Henry Arnold Coster (1758-1820)

Henry A. Coster, Merchant, of the Brothers Coster, of New York City

Associated Houses

Coster-Phelps Mansion

Kip's Bay

He was born in Haarlem, Holland, and arrived in New York shortly before the Revolution. His younger brother, John Gerard Coster, joined him in 1786 and together they established Brothers Coster & Co., later renamed "Henry A. & John G. Coster" of 26 William Street. In 1864, the mercantile historian Walter Barrett stated: "I am not aware that there ever lived in New York City a more respectable commercial house - one that bore a mercantile credit unstained, and never tainted". 

The Costers were, "model merchants... the great success of these two excellent men was (through dealing in) all sorts of Holland goods (and) one article in particular, called "Krollenvogel," a species of tape, made of flax. They imported all kinds of oil cloths. Not only did they import, but they were constantly buying and shipping to Europe all kinds of produce... they traded also in their own ships, sending out supercargoes... They also did a heavy importing business from the West Indies, in rum, coffee, and sugar (and) they received more consignments of Holland gin than any other house in New York".

Henry A. Coster was recalled wearing, "short breeches, white stockings, and shoes with large buckles. Of course there were no boots in those days. He did not wear a cocked hat, although many persons did wear them in 1800, and long after. Both wore that sign of
an old-fashioned gentleman - the queue (a braided length of hair at the back)". 

The year 1801 was a fortuitous one for Henry: He married Magdalena Will; he moved from his house at 28 William Street to 85 Chambers Street; and, he was made a director of the Bank of Manhattan. He was also a director of the Merchant's Bank and the Globe Insurance Company. The brothers were Freemasons of "Holland Lodge, 8". After Henry died, John continued their success and in 1830 was one of only five millionaires in New York City with John Jacob Astor, Stephen Whitney, Nathaniel Prime, and Robert Lenox.

Henry died at his country estate, the Coster Mansion at Kip's Bay, January 14, 1820, at which time his firm was worth a staggering $3 million. He left seven children, and his widow inherited his fortune and their property which included their large brick house at 85 Chambers Street as well as their country estate. It was Henry's fortune that allowed his widow's second husband to purchase what is today Hyde Park's Vanderbilt Mansion.

The extravagant lifestyles led by Henry's sons (Harry and Washington) eventually killed them. Henry's five daughters all married into prominent families: (1) Julia, Mrs Francis Barretto (2) Louisa, Mrs Hamilton Wilkes (3) Caroline, Mrs William Elliott Laight (4) Laura, Mrs William Colville Emmet (5) Adaline, Mrs Peter Augustus Schermerhorn.
Contributed by Mark Meredith on 21/01/2020 and last updated on 23/01/2020.