A Wealth of Riches on display

| 11 Apr 2016 | 06:41

The Museum of American Finance recalls the opulence from days gone by, and riches from time immemorial.

The museum, fittingly, is housed in the former — and last — home of the Bank of New York, at 48 Wall St.

Built in 1929, the Colonial Revival structure’s original architectural details remain, including three enormous brass chandeliers, a checkered marble floor and a marble staircase that leads to a grand banking hall.

The museum, 30,000 square feet on three stories, with 30-foot ceilings and exotic Palladian windows, is an imposing structure. It was designed and constructed to dissuade robberies at a time when a bank’s security was not as formidable as today.

But magnificence was also on order. Murals on eight arched walls on the third floor’s panels, composed by the artist and architect J. Monroe Hewlett and completed in 1929, by turns depict a ship, blue-collar workers, uniformed soldiers, and well-heeled ladies and gentlemen about town. All symbolize facets of the Bank of New York’s enterprises — whether trade, agriculture, credit, transportation and other ventures.

The center mural features Alexander Hamilton, who founded the Bank of New York and guided it through its formative years. He is represented with a permanent exhibit on the third floor. The museum’s deputy director, Kristin Aguilera, called Hamilton the museum’s patron saint.

Among the museum’s permanent exhibits — there are more than 10,000 objects in its collection — are the nation’s largest museum archive of financial documents and artifacts.

The museums’ newest exhibit, “Worth its Weight: Gold from the Ground Up,” certainly ranks among its, well, richest.

Among the items on display — the museum has gathered items from 46 lenders worldwide — are a Tiffany jewelry suite from the 1940s, dentures with a gold base and a Gemini astronaut training helmet with gold visor.

The museum’s “Jewelry Box” room distils the glamour of gold designs, where rare and stunning jewelry, including an ornate gold powder case that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, are on show. The “Midas Touch” room features the artistic designs of Sidney Mobell, a modern day Midas whose panache for turning everyday items like shovels, gum machines, pacifiers and cellphones into opulent gold displays, made him famous.

Aguilera’s “can’t-miss-piece” is an 18-carat gold Monopoly set by Mobell with corresponding gems matching the board game’s colors. It has an estimated worth of $2 million.

The “Gold in America” gallery looks at finance, mining and refining, and the nation’s three major gold rushes.

“Many people know about the gold rush in California and Alaska but the gold rush in North Carolina and Georgia is lesser known and actually began with a 12-year-old boy who found a 17-pound gold brick in his backyard in 1791,” Aguilera said.

The exhibit, which runs through the end of the year, takes you through the history of the metal in medicine, religions, art, awards and even its scientific uses.

All told, the museum has a wealth of information — and just plain wealth — and its current exhibit is definitely worth its weight.