University Archives


Benjamin Altman, NYC Department Store Mogul, 4 Signed Checks Totaling Equivalent of Nearly $2 Million Today!

A group of four checks signed by Benjamin Altman (1840-1913), the founder of the extremely successful chain of New York City department stores, as "Benjamin Altman" on the payee lines. The checks numbered 53, 54, 59, and 60 range between June 11 and June 29, 1910, and paid out a collective $71,740.17 in 1910 money, or the equivalent of $1,965,144.49 in 2020 currency. This means that over a two-week period in the spring of 1910--and taking into account that check numbers 55, 56, 57, and 58 are missing in this sequence--Altman spent the astronomical sum of nearly $2 million in today's money! 

The recipients of Altman's checks include his realtor, attorney, and art dealer, and are thus very representative of Altman's private and commercial interests. Besides managing his posh Fifth Avenue flagship department store after 1906, and acquiring millions of dollars' worth of real estate in midtown Manhattan, Altman collected fine art and antiques. Altman bequeathed his sizable collection of Old Master paintings--from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century--to the Metropolitan Museum of Art upon his death. Did the check below to F. Kleinberger pay for one of Altman's paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, van Dyck, Dürer, Velázquez, Titian, Botticelli, Mantegna, or Fra Angelico?

The lot is comprised of the following checks, which were all drawn from Altman's accounts at the Astor Trust Company of New York City. All of the checks are signed by Altman as "Benjamin Altman" on the payee line, and bear the usual stamps, perforation marks, and endorsements verso. Isolated stains or stamp smears, else near fine. 6.375" x 2.75."

1. Check No. 53, dated June 11, 1910, paying out $1,501.38 to "Geo. R. Read + Co.," an agent affiliated with the Roxton Realty Company, a New York City real estate brokerage firm.

2. Check No. 54, dated June 20, 1910, in the amount of $65,000 made payable to "F. Kleinberger," the Parisian art gallery established in 1848 which opened a storefront in New York City in 1910. F. Kleinberger specialized in Old Master paintings, and its clients came mostly from Europe, the United States, and South America.

3. Check No. 59, dated June 29, 1910, in the amount of $1,426.29 to "Truman H. Baldwin and Geo. E. Baldwin." Truman H. Baldwin was Altman's attorney, who possibly had expertise in real estate law.

4. Check No. 60, dated June 29, 1910, paying out $3,812.50 to "Geo. R. Read and Co."

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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