New Book on Huntingtons’ Wealth, Collecting & Philanthropy

SAN MARINO, Calif. — If Downton Abbey had been an American country house, this family might have inhabited it. A groundbreaking new book about to be released by the Huntington Library Press, the publishing arm of The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, provides powerful new insights into the lives, remarkable wealth, collecting, and philanthropy of the Huntington family during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The book examines the life of four Huntingtons: Railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900); his widow, Arabella (1850-1924); her son, Archer (1870-1955); and Collis’ nephew Henry Edwards Huntington (1850-1927), who subsequently married Arabella and went on to create the institution bearing his name.

The Art of Wealth: The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age, by Shelley M. Bennett, former curator of European art and senior research associate at The Huntington, is slated for wide release in early May, with an author speaking tour scheduled for the United States and Britain.

“Initially, the story seemed to be about four very different individuals, their money, tastes, and proclivities,” says Bennett. “But over time, in unearthing new material we weren’t aware of, including important correspondence among them, it became a heavily interwoven narrative.  This was one amazing family—even as they were so very independent from one another, they held a remarkably consistent set of values out of which emerged a powerful sense of ambition, responsibility, and, finally, legacy.”

Illustrated with more than 200 photographs, many never before published, the compelling narrative of The Art of Wealth challenges much of the previous literature on the four, particularly Archer and Arabella.

Bennett, an art historian by training, writes sweepingly about the Huntingtons’ art acquisitions along the way, the purchasing and building of large and lavish homes, luxurious travel, and, ultimately, each of their desires to leave something significant behind. While scholarly in intent, the book also reads as a fast-moving family drama.  It provides riveting details about Arabella’s monumental rags-to-riches rise and American high society’s unwillingness to accept her into it; Henry and Arabella’s prenuptial agreement; and the extent to which he, and his uncle before him, worked to please the woman at the center of it all. 

This is the first time the lives of all four Huntingtons and their combined legacies have been examined. Moreover, says Steve Koblik, Huntington president, “It’s also an examination of the development of American society and high culture in a period of substantial turbulence and growth. Their stories form a spectacular prism through which we get to see the history of a time—at once fascinating, horrifying, dynamic, and complex. There is much to learn here.” The backdrop is indeed dramatic—it spans the U.S. Civil War, the industrialization of America, the decline of the European economy, and World War I.


About the book

The Art of Wealth: The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age

350 pages, hardback with 220 illus. (b/w/ and color), 8 1/2 by 11 in. 

Publication date: April 10, 2013; List price: $40.00  hardcover

Huntington Library Press

1151 Oxford Rd. San Marino, CA  91108 USA

About The Huntington

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be found online at


The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Rd., San Marino, Calif., 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles.