The Capșa House Book of Honour

Modern History
1907 - 1964
cardboard, paper, ink, leather, aquarelle
Printing, binding, writting, drawing, painting
H=38 cm; l=24,7 cm

    The Capșa House Book of Honour

    Texts: Dorina Tomescu / Photo: Cornel C. Ilie

    It features dark green leather covers, with a linear gold frame along their edges, and the initials “C.G.” on the front of the first cover; inside, the covers are lined with cream coloured silk. It comprises 200 pages with gilded edges, of which 81 contain autographs, notes, music sheets, sketches, and drawings of foreign and Romanian political, cultural, artistic, and musical personalities who passed through the Capşa House between the years 1907-1964. On the first pages, there are the autographs of the members of the Romanian Royal House: Queen Elisabeth, Princess Elisabeth, but also George – Duke of Sparta, and the Queen mother Elena. On the next pages, there are some autographs of renowned composers such as: Pietro Mascagni, George Enescu, Wertgartner, Ysaÿe and Mihail Jora. Others who have signed are foreign actors: Maurice de Feraudy, Suzanne Despres, Sarah Bernhard – who also left a photograph with a dedication for Grigore Capşa dated 1888, as well as a note addressed to the Romanian people in 1908. Among the Romanian writers who signed this book of honour were: Duiliu Zamfirescu, Radu Rosetti and Elena Văcărescu. Also present are the signatures of politicians Take Ionescu, Constantin Argetoianu, General Alexandru Averescu, or foreign guests such as Marshal Joseph Joffre in 1920, Averell Harriman, American ambassador in Moscow, and members of the Allied Commission of Control in 1945. “Special” sutographs consisting of drawings and sketches, were left behind by famous painters like: G.D. Mirea, Ştefan Popescu, M. Teişanu, Alexandru C. Szathmari, Jean Al. Steriadi, Nicolae Vermont, Geophres Scott and Giovanni Boldini.


    The Book of Honour of the Grigore Capşa House, which was kept at the disposal of illustrious guests of the famous house of commerce, has been a part of the patrimony of the National History Museum of Romania since 1975, and it was acquired from Ştefan Lăzărescu. An unusual document, the Book of Honour witnessed visits to Capşa from royal guests or cultural personalities, Romanian and foreign,  between the years 1907-1964.

    The Royal House of Romania often attended events organized with the help of the Capşa House, for instance: the balls of Romania’s high society, or those organized by the Royal Palace itself, as well as some special events. For that reason, as a way of paying homage to the Romanian Royal House, whose supplier Capşa had been ever since 1869, the first pages of the Book of Honour were reserved to the Royal House. The book opens with a French language musing from Queen Elisabeth, dated January 1st 1907: “The Earth is no Paradise, nor is it inhabited by angels. Yet people can become saints and even be born with wings sometimes, and make the Earth as beautiful as a Paradise, by one thing: the passion of sacrifice” (p.1). On the following pages are the signatures of Princess Elisabeth of Romania and George, Duke of Sparta, from February 1921 (possible guests of the Capşa House around the time of their wedding, event which took place in April 1921 - p.3), and of the Queen mother Elena, in 1930 ( p. 5).

    Oftentimes, those who signed added witty remarks, musical notations, drawings or watercolours – truly personalized autographs. Thus, Duiliu Zamfirescu would add to his signature the following musing: “People’s character is like bottled wine: one always finds oneself before a label, and it is generally better to drink the entire bottle, for even when the wine does not correspond with its label, one finally comes to the dregs” (p. 39).

    At page 41 of the book, there is the signature of Italian composer Pietro Mascagni, who also notated a few measures from the intermezzo of “Cavalleria Rusticana”, on the 11th/24th of February 1907. Indeed, in February 1907, the musical life of Bucharest would know an exceptional moment in the form of the concerts held on the 11th and 14th of February by the orchestra of the Ministry of Public Instruction, conducted by the Italian master.

    Also in 1907, Capşa was visited by the Associate of French Comedy, French actor Maurice de Feraudy ( p.42), famous for his role as Isidore Lechat in the play “Les affaires sont les affaires” by Mirabeau, role which he played 1200 times, and journalist Gaston Deschamps (p.47), archaeologist and member of the Parliament, successor of Anatole France at Le Temps. The first one of the guests wrote down the following thought: “You must never ask someone to give their word of honour. If you consider them worthy, it is not necessary, and if you consider them unworthy, it is pointless”. The second one, Gaston Deschamps, was at a banquet on November 25th / December 8th 1907, at Capşa’s, and expressed his surprise at finding that “To be 500 leagues away from Paris, to have traversed the Alps of Switzerland and Tyrol, the valleys of Austria, the plains Hungary; to know that Turkey is nearby, that the Black Sea is not far, and that after a short voyage one may reach the lands of Asia... and yet to have tea in a salon lit with electrical light, among young girls and women deliciously clad, with hats after the latest Parisian fashion, and who in the purest French language discuss the latest news of French literature, this is the powerful and enchanting impression that the radiant capital of Romania gives from the beginning to an astounded traveler”. 

