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Dwight J. Partello - Part IV Expand / Collapse
Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2011 9:44 AM



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Dwight J. Partello - His life & violin collection
Philip E. Margolis

Part IV (continued from Part III)

The acquisition of the Duke’s collection by Partello was followed a couple years later by an interesting episode that probably also involved the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg. It concerned a Stradivari violin that had belonged to Czar Alexander of Russia and was later inherited by his grandson Czar Nicholas II, the Duchess’s nephew.  The instrument was discovered stolen from the Royal museum in St. Petersburg in 1901 or 1902. According to the story that was circulated, Czar Nicholas was walking by the display case one day and noticed that instead of his precious Strad, it contained a cheap fiddle with the label of a St. Petersburg violin maker. Although the police were able to identify the member of the imperial household who had purchased this replacement violin, this individual claimed to have no idea how his instrument had found its way into the display case, nor what had happened to the Stradivari. As his rank was too high to question his integrity, he was not prosecuted.

The Russian police sent representatives to Berlin, London and other cities to ask violin dealers if they had seen the stolen Strad. According to some accounts, a Polish woman had visited some Berlin dealers offering to sell a Strad, but none of the dealers had followed up. By late 1902 or early 1903, the trail had gone cold, and it was at this point that the Ambassador to Russia, who was an acquaintance of Partello’s, asked if Partello himself would undertake trying to find the instrument. Partello agreed to help, but here the story diverges somewhat. According to the account published in the New York Times, Partello came across the stolen Strad almost by accident. [1]  The account by Partello’s daughter, Adeline, on the other hand, makes it sound as if the discovery was the result of months of hard work. “After six months effort,” she writes, “he discovered the violin in France.”[2]

Partello visited the owner in southern France, who claimed to have purchased the instrument from a Parisian dealer, and after some negotiations, including the promise of immunity from prosecution, the owner agreed to sell the instrument to Partello for the same amount which he had paid, which was about $2,500. Partello brought the instrument back to Coburg where it was returned to the Russian ambassador, but not before Partello organized a party to show it off with four other Strads that Partello himself owned. For his efforts, Partello received a jewel-bedecked cigar box from Czar Nicholas.

In the meantime Louis Horst had moved to London to open a British arm to the brothers’ hops company. The Horst brothers had bought large tracts of land and by 1900 were the largest Hops and Barley growing company in California. In later years, the press would refer to Louis Horst as the “Hops King of the West.”

While Louis was running his business in London, Carita and their son Alfred stayed in Coburg. Flush with hops money, Carita founded an opera school in Coburg.  Like so many of the nouveau riche at that time, Louis & Carita Horst felt they should have noble titles to go with their wealth, especially since most of their friends in Coburg  were Dukes and  Duchesses. The Duke and Duchess of Saxe-Coburg  were only too happy to oblige, and in 1899 Louis received the title of “Baron von Horst” from the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, and Carita became the Baroness.

Around this time, the Horst brothers broke up their company, and the Baron founded two new companies – one called the Hops & Barley Company which comprised his portion of the hops growing ranches, and another called the Hop Extract Co. that specialized in processing hops.  Louis had invented a new method for extracting the flavor from hops that was much more efficient than the previous methods, and he would later acquire a patent for this technique that would prove to be extremely valuable.

The Baron returned to London where he managed his business affairs, but he maintained an office in Chicago. As early as 1901, his representative in Chicago was none other than D. J. Partello, jr., the son of Dwight J. Partello and the Baron’s brother-in-law. 

In 1908, at the age of 67, Partello retired and returned to Washington, D.C. His son, Dwight J. Partello, Jr. was married and living in Chicago. His eldest daughter, Carita, was living in Coburg and was by this time estranged from her husband Louis, who spent most of his time in London. His oldest daughter, Adeline, had lived with Partello in Berlin and she remained there.

Dwight J. Partello in 1908

In 1909, a feature article about Partello’s collection appeared in the New York Musical Courier. It was written by the Courier’s Berlin correspondent, Arthur M. Abell.  Abell was himself a violinist, who had studied under Halir and Cesar Thomson. The article, and accompanying photos, were almost certainly produced in 1908, when Partello was still in Berlin.

The photos (reproduced below) show 22 violins, two violas, two cellos and 31 bows, of which 16 were by Tourte. The instruments consisted of 4 Strads, 1 del Gesu, 1 Bergonzi, 1 Nicola Amati, and instruments by assorted makers such as Lupot, Rugeri, Cappa and Pressenda.

At the time the article was written, Abell was married to a German woman named Clara Loeser. But a year later, in 1909, the couple divorced. And a year after that, Abell remarried, this time to none other than Partello’s daughter, Adeline.[3]

(to be continued. . .)

[1] New York Times, May 16, 1903.

[2] “The Czar’s Stolen Violin,” New York Sun, August 8, 1903.

[3] “Berlin in Favor as Tourist Centre,” The New York Times, Aug. 7, 1910.

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