TREATED LIKE ROYALTY: DUKE AND DUCHESS OF WINDSOR ARE GOLDEN AT SOTHEBY'S
The Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor sold Feb. 19-27, 1998. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's
It was all in place, like the memories of a long lost love.
A collection of letters, photographs, and gifts describing the first meeting and growing intimacy between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The actual desk on which the duke signed away his throne. A recording of his farewell address to the nation. The wedding album. Gifts from friends like Winston Churchill.
Thirty-three years of trinkets and heirlooms from one of the most celebrated romances in the 20th century. Everything was guarded in its original setting and poised for the exodus from the Louis XVI-style villa, the Windsors’ former residence in Paris.
During Sotheby’s nine-day auction preview held Feb. 10-19, 1998, seven of those original rooms were recreated in the New York showrooms. Well over 30,000 people and 31,000 copies of the three-volume catalogue were sold.
The longest sale in American history took place in 18-sessions on Feb. 19-27, and 44,000 items went up for sale.
The sale grossed $23.5 million, second only (to date) in Sotheby’s history to the Jacqueline Onassis auction of $34.5 million.
More than 80 percent of the lots went to Americans. A sonata of sorts to a culture obsessed with celebrities and rags-to-riches tales. The remaining items sold to buyers from 49 countries.
At the conclusion of the auction, Mohamed Al Fayed, the consignor of the collection, said: “Although I have not been able to attend the sale personally, I have been following it closely and on a daily basis from my home. I am delighted with the marvelous results that have been achieved.”
The item attracting the most attention on the first evening of the sale was a box containing the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s wedding cake. It sold to a California couple, Benjamin and Amanda Yim from San Francisco, for $29,900.
Mr. Yim said after the sale, “It is almost unimaginable to have such an item exist. It is something totally surreal. It represents the epitome of a great romance.” When asked if they would be exhibiting the cake, Mr. Yim replied, “We’re sure we’re not going to eat it.”
The famous abdication desk, a George III mahogany table, circa 1755, sold to an anonymous phone bidder for $415,000. The duke’s wedding suit, a morning coat and trousers worn by the duke on the day of his marriage to Wallis Warfield, sold for $27,600.
Sentimental items like a photograph of the Duke of Windsor in his christening robes realized $27,600, and a child’s silver mug given to the infant prince by his grandmother, Queen Victoria, on his first birthday sold for $12,650.
Some of the collection was already gone like the duchess’ jewels. Sotheby’s auctioned them in 1987 for $50 million.
The most valuable antique furniture was donated to Versailles.
The duchess was on the international “best-dressed” list for 40-years and some clothing from her wardrobe went to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her wardrobe in the auction brought $1,028,727 and attracted buyers like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci.
The net proceeds from the auction benefited the Al Fayed International Charitable Foundation, which is known for its work in pediatric healthcare and medical research.
Q. My husband inherited three beer steins and I’m hoping you can help me. I think they’re about 50-years-old. How can I find information about them in my area?
A. First of all, you don’t want to sell your steins until you have a good sense of what they’re worth. Start by visiting your local library. Look for books on steins. Texts like “The Beer Stein Book” by Gary & Beth Kirsner give you illustrations for identification.
You can get a solid education at the library without spending any money.
If you think you have something good, look through the yellow pages under appraisers and have someone knowledgeable take a firsthand look.
There are also lots of newsletters and magazines on the subject. One is the “Stein Collectors International Magazine,” PO Box 5005, Laurel, Md. 20726-5005.
In addition to a publication, they have an organization with 28 chapters worldwide dedicated to the art, culture and manufacturing of beer steins and drinking vessels.
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