Mrs Sylvester and the Fabergé-furnished Rolls-Royce

The Plaza Hotel in New York has become a bit of a legendary place since Alfred G. Vanderbilt was the first guest to sign the hotel’s register in 1907. It was here that Truman Capote had his infamous soirées organized; that The Beatles wrote Michelle and that Miles Davis recorded an album. Numerous movies have been filmed or set here, from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest to The Great Gatsby, while the number of famous guests is countless.

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1927 Rolls-Royce 20hp Panel Brougham de Ville

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But how about Mrs. A.L. Sylvester? We couldn’t find anything on her while she must have been a real prominent lodger of the Plaza, no doubt to one of the hotel’s 102 suites. We came across her name while browsing the online catalogue for Bonhams’s Goodwood sale on the 17th of this month. Mrs. Sylvester is named as the first owner of a Rolls-Royce, which is on offer: a 20hp Panel Brougham de Ville of 1927 with some striking features. Striped paintwork in black and a red hue named ‘Dutch Pink’ to start with, but also nickel silver plated brightwork, silk fold-down blinds and silver and enamel door furniture attributed to Fabergé - famous for designing the elaborate jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs for the Russian Tsars.

From the seller’s write-up: “Sold new in rolling chassis form on 31st January 1927 to Mrs A L Sylvester, a resident of the Plaza Hotel, New York, USA. The car was shipped to the USA aboard the SS Laconia. 'GAJ 15' wears unusual 'Panel Brougham de Ville' coachwork by the highly respected American firm of Brewster, a company acquired by Rolls-Royce of America Inc in December 1925. It is one of only two such built on the 20hp chassis and retains its original body.”

According to the write-up there’s a large history file with the car including copies of the original order form and chassis cards plus photocopied literature. The car has also been featured in a number of Rolls-Royce books, and there’s even a scale model of it available. We’re sure some of you with more Rolls-Royce knowledge then ourselves will have these books and will be able to tell us a little bit more about Mrs. Sylvester. Just out of curiosity…

Words by Jeroen Booij. Pictures courtesy of Bonhams Auctioneers.

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Gepubliceerd: Friday October 9th, 2020

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  • Ace Zenek

    I think we need to see some documentation regarding the name on the invoice. Mr. A.L. Sylvester was almost certainly Mr. Alfonzo "Allie" Lewis Sylvester, but he was unmarried. His mother, Mrs. Hester Sylvester, died on 1 July 1927, and her husband, who died in 1906, was Lewis Sylvester. So does the documentation really show "Mrs."? Multiple census documents, passport applications, etc., show Mr. A.L. Sylvester as being unmarried or single, and they also show him living in the Plaza Hotel.

    Mr. A. L. Sylvester was the president of the American Cigar Company, and he had been a vice-president of the American Tobacco Company, and managing director and chairman of the board of Henry Clay & Bock & Co. of Havana, Cuba. In 1928 he was honored for assisting the French government with their tobacco crops by being made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. When he died in 1962 at the age of 97 he left a fortune of $20 million (over $172 million today).

    The striping on the back of the passenger compartment may be an illusion to the colorful cigar bands being used at the time.

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