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Guide to the Irving S. Olds Collection of
Naval and Other Historical Prints and Related Papers
1587-1960
 PR 47

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on March 01, 2019
Finding aid is written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

Lawyer, industrialist, philanthropist, and art collector Irving Sands Olds (1887-1963) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. from Yale in 1907 and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1910. He spent the next year as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes before joining the law firm of White & Case in 1911. White & Case was then a relatively new firm, having been formed in 1901 by Justin DuPratt White and George Bowen Case. Olds was made a partner in 1917. Also in 1917 he married Evelyn Foster (1889-1957) of New York.

Olds was an important player in building White & Case's banking and corporate clientele through the 1910s and into the 1920s, including Bankers Trust, J.P. Morgan & Co., and the Foundation Company. In 1926, he moved to Paris for two years to open the firm's office there. Returning to the U.S. in the late 1920s, he became deeply involved in White & Case's expanding relationship with U.S. Steel. In 1936, White & Case was selected by U.S. Steel to be its outside general counsel, and Olds was elected to the company's board of directors. In 1940, Olds accepted the position of U.S. Steel's chairman and CEO. Though the position was initially expected to be for only an interim period, Olds remained for twelve years until he retired from U.S. Steel in 1952, though still remaining on the board. Although Olds no longer practiced law during his years at U.S. Steel, he remained a partner of White & Case. After retiring from U.S. Steel, he returned to the law firm where he served on its executive committee until his death.

Olds was a supporter of educational and cultural institutions, especially in the last two decades of his life, including his alma mater, Yale, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, among several others. By the early 1940s, if not before, he had developed a deep interest in art and history, particularly naval history. In 1942, he curated and wrote the catalogue for the exhibition "The United States Navy, 1776 to 1815" held at the Grolier Club, which included prints of American naval engagements and American naval commanders from his and other collections. Olds amassed a collection of over 1100 prints, paintings, silhouettes, maps, broadsides, and decorative textiles related to the American Revolution, War of 1812, New York City views, and other subject matter primarily depicting scenes from the colonial and early republic years of the United States. 500 of these objects were exhibited in 1951 at U.S. Steel, and many were displayed in 1959 at the Peabody Museum. Through the 1950s, Olds made slide presentations based on his collection. He became a trustee of the New-York Historical Society and was the organization's president in 1962-63, just before his death.

Olds's collecting interest also served as an inspiration for his wife, Evelyn Foster Olds. An amateur painter, she took the themes and images she found in Olds's prints and painted them on trays and other objects. In February 1957, shortly before Evelyn's death that July, Harry Shaw Newman organized an exhibition of her work at the Old Print Shop in New York. The following year, Evelyn's work was shown at the Peabody Museum and, in cooperation with the United States National Museum and the United States Marine Corps Museum, at the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building.

Just a month or so before his death in March 1963, Olds made a gift of many of his prints to his law firm, White & Case. In his will, he bequeathed to New-York Historical the option to select and take whichever items it wanted from his collection. N-YHS selected several hundred items, which were distributed among the appropriate curatorial departments in the organization. This finding aid includes those objects placed with N-YHS's Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections (PPAC). In 2018, White & Case donated to N-YHS about 120 of the prints they had received from Olds, and this finding aid includes those objects as well.

(The above note was based primarily on White & Case's history published by the firm on-line at https://history.whitecase.com/white-and-case ; the New York Times obituaries of Irving S. Olds and Evelyn Foster Olds; and documents in the collection.)