Nelson Bunker Hunt, who has died aged 88, was a multi-billionaire Texan oilman who, with his brother Herbert, attempted to corner the world silver market. They went spectacularly bankrupt, threatening to bring down the American financial system in the process, and were forced into a humiliating “fire sale” of their prized collections of coins, art and racehorses.
The Hunts’ fortune had been built up by their father, Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, a farmer’s son from Illinois who became a professional poker player known as Arkansas Slim. Famous for his claim that “Money doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s only the way you keep the score”, HL Hunt went on to become a “wildcat” oilman (independent producer), forming a partnership with a man called “Dad” Joiner, who had discovered a massive oil field in east Texas (and later insisted that Hunt had cheated him). He built his company, Hunt Oil, into the largest independent producer of oil and natural gas in America and, by the time of his death in 1974, was one of America’s three richest men, alongside Howard Hughes and Paul Getty.
The empire Hunt had created was spread among the 12 living children he had fathered by three different wives, who had lived, dotted about the country, in blissful ignorance of one another’s existence. But the bulk of the family businesses were run by Bunker, Herbert and Lamar, sons of his first marriage to Lyda Bunker.
Great wealth does not inevitably accumulate over the generations. Sorry, but it just don’t.
Fun (possibly apocryphal) story about a meeting during the bankruptcy proceedings. His daughter turned up wearing shoes that had glass heels with live goldfish in them.