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The Fascination of Celebrity Collections

CELEBRITYYou could say that celebrities collect because they have so much money they don’t know what to do with it. That’s probably true - the clever ones though collect as an investment and have a passion for what they collect. Take the actor Tom Hanks, whose fondness for old typewriters even prompted him to have his own iPad app The Hank Writer which allows users to simulate the typewriter experience on their tablet. Reese Witherspoon collects antique linen and embroidery, Whoopi Goldberg collects Bakelite Jewellery, whilst Dolly Parton and Claudia Schiffer have gone nature’s way – by collecting butterflies and insects. Talk show host Jay Leno has one of the greatest car collections in the world, ranging from rare cars to jet-powered cars and Quenton Tarantino collects board games. Throughout the decades we have seen some impressive celebrity collections going under the hammer.

MOVIE MEMORABILIA Perhaps the most significant collection to go under the hammer was that of Debbie Reynolds’ Film Memorabilia. When Debbie bought up a collection of original film posters, dresses, film costumes, shoes and other things used by actors in films which the studio was going to throw away, little did she think it would make her a fortune – in fact a $22.8million fortune! The auction included the white billowing dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch that fetched $4.5 million, Judy Garland’s ‘Dorothy’ dress worn in The Wizard of Oz that sold for %910 000, Audrey Hepburn Ascot dress from My Fair Lady which went for $3.7 million.

CELEBRITY AND ROYAL JEWELLERY Celebrity and Royal Jewellery collections have been put on auction since the 18th Century when, in the aftermath of the French Revolution in 1795, Christie auctioned the magnificent jewels of Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s mistress. The sale realized £8 791 (about $1.3 million today) which was the record for the most expensive jewellery collection sold at auction for nearly two centuries. Other memorable jewellery auctions included the historic sale of the Duchess of Windsor’s jewellery in 1987 for $50.3 million, Elizabeth Taylor’s legendary jewels which fetched a staggering $156.8 million and the jewels of Princess Salimah Aga Khan, wife of Prince Karim Aga Khan which fetched over $27 million. In 2006, actress Ellen Birkin put the jewels she received from her ex husband, financier Ronald Perelman on auction and the more than 100 pieces fetched a total of $20 million. Also in 2006 Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret sold some of her collection for over $17 million.

POLITICAL MEMORABILIA In 2015, Baroness Thatcher’s political and personal memorabilia, including her clothes, letters and mementoes sold for millions including her red dispatch box used for carrying state papers whilst she was Prime Minister.

SOME MEMORABLE CELEBRITY COLLECTIONS SOLD RECENTLY INCLUDE: Barbra Streisand is known to be a serial collector – with her taste in collecting ranging from Art Nouveau and Art Deco antiques to vintage fashion and jewellery and more recently to Chippendale and Americana. Over the years she has auctioned off more than 500 unique items, including costumes, furniture, lamps, paintings, posters, china, glass and collectables. Jerry Seinfeld recently put 10% of his collection of Porsche’s on auction, with one, the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder (the same model in which James Dean crashed) expected to sell for close to $6 million.

Nicholas Cage, a long-time collector of rare and vintage comic books, recently sold off some 141 comic book lots for a total of $1.68 million. In 2014 Madonna auctioned her collection of dresses and outfits worn during her career in music and film for charity and raised $3.2m. The auction included the dress from her Material Girl video, her wedding dress when she wed Sean Penn and the dress she wore on her Who’s That Girl tour.

In 2006 Cher put a selection of her costumes, jewellery, art furniture, cars and personal memorabilia on auction with a portion of the proceeds going to the Cher Charitable Foundation. Michael Jackson memorabilia always attracts high auction bids. His signature white glove fetched $35 000 and the jacket worn in his 1983 ‘Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video fetched $1.8 million. Singer/songwriter Andy Williams’ art collection, which included works by Willem de Kooning, Jen-Michel Basquiat and Pablo Picasso was auctioned in 2013 and fetched over £20 million.

