The State Street Bank, which published this book as part of a series of three about France and New England to mark the 100th anniversary of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to Boston, was given a charter in 1792 by none other than John Hancock, in his role as governor of Massachusetts. Its original name was the Union Bank.
Eventually Union Bank merged with the State Street Trust Company, which had been established in 1891. In time the name was shortened to the State Street Corporation, which today is custodian for over six trillion dollars in assets. But it retains a clipper ship as its logo, and is still headquartered in Boston.
Connections with the founding of the United States made the bank very conscious of its history, and it not only supported scholarly publications but actively collected prints, maps, hanging lanterns, even harpoons – becoming a historical museum about old Massachusetts.
For many years, the prime mover in the bank’s vigorous collecting was Allan Forbes, a scion of the celebrated Brahmin family of Forbes. Graduating from Harvard, he went to work for State Street in 1899 and became president in 1911, then chairman of the board until his death in 1955.
He was eclectic in his antiquarian interests and even produced a highly useful study of clipper ships on sailing cards. If one asks why the head of a large financial concern would take time for such esoteria, perhaps it suffices to say he was a real Bostonian and a quote from Fortune Magazine in 1933 is apt: “The more or less romantic individuals who delight to discover in any community its sources of real power would find this whole Boston hierarchy – social, financial, and political – very little to their taste. At the top, but in another dimension altogether, are the Bostonians. Time cannot wither nor custom scale their infinite variety of sound investments. Social power is theirs. Civilization is theirs.” Three volumes about France and New England are thus easily understood.