Davis and Wilbour

Two of the most prominent Americans involved in the “Golden Age of Egyptian Archaeology” at the start of the 20th century were Theodore Davis (discoverer of 18 tombs in the Valley of the Kings) and Charles E. Wilbour (source of the Wilbour Library and Wilbour collection at the Brooklyn Museum and the Wilbour Chair of Egyptology at Brown University).  The two men’s relations began long before Egypt, however.

In 1869 Wilbour convinced William “Boss” Tweed to form a company that would take over all the printing business for the Tweed-controlled city government in New York; through their corrupt dealings, both men made a great deal of money.  When Tweed was arrested in 1871, a bank he had controlled – and placed Davis in charge of as attorney – failed, partly due to a default by the printing company on a loan Wilbour had taken out.  Davis filed suit to declare the printing company bankrupt, seized the presses and other equipment, and sold the items at auction.  Davis’s sale was rigged, and the lawyer took a cut of the proceeds which were meant for the bank.

After the frenzy of the Tweed prosecutions died down, Davis and Wilbour spent much time together when they visited Egypt.  After one evening on Davis’s yacht on the Nile, Davis’s mistress wrote in her journal that “the talk was all of Egypt and Egyptian things.”  Apparently Davis and Wilbour spent little time reminiscing about their early days in New York City, when fraud and perjury made them both rich.


About John Adams

Egyptophile, author, retired library executive.
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