Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going once, going twice, sold!! A brief history of royal auctions

There is an irresistible allure to owning something belonging to royalty. Whether the item is a famous jewel, such as the late Princess Margaret's Poltimore tiara to household items such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's clothing and furniture, each item holds a special cachet as a result of its provenance. In many cases the proceeds from these auctions have gone to charities of the royals choice or to cover estate death duties. Both auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's have conducted royal auctions, and Christie's has a particularly long association with the royal family, starting in 1773 when the property of the Princess of Wales, mother of George III was sold.

Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice
via British Monarchy Flickr
Princess Beatrice recently auctioned off the infamous and striking hat designed by Philip Treacy. She wore this hat to Prince William's April wedding and it sparked much comment and attention in the press. Unlike other royal auctions, which have been conducted by Sotheby's or Christie's, Beatrice sold the item through eBay. Wisely capitalizing on the hat's notoriety, she sold it, with the eventual proceeds - $123,325 split between UNICEF and Children in Crisis.

Christie's - Dresses from the Collection of Diana, Princess of Wales - 1997
Via Ronald Reagan library
Inspired by Prince William, Diana, Princess of Wales sold 79 of her dresses, with proceeds of $3.6 million going to AIDS and cancer charities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Since the original sale, several of the dresses have been sold. In April, two dresses were sold for $279,000. 14 dresses, originally purchased by a Florida businesswoman Maureen Rorech Dunkel for $700,000 in 1997, will be sold in Toronto on June 23 through Canadian auction house Waddingtons. Through Ms Dunkel, the 14 dresses became a touring exhibit called Dresses for Humanity. The proceeds from these tours raised money for AIDS, cancer and children's charities globally. Included in this sale is the iconic ink blue Victor Edelstein dress that Diana wore when she danced with John Travolta at the White House in 1985.

Christie's - Property from the Collection of Her Royal Highness The Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon - 2006

Annigoni, Pietro (1910-1988) - 1957 Portrait of Princess Margaret (Christie's London, 2006)One of the most glamorous women of her generation, Princess Margaret was renowned for her beauty and for her good taste. In 2006 her children controversially auctioned off her belongings to cover the death taxes for her estate. The 780-lot auction included the Politmore tiara worn at her 1960 wedding. Also included, an extensive collection of jewels, Faberge, silver, paintings, furniture as well as this famous Pietro Annigoni portrait. The proceeds from this sale were £13.7 million.

Sotheby's - The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor - 1987

Arguably one of the most famous jewelery auctions in history, the Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor raised $50.3 million, 7 times its pre-sale estimate. To this day this auction holds the record for a single-owner jewelry collection. The auction comprised 305 lots, many bearing personal inscriptions and  including 87 pieces from Cartier, the Duke and Duchess's favorite jeweler, and 23 items by Van Cleef & Arpels. The proceeds of the original auction went to The Pasteur Institute in Paris. Since 1987, pieces from the Duchess of Windsor's collection have continued to command high bids. In 2010, 20 brooches bracelets and other gems sold for $12.5 million.

Christie's - Property from the Collection of HRH The Prince George, Duke of Kent and HRH Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent and their families - 2009

This auction was not the first time Prince George, Duke of Kent's belongings had been sold at Christie's. After his death in 1942, to raise funds, his widow Princess Marina sold items in a 3-day auction in 1947. The sale included English furniture, objects of art and porcelain and raised £92,300.

In 2009, 200 lots were sold, including linen, photographs, clocks, silver, tapestries, rugs, works of art monogrammed and inscribed jewellery as well as a collection of trowels. Highlights of the auction included a portrait of 3-year old Princess Louise by her mother Queen Victoria. As well as a chair and stool from the 1937 Coronation of his brother King George VI.  A similar chair was sold at Princess Margaret's auction in 2006. The  Duke of Kent's auction raised £2.1 million.

Sotheby's - Duke and Duchess of Windsor auction - 1998

The auction for the contents of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor's Paris home was originally set for September 11-19, 1997. But due to the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales and Dodi Al Fayed, the son of Mohammed Al Fayed, owner of the Windsor's villa in Paris, the auction was postponed to February 1998. 40,000 personal effects belonging to the late Duke and Duchess were auctioned off. A wide range of items formed the auction, including the desk which the Duke, as King Edward VIII signed the Instrument of Abdication in 1936, a piece of their wedding cake, photographs, clothing, furniture, luggage, jewellery and all the way down to their monogrammed bathmats. The nine-day auction raised $23 million, three times the estimated value.

Christie's - Property from the Estate of His Royal Highness The Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester - 2006

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester was the third son of King George V. Unlike his brothers, he did not possess magnetic charm nor a fine eye for antiques. Despite their royal provenance, the items in this auction are practical rather than of greater historical significance. The 787 lots include christening gifts, tableware, menu holders, ink stands, furniture, fishing rods, oar blades, backgammon sets, fire irons, fans, parasols, illuminated manuscripts and a dog bed. This auction raised £5.1 million. Proceeds from some items went towards estate taxes as well as the charities Clubs for Young People and the Army Benevolent Fund.

© Marilyn Braun 2011

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1 comment:

What Kate Wore said...

Fond as I am of auctions involving royal-related items, I had no idea they dated back to 1773! The practice really offers an entirely different level of insight and 'value' to things that would otherwise be off limits to the average consumer or fan. Just reading the catalogs or looking at things online is educational, I admit to spending far too much time on such things!

Thank you for creating the comment ring , it is delightful "getting to know" you.