London Express/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images London Express/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
By Amy Phillips Penn

What’s black and orange and read by the elite?

The Social Register, of course.

Mystery has always dusted the tome of the entitled since its inception.

Who was “in,” who was “out?” Who made these decisions? Did you really need five letters of reference to belong? Did you have to marry or divorce to be included?

The Social Register has as many questions as allure.

Who had enough cachet to own The Social Register and keep it hush-hush?

The Forbes family was always suspect, but until Steve Forbes ran for President, it was only a rumor.

Politics outed The Social Register’s owners, and Forbes it was.

The Forbes family makes everything fun, from ballooning in France, to yachting for cocktails, and motorcycling in poker runs.

I met Christopher “Kip” Forbes years ago, when a man I worked for at Sotheby Parke Bernet suggested that we spend a weekend afternoon at his parents’ home in Oyster Bay or Locust Valley. East Egg, West Egg, does it really matter?

It was there, overlooking gardens that were made for House Beautiful, that I was introduced to Kip Forbes.

Does a Forbes ever stay still?

Kip was addressing a box of envelopes that were then perfectly sealed for his upcoming wedding. I grabbed a pen and joined in.

“We had all the correspondence for The Social Register done by hand: the billing, the envelopes, the forms. We didn’t want anyone to think that we were a trade magazine.”

As if…

“People always thought we were a WASP-y publication, but that’s not so. We have included Jews, and as far as African Americans go, I don’t know what color the subscribers are.

It used to be that actors were taboo, but that’s changed,” adds Kip.

The first New York Social Register was published in 1886 by Louis Keller, who merged the “visiting lists” of the ladies into a directory for the prominent members of New York society.

Inclusion into the Social Register was not swathed in security. Names were removed if scandals made headlines and if certain careers, including acting, went the way of the undesirables.

Actress Jane Wyatt, in spite of being a descendant of the Van Rensselaer family, was in and out of the register.

Years later, one of Keller’s descendants married a Forbes, and there it was: the Social Register made in heaven.

According to Christopher, “an annual subscription to the Social Register is $125 a year which includes the winter and summer books. About a quarter of the 25,000 families listed subscribe, and in any given year the website is averaging just under 2,500 visitors a month.”

A quasi-surreal painting by Guy Pene Du Bois illustrated one of the Social Register’s newsletters.

 Vintage Gossip: The Social Register
Image courtesy of Christie’s

Aptly called “Social Register,” it occupied the Forbes’ townhouse living room wall for many years.

It focuses on the back of a man focusing on a black hole in an orange carpet. Could that hole be the one with his name on it, or not?

“The painting by Guy Pene du Bois was indeed part of The Forbes Collection but it was sold in fall 2012 at Christie’s. It was NOT commissioned by Forbes. It was painted in 1919 and owned by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney who bought it from the artist. It had changed hands quite a few times between then and 1992 when we bought it for the corporate collection,” says Bonnie Kirschtein, the Managing Director of the Forbes Collection.

A true socially registered provenance if ever there was one.

Feeling a bit insecure? Wrap yourself in cozy, orange blanket with The Social Register logo boldly stitched on it.

It’s the ultimate security blanket, after all.

Sleep tight.

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