In the basement of Pebble Hill’s Main House there are three large silver vaults. Each is a walk-in repository about the size of a comfortably large laundry room. Two of these vaults have been accessible since Pebble Hill opened as a museum and are used to store antique toys and other odds and ends. For the third, however, no combination was available and it proved to be impossible to crack. So it sat there, the unopened vault, about which nothing was known other than “it was Parker’s vault.” (Parker Poe, Miss Pansy’s husband)
Wallace Goodman recently found a gentleman who, after four days of intense labor, managed to get the vault unlocked. A few members of the Pebble Hill staff gathered nearby in the hallway and held their breaths with excited anticipation as the heavy door swung back for the first time since the early 1980s. Those gathered were not disappointed. The vault was configured for wine storage and wine was still stored there. A trunk and a few boxes revealed glints of silver wrapped in tissue paper. Some old check registers and a few other bits completed the initial survey. A whole new chapter opened in the search for the history of Pebble Hill and the marvelous people who lived here.
At Pebble Hill, 4:00 o’clock tea time was a more significant event for teetotaler Miss Pansy than the 7:00 p.m. cocktail hour. In fact, the cocktail hour was only 30 minutes in length. Pansy’s husband, the quintessential southern gentleman Parker Poe, took responsibility for stocking the appropriate ingredients for the variety of cocktails requested by guests and selecting the proper fine wines for the table.
The wine remaining in Parker’s vault includes bottles from the best-known and most highly acclaimed French vineyards. The collection includes bottles from such well-recognized first growth wineries as Château Lafite Rothschild and Château Mouton Rothschild. Bourbon appears to have been favored over scotch, and a number of bottles remain still packaged in the distiller’s colorful holiday containers.
Miss Pansy’s love of riding is well known. Early in her riding career she often rode with the Chagrin Valley Hunt and participated in the Chagrin Valley Hunt Horse Show. The Chagrin Valley Hunt Club is located in the exclusive Cleveland, Ohio suburb of Gates Mills. Some of the earliest photographs of Miss Pansy picture her as a winning contestant in the Chagrin Valley Hunt Horse Show. The show was always her favorite, and she participated for nearly sixty years. The vault contained a number of silver mint julep cups bearing the distinctive logo of the hunt club. Many are engraved with the name of a winning horse. Cups date from the 1930s when Pansy was the rider; others have later dates that are from the period when Ellie Wood Keith Baxter was showing horses owned by Pansy.
Why were these cups, awarded to Pansy and her horses, in Parker’s vault? Most likely they were stored there for protection between the times that they were used to serve mint juleps on special occasions. Derby Day might be a day when the cups were brought out.
Southern gentlemen are genteel hosts, sportsmen, and quite often collectors. Parker’s vault contained some very interesting antique silver flatware. Dorothy Cobb, Thomasville resident and independent art historian, concluded: “The vault contained a treasure of silver spanning several different periods of American silver manufacture. The earliest pieces are known as “American coin silver,” which is named for the raw material used by early American silversmiths to create usable objects for daily use or special display. Mr. Poe’s collection includes a lovely set of seven spoons with a “sheaf of wheat” design made by Rufus Farnam. Other interesting pieces include a set of 19th century English forks made in Sheffield, England and later personalized with the Poe family initials flanking an engraved evergreen tree, a symbol of hope and immortality. Each piece of silver in this remarkable collection offers a glimpse into a particular time, a specific maker, and a unique social culture for which it was made. Mr. Poe’s pieces also introduce us to the world of the 20th century collector with a balance of personal taste and cultural attitude.
The items found in Parker’s Vault will be on display in Pebble Hill’s Lifestyles Gallery starting February 25th. The exhibit reflects the coordinated efforts of several local experts. The Pebble Hill staff thanks Dorothy Cobb for sharing her extensive knowledge of silver. Nick Bottka, Joe and Jay Harvard provided information about the wine and liquor.