florham was but a short trip on the “Millionaires Express” from New York City, and it is unlikely that Twombly ever needed to buy a ticket, as his in-laws owned the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad.

It was at Florham that this Park Drag was put into use, after its delivery on June 10, 1892. Florham was nothing short of spectacular, as it was built in the finest styles of the Gilded Age, by one of America’s preeminent architectural firms, McKim, Mead, and White, with the creative input of the landscape designer Olmsted Associates. Of the 1,200 acres the estate encompassed, an extraordinary 150 acres were transformed by Frederick Law Olmsted into a sprawling park of lawn, terraces, and formal gardens. The 100-room mansion, itself Georgian Revival by design, overlooked the gardens. An orangery, 10 greenhouses, a gate lodge, and a carriage house completed the design. The carriage house, in fact, contained 40 horses and several carriages, including this one.

The carriage would greet its master at the train station with his daughter Ruth, who was an expert horsewoman, capable of driving four-in-hand; she would be accompanied by two uniformed footmen and a postillion, the latter the left-hand horse of the leading team.

No doubt it glistened then, as it does today, in its color of the House of Vanderbilt, which Mrs. Twombly described as “a dash of burgundy mixed with plum,” with pinstriping in vermillion. The coach’s fabrics were chosen especially for the purpose, and the woodwork was specified as “heavier than usual.” A “boot” compartment at the rear opened from the top, forming a picnic table for house parties and social and sporting events that the active Twomblys favored. Two tin-lined solid cherry boxes held wine bottles and glasses, while a wicker basket carried canes and umbrellas.

For 18 years, the Park Drag remained in faithful service to the Twombly and Vanderbilt families at Florham. With the advent of the motor car, it was replaced in the carriage house by a fleet of no less than six Rolls-Royces, which were finished in the same lovely colors. As the Great Depression took its toll on the home, as it did on most large estates, the Park Drag was finally parted with in the mid-1930s. It was acquired directly from the Twomblys by The Stables, one of Washington, D.C.’s most prominent restaurants during the FDR years. In the care of noted Washington stable master Francis Hannan, the coach regularly appeared on the streets of the capital, carrying well-connected dinner patrons between the city’s finest hotels and the front door of The Stables. Becoming something of a D.C. landmark in its own right, the coach was reportedly utilized in four presidential inaugural parades.

When The Stables finally ceased to use the Park Drag, it was restored to its original condition by Robert Kaetzel and Michael Dixon, of Brownsville, Maryland, following research undertaken by Dr. H.K. Sowles, former secretary-treasurer of the Carriage Association. It then became the centerpiece of exhibits at the Rose Hill Manor Carriage Museum in Frederick, Maryland, before its acquisition by the present owner, a prominent collector of Brewster-built vehicles, a quarter century ago.

The Park Drag has been fully reconditioned for reliable use, including the installation of new bearings and a full inspection and service, and it has made appearances in Newport, in support of the preservation of the renowned Cliff Walk “cottages,” including the Twomblys’ own Vinland. Vinland has now become McAuley Hall, part of Salve Regina University, while Florham, where the Park Drag once served, is owned by Fairleigh Dickson University, in what is now called Florham Park, New Jersey.

These great American castles are now largely inaccessible to the public, and they are certainly not available for sale. The carriage that served them, and a great American family, is an artifact of the Twombly and Vanderbilt legacies, and therefore, it is an evocative part of New York social history. This Park Drag of Florham is offered in New York City with considerable pride of place.

This lot will be offered on a Bill of Sale.


Please note that this lot is subject to 15% buyer's premium.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

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Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

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Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more