A half hour later, he asked Pope whether he had been to Tiffany’s. Pope said “no,” apparently not sensing the urgency of the request, but he was on the way. He reported late in the afternoon to Thompson.
“Did you see the minerals?” Thompson asked once again.
“Yes,” replied Pope, whose job description at some point had been expanded to include gem expert.
“What have they got?”
“Emeralds, Opals, tourmalines, malachites, etc. In fact good representative pieces of nearly all the really beautiful minerals.”
“Are they really beautiful?”
“They certainly are.”
“Should I buy them?”
“With my appreciation of minerals, if I had the money you are reputed to have, I would buy them before tomorrow night,” Pope said later he told Thompson.
“How much do they want for them?” the Magnate asked.
Pope mentioned a figure.
“That’s $5,000 less than I though they would cost,” Thompson said. “If I buy them should I give them to a museum or keep them?”
“If it were myself, I would keep them for as long as I lived and then give them to a museum.”
“If I kept them could you install them in my billiard room?”
“If you let me take the billiard tables out.” Thompson agreed.
The honorary Colonel called the next morning to buy the mineral collection. He bought it for $20,000, according to notes left behind in the Library of Congress by his biographer Hermann Hagedorn. Apparently Thompson had been informally collecting specimens during his travels. He had others that had been given to him by friends and associates. They filled several cabinets and had begun to crowd his desk.
Pope quickly ran into trouble establishing a mineral room in the basement of Thompson’s Yonkers mansion, Alder. He didn’t really know anything about such installations. So he asked Thompson for ideas (continued below).
“How do you want these minerals installed?” Pope asked Thompson.
“That’s what I’m paying you for,” Thompson retorted in classic capitalist fashion.
“You must have some ideas!”
“I want the display to be pretty. Beautiful but not garish–and in no respect to look like a damned museum.”
Given his marching orders, Pope set to work. While he was arranging for windows to light the basement room, it occurred to him that since the Colonel would only be in the room at night, it didn’t really need illumination.
Pope decided ingeniously instead to deck out the man cave with transparencies that held colored enlargements of Western scenes. He installed electric bulbs, whose light could be increased and decreased slowly, behind the scenes to create the effect of sunrise and sunset.
“One evening on Thompson’s return from a trip in the West, Pope took him to the room,” Hagedorn wrote in his notes. “It was the Colonel’s birthday. Pope had no present to give him, he told him, but there was a matter he thought would give him pleasure. He took Thompson into the darkened room and turned on the lights. WB said nothing. Then: ‘Can I do that?’ Pope assured him that he could.”
Thompson couldn’t get enough. According to reports from Mrs. Thompson, the Colonel went to the room at 2 a.m. and played with the lights for an hour.
The effect interested him far more than the cost of the installation. Pope had tried to interest Thompson in an inventory of the cost of all the minerals, jades, cases and various installations in the mineral room.
“If it gives you any personal satisfaction, go ahead,” the Colonel gruffly replied. “But for God’s sake don’t give me the report.”
The Thompson jade collection began inauspiciously one day in 1918, when Thompson, without warning, declared to Pope, “You are going to commence to buy jades for me.”
“I don’t know anything about them, Colonel.”
“You can learn, can’t you?”
“Yes, but it is going to cost you money. I don’t know the prices.”
“No one else does.”
Pope apparently quickly became an expert. At one sale Thompson bought several things that Pope didn’t like. Pope protested.
“I am paying for them,” shot back Thompson, who reportedly liked big specimens.
“Yes, and I have got to have the bother of installing them.”
Thompson accepted the rebuke and after that bought no more gems on his own.
He also took Pope’s recommendation and willed his collection of minerals and gemstone carvings to the American Museum of Natural History, which keeps many of them on permanent display, though his name doesn’t appear on any of the displays. He also left the museum with an endowment to purchase other mineral collections.
In 2008, a nine-inch-tall jade vase that formerly belonged to the Magnate sold at auction for nearly $300,000, establishing a record for the auction house, Elder’s Fine Art & Antiques and iGavel. The exquisitely carved vase, which came with a 35-link 13 1/2-inch interior chain linking the cover the vase, came with its original receipt.