    In 1907, the following would sign: Radu Rosetti, who also added the poem “The Victors” (p. 43), Elena Văcărescu (p.45), while Take Ionescu made a confession befitting of his character: “More than ever I am convinced that in order to be the leader of a party, one must be more than a party member” (p.47).

    The same Book of Honour witnessed composer George Enescu’s visit Capşa in 1908, as he also wrote down a few measures from his Symphony in E flat (p.49). Two other great names of music marked their visit to the Capşa House, in March 1912, through texts and fragments of music sheets: Wertgartner and Ysaÿe (p. 59 şi 61).

    But the personage who was repeatedly a guest of the Capşa Hotel and Restaurant was Sarah Bernhardt. The great French actress, “Divina”, as she was referred to in her time, first visited Romania in 1881, but only saw in Iaşi, where she gave a few performances of  “The Lady of the Camellias” by Alexandre Dumas-the son, “Froufrou” by Meilhac and Halévy, and “Adrienne Lecouvreur” by Scribe and Legouvé. Her second visit was in 1888, as evidenced in the Book of Honour of the Capşa House, where there is a sepia photograph with a dedication, signed and dated 1888: “To Sir Capşa, in remembrance of his kind and amiable hospitality” (p.48). Her next great tour of Romania was in 1893, when Sarah Bernhardt performed shows in Galaţi, Sulina, and at the National Theatre in Bucharest. She returned in 1904, this time accompanied by her entire troupe (40 de actors); returning again to Bucharest in 1908, the artist used one of the pages of the Book of Honour (p. 49) to express her fondness of the country’s capital and the Romanian people: “I profoundly admire this city. I love the Romanian people, so artistic, patriotic, wise, and strong”. In 1915, the artist had her right leg amputated, but did not retire from acting.

    After the war of unification, an important guest, in August 1920, of the Capşa House, was French Marshal Joseph Joffre, who had come to decorate the armies of the Mărăşeşti stronghold with the Legion of  Honour, and had been very warmly received by the Romanians. The head of the government, General Averescu, treated Joffre to an intimate meal at the Capşa House. Others who attended were Take Ionescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs with his wife, and Constantin Argetoianu, Minister of Domestic Affairs. On page 78 of the Book of Honour, we find the signatures of Marshal Joffre, Take Ionescu, Constantin Argetoianu, Alexandru Averescu, and the rest of the French guests. On the same occasion, Capşa created the dessert named “Joffre”, known and appreciated to this day. 

    Dating back to the final years of the war and those immediately following, a group of very “special” autographs catches the eye, consisting of drawings or watercolours by well-known painters who passed through the salons of the renowned restaurant on Victory Road: a landscape with trees, in ink, by Ştefan Popescu, from 1917 (p. 65); M. Teişanu – a young woman, October 25th 1917 (p.67); G.D. Mirea signed a child’s head in pencil, 1918 (p. 53); Jean Al. Steriadi left in the Book of Honour the portrait of a man, 1919 (p.75). No less accomplished are the drawings of Geophres Scott – an infantry bugler from 1877, dated Bucharest 1919 (p.63) and Alexandru C. Szathmari – the bell tower and spire of a church, 1919 (p.73), or Giovanni Boldini, a friend of Degas, who signed three caricatures in ink and pencil, 1919 (p.57). Also, Nicolae Vermont is present with a drawing, in pencil, depicting the face of a nurse, 1922 (p. 77).

    Unfortunately, during the inter-war period, the signatures of Capşa House guests are utterly lacking. Meanwhile, in 1926, the Grigore Capşa House took over the restaurant of the hotel Atheneé Palace, and the majority of official and private banquets were held in this hall. The old Slătineanu House was used especially for intimate meetings and meals, the private salons and partitions being well sought-after by the high society of Bucharest and the rest of the country. 

    Among the last signatures in the Book of Honour, are those of Averell Harriman, American ambassador at Moscow, and his fellow Americans in the Allied Commission of Control: Burton Berry and C. Schuyler, in 1945.

    The last signiture (p.81) belongs to composer Mihail Jora, from January 11th 1964, and is accompanied by a music staff with a few measures from the “Dance of the Bride and Groom” of the ballet “Return from the Depths”.

    The Book of Honour of the Capşa House represents a true document of memorial worth, as the famous house of commerce was tied, in its own specific manner, to all the important events, whether political, cultural, or social, which marked the life of the Capital and of Romania.