I finally made it –– after more than five years of life in the Big Apple, I can say that I’ve been to Sotheby’s. How was it? Uncomfortable and pretentious, yet intriguing and exciting. I was with none other than Mr. Elegant himself, Scott McCulley, who escorted me through the preview of each section of Brooke Astor’s estate.
Many of the furnishings and tabletop items weren’t in great condition or to my taste, but I could appreciate the history behind each. Some of the jewels on the other hand were definitely worth seeing. But an interesting tidbit: Astor’s neck was so tiny; Sotheby’s might have a challenge finding a woman with a comparable necklace size.
I didn’t know much about the philanthropist and socialite before attending this exhibit. I learned quite a bit about the famous New Yorker by walking through the galleries at Sotheby’s. She was an animal lover and especially fond of dogs. An entire room at the exhibit was filled with dog paintings.
Her engagement ring was not a diamond, but a rather large emerald, and good amount of her jewelry was from Van Cleef & Arpels, with less from Tiffany & Co.
Astor was a giver and known for her generosity. The New York Public Library and the Animal Medical Center were two of her favorite charities.
While perusing vignette after vignette and one display case after another, I think what I learned more than anything was the importance of estate sales. I never really thought about them in this way before.
Each piece going to auction is as special as the next. Of course the stunning emerald ring would be my pick, (estimated between $100K-$150K), but something that may seem insignificant like the Chinese Brown-Ground Incised and Painted Low Lacquer Table with an estimated value of just $600-$800, may make someone happier than that huge emerald.
I think about the life of that lacquer table and the countless friends and dignitaries who have used it over the years. I think about how many glasses of wine or Manhattans skimmed the surface, or how many feet propped on the edges, and I realize the sentiment involved in the rather dilapidated coffee table. Perhaps Henry Kissinger or Nancy Reagan shared dessert with Astor, or maybe Oscar de la Renta and his wife Annette shared a cup of tea. Each piece from the estate had a life with her for many years. Whomever bids and wins the piece, will give it a new life, yet inherit part of hers.
The more than 900 pieces of remaining collectibles (read about the conviction of Astor’s son, who defrauded her from millions of dollars) will be sold and the profits will go to Astor’s charities and her legacy will go on. She passed at 105, and the epitaph on her gravestone (she selected the words), reads “I had a wonderful life.”
Two of her most famous quotes include:
“I certainly wouldn’t advise getting married that young to anyone,” she said later in life. “At the age of sixteen, you’re not jelled yet. The first thing you look at, you fall in love with.” (Astor married at age 16 and her first husband was known to be physically and verbally abusive).
“Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.”