Governor Upham and the Cleveland Diamond: Part II – The Jewel
By Kris Leonhardt
The story of the “Cleveland Diamond” begins on the continent of Africa in 1866. With the discovery of the diamond mines at Kimberley, South Africa, the De Beers mining company was created, and the modern diamond market was born.
As the diamonds were slowly excavated from the opulent ground, they were snatched up by the wealthy and those looking to make some serious money. Larger diamonds made news around the world and sent people clamoring to stake claim to them.
Seven years into De Beers’ operation, a 110-carat diamond was pulled from the mines. It was immediately purchased by a London group who locked it up for future financial gain. Though offered a great deal for the uncut diamond, for 11 years the group kept it safe in protective custody.
In 1884 the diamond would come into the hands of American diamond dealer David Dessau and his son Simon. As the Dessaus were having the diamond faceted, they struggled to find a signature name — as was common with the large diamonds debuting at that time.
“Father and I had a disturbance about it,” Simon was quoted saying to the New York Times. “He wanted to name it Cleveland before Cleveland was elected. I desired to call it Blaine.”
It was then decided that the winner of the presidential election should determine the name of the gem. The now 42 1-3-carat, multifaceted “Cleveland Diamond” would make its first appearance at the New Orleans Exhibition of 1884.
David Dessau would later meet John R. Rogers, who was touring with his wife, the actress Minnie Palmer. After loaning Dessau a sum of money, Rogers took possession of the diamond and used it to promote his wife’s new show “My Sweetheart.”
The yellow-colored diamond would then be adapted to be set in a brooch, breastpin, or pivot in the center of a revolving gold rose.
Later, looking to unload the large gem, Rogers devised a plan to gather friends and supporters in order to purchase the diamond and present it to President Grover Cleveland, but Cleveland would turn down the grand scheme as he feared it might be used against him.
When Rogers and Palmer fell upon hard times, the diamond was turned over to a New York bank to secure a loan. The pair later separated, and Rogers, once again, looked to unload the diamond.
Opportunity arose when planning began for an elaborate fair in New York to benefit the Actors’ Fund. Seeing a chance to repay the bank and turn a profit, Rogers offered up the Cleveland Diamond.
The bank then turned the gem over to the Fair board, which planned to sell 20,000 tickets at $1 apiece for a drawing involving three prizes with the diamond being the top prize. The bank would then receive the $4,000 owed with Rogers and the Actors’ Fund dividing the remainder.
During the event, tickets sold quickly, but it was apparent the 20,000-ticket goal would not be reached. Organizers then settled on selling 10,000, which required them to purchase the remaining tickets.
Public disapproval arose when the ticket drawn belonged to the Actors’ Fund committee. In order to handle the sensitive situation, it was determined that the diamond should be auctioned off.
It would take one year for organizers to announce the sale, but in May of 1893, as the country prepared to host the Chicago World’s Fair, the New York Times announced the diamond would finally be sold, but would it?
Next week: Part III – The Windy City