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Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence

Identifier: HCFF.01.02

Scope and Content

Henry Clay Frick's Correspondence series (1882-1929, and undated) consists chiefly of incoming letters, including circular letters, telegrams, statements, reports, memoranda, and notes, as well as enclosures and related material. In some cases, copies of Frick's outgoing responses are also included. Items in this series are arranged alphabetically, either by the last name of the correspondent, or by the name of the firm, organization, or publication (e.g. Chas. D. Barney and Co., Seamen's Church Institute, Princeton University, Scottdale Observer, etc.) In a handful of instances, materials are filed by subject (e.g. La Sarraz, Switzerland; painter Andrea del Sarto, etc.) Topics discussed in Frick's correspondence vary widely, and include business dealings, investments, art collecting, philanthropy, politics, real estate, and family matters.

The earliest items in this series date from 1882, and include correspondence with Andrew Carnegie and the distillery A. Overholt & Co. From the 1880s through the 1910s, though, Frick corresponded with a wide array of industrialists, bankers, investment firms, executives, and managers, and was a frequent correspondent with members of the Phipps, Mellon, Morgan, and Rockefeller families. Frick's principal business activities were in the areas of coal and coke, iron, steel, and railroads. Materials pertaining to these concerns may be found either under the name of the corporate entity or under the names of individual executives. For instance, in addition to the correspondence filed under Carnegie Steel Co., additional letters can be found under Andrew Carnegie, Millard Hunsiker, A.L. Griffin, J. Ogden Hoffman, F.T.F. Lovejoy, H.M. Curry, and John C. Fleming. Similarly, H.C. Frick Coke Co. correspondence also appears under the names Thomas Lynch, Robert Ramsay, and W.C. Magee. Other executives in the coke, steel, and railroad industries with whom Frick corresponded include Jay C. Morse, W.L. Brown, W.H. Donner, Elbert H. Gary, J.W. Gates, E.B. Leinsenring, Samuel Mather, George W. Perkins, Morris Ramsay, Josiah V. Thompson, and A.R. Whitney, as well as Alexander J. Cassatt, Samuel Rea, William H. Joyce, James McCrea, and John S. Wilson, all of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Examples of industrialists and bankers associated with Frick are Henry G. Morse, Carl C. Law, F.W. Haskell, S.L. Schoonmaker, H.C. McEldowney, and E.B. Morris. Also documented in this series are Frick's investments at various brokerage houses, largely through statements and transactional correspondence with firms such as Lee, Kretschmar and Co., Boissevain and Co., Charles Smith and Sons, James D. Smith and Co., and Kuhn, Loeb and Co.

Letters to Frick on the subject of art collecting range from offers of paintings and other objects available for purchase, to requests to visit Frick's gallery, to transactional correspondence regarding the purchase, framing, conservation, insurance and transport of paintings. Such letters are filed under the names of his principal art dealers, M. Knoedler and Co. and Charles Carstairs, as well as under Duveen Brothers, through whom Frick made acquisitions from J.P. Morgan's estate among other purchases, Roger Fry, who assisted Frick in the acquisition of Rembrandt's Polish Rider and also alerted Frick to the availability of other works, and Arthur Tooth & Son, through whom Frick purchased his first old master painting. Additional correspondents who wrote about acquisitions or possible acquisitions include Alice Creelman, Virginia P. Bacon, James H. Dunn, H. Silva White, Julius Oehme, and Jacques Seligmann, among numerous others. An index of works offered to Frick in these files is available, and additional art correspondence can be found in the Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series I: Art Files and in the Henry Clay Frick Art Collection Files in this repository.

Correspondence on philanthropic matters documents Frick's contributions to museums and other cultural institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals, churches, and civic organizations. These include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, American Museum of Natural History, the American Academy in Rome, Harvard University and its Arnold Arboretum, Princeton University, from which Frick's son Childs graduated in 1905, and Columbia University. Materials may be filed under the name of the institution, but can also appear under the names of officials and administrators, as in the case of John Grier Hibben of Princeton University, and Nicholas M. Butler of Columbia University. Notable civic organizations in receipt of Frick's assistance were the Pittsburgh Newsboys' Home, Pittsburgh Association for the Improvement of the Poor, Kingsley House Association, and the Henry Clay Frick Educational Commission, founded by Frick in 1909 with the assistance of Pittsburgh astronomer John Brashear.

In addition to his interests in business and art, Frick's papers also document his political activities. Though he himself never held office, he was a strong supporter of the Republican Party, and took an interest in both national politics and those in Pennsylvania, where he maintained legal residency and returned to cast his ballot annually. Frick had prominent political connections, as evidenced by correspondence with Senators Boies Penrose, M.S. Quay, and Philander Chase Knox (later a cabinet member to Presidents Roosevelt and Taft), Representative Edward E. Robbins, and Judge Joseph Buffington, Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary, Leslie M. Shaw, and Roosevelt's personal White House secretary, William Loeb, Jr. Frick's correspondence contains letters to and/or from all U.S. Presidents from Harrison through Wilson, though in some instances there is only a letter or two. The bulk of Frick's presidential correspondence is with Theodore Roosevelt, through whom Frick donated a painting to the White House in 1903. Topics discussed in Frick's political correspondence include campaign contributions, nominations and appointments, and the political climate of the time. Local politics and civic matters are also discussed, especially in the letters of H.D.W. English, Frank F. Nicola, and Pittsburgh mayor William A. Magee.

