Copyright 2011-2017 John N. Lupia, III

Portrait Vito Viti, Miniature Painting, Smithsonian, IAP 63000378
(Formerly Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc. Sale Cat.4478-Y, 11/19-22/80, Lot 231)

Vito Viti (1787-1866), born in Volterra, Pisa Province, Tuscany, Italy on August 24, 1787.

He arrived from Lisbon to America at the port of Alexandria on November 17, 1816, and began importing goods into Philadelphia as early as 1819. One early record reports his importing straw hats into Philadelphia. As he established himself as an importer he discovered the strong market for high quality decorative arts wanted by the middle and upper classes. So he began to import statuary of both marble and alabaster together with other fashionable goods to decorate the homes and offices of the wealthy. He traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and into Tennessee, selling imported English, Parisienne and Italian goods at various auction houses.

On June 20, 1828, he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He had two sons Francis and Alonzo born in Pennsylvania. He worked as an importer of art, antiques, and antiquities including coins and sold occasionally at auction in New York at least by 1824. His brother Giuseppe would ship him alabaster vases and other works of art including rare furniture, antiques, and antiquities.

The Viti shop was located at 149 South Front Street, Philadelphia.

The Viti family served as Consuls of Italy. Vito Viti had served as the Consul for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Alonzo served as Consul in the 1860's.

In December 1849 he sailed from New York aboard the SS Hibernia to Liverpool, England.

In 1850, Vito Viti was instrumental in bringing Vincenzo de Amarelli (-1864), to Philadelphia from his home in Rossano, Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. De Amarelli became Professor of Italian at the University of Pennsylvania.

Fig. Correspondence postmarked April 21, 1851 regarding Vito Viti purchasing Alabaster statues. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. 

About eight and a half years prior to his demise his sons began to trade as the Viti Brothers, formerly Vito Viti & Sons.

In the 1860 U. S. Census his estate was valued at $25,000.

The Vito Viti correspondence has long been hailed as the great Philadelphia treasure trove containing many rarities in stamps and postmarks. It was discovered in September 1907 by Alfred Fitler Henkels who was introduced to a dealer in recycled paper and rags who had a large cache of correspondence of Vito Viti comprising 254 letters apparently discarded and scavenged or else sold to the dealer for scrap.

He died August 9, 1866 at his home 512 South 4th Street, Philadelphia. His funeral services were held on Tuesday, August 14, 1866, at 4 P.M., at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Philadelphia. He is buried in the Old Cathedral Catholic Cemetery.

Bibliography :

1823 Naturalization Document
1860 U. S. Census
1865 Philadelphia City Directory : 692
Philadelphia Inquirer, Tuesday, August 14, 1866, page 5 obit
"Funeral for a Prominent Catholic," Catholic Standard, August 18, 1866, page 5 obit
Mekeel's Weekly Stamp News, October 12 (1907)
Scott's Monthly Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, March (1921) cover story
The Collectors Club Philatelist (1932) : 63-64 famous A.F. Henkels story
American Philatelist (1944) : 594
John N. Lupia, III, American Numismatic Auctions to 1875 (2013) : 76-77

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