He was a deceiver of women (including his wife) He extracted money for his pockets by the wiles of his mysteries. Standing over 6 feet tall, almost the size of a grand bear and occasionally sporting a turban G. S. Howard– The Sage of Aru/Carleton Place definitely created the crime of the century in our town, yet no one in Carleton Place questioned his guilt– ever. He was always considered one of the pillars of the town and was said to be treated unfairly.
In December of 1922 the fact was being deplored that Canada had let “slip over the border” one of the finest art collections on this continent.” This collection” had been housed at Carleton Place and was said to be priceless, containing as it did works by such artists as Gainsborough, Titian, Rubens. Rembrandt, Greuze, Veronese and Raphael and others of like renown.
For this act of dereliction of duty the National Gallery of Canada was being chided. Now there has come a sequel. The owner of the collection, one Dr. Howard, from Carleton Place is at present a fugitive from the law in Bermuda. The “priceless” collection which he sold to a New York collector for $300,000 has been pronounced by experts as practically worthless and a series of copies and imitations. With this view Mr. Eric Brown, director of the National Gallery, agrees, as also does Mr. Ernest Fosbery, of Ottawa, both of whom had an opportunity of inspecting the best of the collection at Perth, where it had temporarily been removed.
According to the American Art News of New York, he is a native of the southern United States and was a resident of an Ontario town, which is Carleton Place. On November 16th and the 22nd there were letters in the Toronto Globe and an Ottawa paper from Mr. E. Billing, of Carleton Place. In these letters Mr. Billing, no doubt convinced of the genuineness of the canvases as others had been, said that he could not help deploring the apathy of “our art directors in Canada,” adding that a truckload of valuable paintings had just crossed the St. Lawrence into the United States.
The next chapter in the story, following the crossing of the border, is that printed by the American Art News for December 31st. It said: “in New York city at the present time is an aged man, ill in body and with mind distraught, because he paid more than $300,000 for old masters which art experts have declared in affidavit not to be worth more than $500.
Back in Bermuda, watched by detectives, was Englishman called Dr. Howard, of courtly appearance, who sold him the pictures, and who sailed from New York on the day following the discovery of the true value of the property, lie claims the right to the title of nobility. His activities in the art world would have extended over several years. He is declared to have been the owner of three old masters which ex Senator Clark purchased in 1910.
The victim of the transaction whose name is not divulged, out of deference to the wishes of his family, is a retired New York business man. He had the acumen to amass a comfortable sum of money and he ‘fell for the lure of old masters or the idea of fabulous riches to be made out of them forgetting that the making of money honestly in art transactions is the work of specially trained minds and of a knowledge so highly specialized that it takes years and years of experience to acquire it.
Mcliurk was the first New York expert to denounce the pictures,
“There Is not one picture in the whole collection,” was Mr. Mcliurk’s verdict.
“What do you mean?” asked the victim, who had lost a fortune.
“I mean that there is not a picture here which would bring more than ten dollars on the market,” replied Mr. Mcliurk. Augustus Lefevre, of Silo’s, was called, and corroborated Mr. Mcliurk.
Last Saturday’s issue of the American Art News retracts its reflection saying:
“We owe an apology to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and all the rest of the British Empire, with the exception, perhaps, of Canada, because it said an Englishman had sold a retired New York business man a collection of 85 old masters which experts had valued at $500. It goes on to say that the man was a native of the southern section of the L S. A., albeit a resident for a number of years of a small city in the province of Ontario.
This man, it adds, is now about 80 years old and is extremely picturesque, in the proverbial southern colonel style. He wears a long goatee, is declared to be about six feet tall, and to be a most convincing talker. He bears the appellation of ‘doctor’ and is a maker on a small scale of patent medicines.
It appears that G. Frank Muller, another expert, had before inspected the pictures and placed their value at $1,500. Mr. Muller found on the pictures labels of Budworth’s and of the Manhattan Storage Warehouse, and of different New York auction houses. Thanks to the “apathy” of Canada’s art directors, this country was not victimized by the picturesque Carleton Place “art” salesman.
In 14 February 1922, Granby Billings, a 90-year-old chemist, arrived at Southampton from New York. Billings was described as having lived in Canada; with him was Edith Billings, a 42-year-old widow from New York. Both gave the same London address: 7 Endsleigh Gardens. Soon after, in 2Q 1922, it is recorded that Edith S. Billings married Granby S. Howard in Pancras, London.
It is thought that this was Granby Staunton Howard who had quite a fascinating background. In 1894, Howard — then around 60 years of age — was accused of swindling $5,000 from Mrs. Joseph H. Sprecht, wife of a wealthy St. Louis clothing dealer who lived at Gunton Hall, VA.
Howard was living in Montreal and styling himself as “Dr.”, although he held no medical license in Canada and was making a living selling patent medicines. Dr. Howard stood over six feet in height, and was described as having “a really handsome face and courtly address, he has the added advantage of a splendid education and great power of self-command.” Howard claimed at various times to have been descended from the historical Howards of Norfolk on his father’s side; that he was a baron by descent, one of the original thirty barons of England; that while he was heir to the baronial estate he went to India, entered the Brahmin-Indian order and gave up his heirship to his younger brother.
The libel action failed and costs were awarded against the plaintiff. It was not the last time that Dr Howard found himself in trouble. The New York Times on 24 January 1922 reported that a New York pearl merchant named David I Rogow was launching an action against Granby Staunton Howard of Carleton Place, Ontario, for selling him $150,000 worth of paintings which Howard claimed were the original works of old masters and famous modern artists but proved to be copies.
Three weeks later, “Granby Billings” and Edith S. Billings arrived in Southampton aboard the Cunard liner Aquitania. Howard, over six foot in height and reputedly aged 90, accompanying Edith Billings, under half his age at 42 and small at 5 feet 2 inches, with blue-eyed with dark brown hair. They must have made an interesting couple.
After their marriage in 1922, there is almost no trace of Granby or Edith Howard. Edith’s novel, Cleomenes was re-registered for copyright by Edith S. Howard, of Rutherford, N.J., in 1944, so we have to presume that she returned to the United States some time in between. By then she was in her late 70s, so it seems likely that she died in New Jersey.
As for Granby, he is even more elusive. Virtually nothing turns up on a search for him, other than two passenger records noting his arrival in Canada in 1921, where his age is given as 60 and his birthplace as Northumberland, England, and his arrival in New York on 29 December 1921 from Bermuda. Again, the age is 60 and he is English. In the latter it would appear, although the record itself isn’t easy to read, that he is travelling with his niece.
Are 60-year-old Granby Howard and 90-year-old Granby Howard one and the same? Was Edith Billings the niece he was travelling with from Bermuda to New York in 1921 and was Howard the “Granby Billings” who travelled from New York to England in 1922?
Was Granby Howard even his real name? It doesn’t turn up on any birth records in the UK (although if he was born in c.1831, that would predate births being centrally registered) or marriage records — and the court case in 1898 revealed that he was married. It is also known from the court case that he adopted the name Wilson for some time, so other identities are also quite possible.
And how did Edith Billings end up marrying a man who appears to have been a serial conman?
All mysteries for another day. Read more here
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Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place. Tales of Almonte and Arnprior Then and Now.