Frick's correspondence concerning real estate details the acquisition, improvement, and administration of property, whether for the family's personal use, or for commercial, industrial, or rental purposes. Of note is his correspondence with various architects of the period, including F.J. Osterling and F.E. Alden, who undertook projects at the Frick residence in Pittsburgh; Little & Browne, who designed the Frick house in Prides Crossing, Mass.; Thomas Hastings, architect of the Frick family's New York residence; Daniel Burnham, who designed the Frick Building in downtown Pittsburgh as well as the Frick monument in Homewood Cemetery; and Hunt & Hunt, who made alterations to the Vanderbilt mansion in New York during the time of the Frick family's residency there. Files of letters to and from George Lockhart Allen, a real estate and insurance broker based in Salem, Mass., document the acquisition of land for Frick's Prides Crossing estate, relations with his neighbors, and the social climate of the area at that time. Another correspondent of note, D.B. Kinch, was at times responsible for the administration of the Frick Building in Pittsburgh, and superintending the construction of the Frick residence in New York.

These letters sometimes give insight into Frick's personal interests and hobbies, especially those items documenting his memberships in various sporting, social, and fraternal organizations, as well as in correspondence with C.L. Charley, a Parisian auto dealer who imported cars for Frick, and the naval architectural firm of Tams, Lemoine and Crane, through whom he chartered a yacht just after the turn of the century. These papers also document aspects of Frick's private life and the operation of his office and household through correspondence with his immediate family (his wife Adelaide, son Childs, and daughter Helen Clay), members of the extended Frick, Childs, and Overholt families, employees at his various residences, and office staff in New York and Pittsburgh.


  • 1882-1929, undated


Access Restrictions

These records are open for research by appointment under the conditions of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives Access Policy. For all inquiries or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Archives Department at

Biographical Note

Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was a prominent industrialist and art collector who made his fortune in the coal, coke, steel, and railroad industries. Born into modest circumstances in West Overton, Pa., Frick ended his formal education by the mid-1860s. In 1871, he borrowed money to purchase a share in a coking concern that would eventually become the H.C. Frick Coke Co. Over the next decade, he continued to expand his business through the acquisition of more coal lands and coke ovens, and entered into partnership with fellow industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1882. Frick assumed the chairmanship of Carnegie Bros. & Co. (later Carnegie Steel Co.) in 1889, and served in that capacity until his resignation from the company in December 1899. During his tenure as chairman, differences between Frick and Carnegie emerged, most significantly in their approach to labor issues. The 1892 Homestead Strike further strained relations between the two men, and in 1899, Frick permanently severed his relationship with Carnegie.

In December 1881, Frick married Adelaide Howard Childs of Pittsburgh. The couple purchased a house (called Clayton) in Pittsburgh's East End, and had four children: Childs Frick (1883-1965), Martha Howard Frick (1885-1891), Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), and Henry Clay Frick, Jr. (born 1892; died in infancy). After his break with Carnegie in 1899, Frick began spending less time in Pittsburgh. In 1905, he leased on the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York City, and built an elaborate summer residence (Eagle Rock) on Boston's North Shore, which was completed in 1906. Though Frick maintained his status as a Pittsburgh resident for the remainder of his life, he and his family chiefly divided their time between Massachusetts and New York. In 1907, Frick purchased land at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York City. Construction of the new Frick residence, designed by Thomas Hastings of the firm Carrère and Hastings, began in 1912, after the demolition of the Lenox Library formerly on the site. The family moved into the house at One East 70th Street in the fall of 1914, and Henry Clay Frick died there on 2 December 1919.

Frick showed a lifelong interest in art collecting, acquiring his first painting in 1881, and continuing to add to his collection until just before his death. Little is known about Frick's early experiences with art, but his taste initially favored local Pennsylvania artists, contemporary French painters, and Barbizon landscapes. Around the turn of the century his focus shifted to old master paintings, and he began to collect works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, and Gainsborough. In the mid-1910s, Frick greatly expanded his collection by acquiring paintings, porcelains, sculpture, enamels, and furnishings from the estate of J.P. Morgan, who had died in 1913. Though Frick acquired paintings from a variety of sources, his primary dealer was M. Knoedler & Co., and two principals of that firm, Charles Carstairs and Roland Knoedler, were friends of Henry Clay Frick in addition to helping him build his collection. Upon his death, Frick bequeathed to the public his New York residence, along with the paintings, furnishings, and decorative objects contained therein. The Frick Collection opened to the public in 1935.


39.4 Linear feet (95 boxes)

Language of Materials



Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), a Pittsburgh industrialist who made his fortune in coke and steel, was also a prominent art collector. This series consists largely of Frick's incoming correspondence, with some outgoing letters, on matters relating to business and investments, art collecting, political activities, real estate, philanthropy, and family matters.


Arranged alphabetically. Items are nearly always filed under the name of the correspondent (last name first, in the case of personal names; corporate bodies are filed in direct order). In a handful of cases, materials are filed by subject.


Gift of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, 2015.

Related Materials

Additional correspondence of Henry Clay Frick can be found in the Helen Clay Frick Foundation Archives at the University of Pittsburgh.

Processing Information

Arranged and described by Julie Ludwig, 2009, with funding from the Helen Clay Frick Foundation.

Finding aid for the Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence
Part of the Frick Family Papers
Finding aid prepared by Julie A. Ludwig
© 2010 The Frick Collection. All rights reserved.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Arranged and described with funding from the Helen Clay Frick Foundation

Repository Details

Part of the Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives Repository

10 East 71st Street
New York NY 10021 United States