The Cleveland Museum of Art's fabled India Early Minshall Fabergé collection almost missed becoming part of the museum's permanent collection! In 1958, Director William M. Milliken, declined India Early Minshall's invitation to view her Fabergé collection as a possible gift to the Museum.1
When Sherman E. Lee became director in 1958, he visited Mrs. Minshall to view the collection, as did the curator of decorative arts, Henry Hawley. After the visit an agreement was reached and the museum accepted the Fabergé collection. A handwritten note in the CMA Archives from Mrs. Minshall to Sherman Lee discussing the credit line for her gift is transcribed below:
Jan 4th [1964?]
Dear Dr. Lee:
Thank you so much for your note and I think the credit line should be Mrs. India Early Minshall-might as well use the whole thing I suppose- I hope you and your family had a happy holiday and I am sure you did, and I have thrown out the last bit of holly and the last Santa has been put away for another year.
In addition to the Fabergé objects, Mrs. Minshall collected other Russian artifacts which were not of interest to the Cleveland Museum of Art, but were accepted by the Western Reserve Historical Society.
India Early Minshall (1885–1965) was born in Columbus, Ohio, the daughter of Lewis Mortimer Early, a successful physician and his wife, Lulu Bell Early. In 1906 she married Thaddeus Ellis Minshall, who became a financially successful businessman. By 1920 the Minshalls had moved to Cleveland, where Mr. Minshall founded the Pocahontas Oil Company. He sold the company in 1928 and died in 1930.
Both the Minshalls were interested in pre-revolutionary Russian history and artifacts and amassed a library devoted to these subjects. However, it wasn't until Mr. Minshall's death that India began collecting Russian art and objects. Her first Fabergé object, a rhodonite clock, was purchased in 1937 for $250.00 from Hammer Galleries in New York.2 She continued to collect Russian art and artifacts, including a Fabergé enamel tea service.
In March 1943, she purchased the famed Imperial Red Cross Egg for $4,400.00.3 Mrs. Minshall continued to collect Fabergé, buying from the Hammer Galleries and A La Vieille Russie, both in New York City. She eventually acquired eighteen Fabergé objects including a green jade presentation box and several flower and animal pieces.
In 1954, she purchased from A La Vieille Russie, what Henry Hawley, the museum's former curator of decorative arts, called "perhaps the finest in the collection, a miniature bidet from the Wigström workshop."4 Mrs. Minshall continued to purchase Fabergé objects until 1961, when her collecting ceased.
India Early Minshall lived comfortably in Wade Park Manor, where CMA director William Milliken also lived. Photographs of her apartment and her collections of Russian objects show the collection in-situ. Prior to her death in 1965, a catalogue of her collection of Fabergé objects was privately printed. The lavish publication documents the entire collection, and is now part of the Ingalls Library's Rare Book Collection.
Upon her death in 1965 her estate, including the collection of art and artifacts, was valued at approximately $1.5 million (approximately $9.7 million in 2008). An article from The Cleveland Press provides us with details of Mrs. Minshall's estate:
"Because of India Early Minshall's passion for exquisite Fabergé objects, visitors to the Cleveland Museum of Art continue to be enchanted with the beauty and artistry of the pieces she so carefully collected."
1. Winsor French, "This Jewel Collection is a Gem," The Cleveland Press, April 4, 1967.
2. Hawley, Henry, "India Early Minshall: Portrait Sketch of a Russophile," in Fabergé in America, ed. Géza von Habsburg (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), pp. 92-99.
3. Hawley, Henry, "India Early Minshall: Portrait Sketch of a Russophile," in Fabergé in America, ed. Géza von Habsburg (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1996), p. 96.
4. Minshall, India Early, Fabergé: From the Collection of India Minshall (Cleveland, OH, 1965).