A stunning 9.54 carat fancy deep blue diamond ring that belonged to the legendary Shirley Temple was sold by Sotheby’s. From a child star lifting America’s spirits out of the Great Depression to her decades of service as an American diplomat, Shirley’s father purchased the diamond ring in early 1940, around the time of her 12th birthday and at the time of the premier of her film The Blue Bird. We asked Hannah O’Leary of Bonhams in London what sets these items aside from similar items in private collections and how to collect items with this type of provenance. “Provenance is of enormous importance when collecting art. On a very basic level, provenance can confirm the absolute authenticity of an artwork by tracing the ownership from the artist to the person selling the work. Of particular interest are paintings from the family of the artist, from a well-known and highly respected collector, or from well-known personalities. Of course, we keep the details of our sellers confidential unless they have given their express permission to reveal their name publicly.”

Some examples from recent Bonhams sales include works belonging to the Hollywood actor Anthony Quinn, Princess Alice of Athlone, and of course the Irma Stern ‘Arab in Black’, sold by the Suzmans in the 1950s to raise money for Mandela and his co-accused at the Treason Trial The Anthony Quinn sculpture by Shilakoe remains the world record price for the artist. Over the years the entertainment memorabilia department has sold items previously belonging to many celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor. Other celebrities’ collections sold by Bonhams include items belonging to Lauren Becall, Eric Clapton, Richard Attenborough and the cast of Top Gear.

MOST EXPENSIVE AUCTION ITEMS The website lists the 20 most expensive items auctioned in recent times – they include:

MOST EXPENSIVE PAINTING Pablo Picasso’s Green Leaves and Bust, depicting Picasso’s mistress Marie-Therese Walter, is the most expensive painting to be sold on auction, selling for $106.5.

MOST EXPENSIVE SCULPTURE (THE WALKING MAN) L’Homme qui marche 1 by Alberto Giacometti (1961), of a man walking cast entirely in bronze, sold for a staggering $104.3 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE CHINESE VASE Discovered on a great-aunt’s mantelpiece and almost overlooked and sent to charity, this Chinese Qianlong Vase, of 18th Century origin during the reign of the 4th emperor in the Qing dynasty in the year 1740 fetched $53 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE FURNITURE The Badminton Cabinet, essentially a Florentine Ebony Cabinet Chest dating back to the year 1732, and adorned with precious stones including amethyst, quartz, chalcedony, jasper, lapis lazuli, agate etc, sold in 2004 for $36 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE MANUSCRIPT The Codex Leicester ‘Codex Hammer’ by Leonardo Da Vinci, a collection of his scientific theories and writings, was bought by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates for $30.8 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE ANTIQUITY Artemis and the Stag, a bronze statue that captures a very split second time when an arrow is shot from the bow of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, discovered at a construction side in the 1920’s, dates back almost 2 000 years and was sold in 2007 for $23.8 million.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE DIAMOND The 35.36 carat, internally flawless ‘Wittelsbach Diamond’, originally from the Golkonda region of India in the 17th Century was sold for $23.4 million in 2008.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE CAR The 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, one of only 21 surviving models was sold for $12 million in 2009.

MOST EXPENSIVE BOOK Birds of America, authored by James Audubon, of which there are only 118 copies in existence, of which 108 copies are in museums and libraries, sold for $10 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE BRACELET An Onyx & Diamond Panther Bracelet, crafted by Cartier for Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, established a new world record selling for $7 million.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE ENGLISH FURNITURE The Harrington Commode, from renowned cabinet maker Thomas Chippendale, dates back to 1770 and fetched $5.8 million at Sotheby’s.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE MUSICAL INSTRUMENT This violin, dating back to between 1698 and 1744 and originally owned by the violinist in the court of Russian Tsar Alexander II, and more recently played again by Israeli maestro Pinchas Zukerman in Moscow, sold in 2007 for $3.9 million.

MOST EXPENSIVE ENGLISH SILVER A great silver wine cistern, with a weight of 168 pounds, dating back to the 18th century, designed by the legendary artisan Philip Rollo, sold at Sotheby’s for $3.8 million.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE SPORTS MEMORABILIA The baseball, played by baseball player Mark David McGwire, first baseman for the St Louis Cardinals, who shot his 70th straight home run of the season was auctioned off for a $3 million.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE COMIC BOOK Action Comics No 1, owned by a Hollywood superstar, sold for $1.5 million, is known to feature the first appearance of Superman, showing him on the cover lifting a car.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE PIECE OF CLOTHING Marilyn Monroe wore a flesh coloured, backless dress with over 2 500 dazzling rhinestones when she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr President’ to US President John F. Kennedy in 1962. It sold for $1.26 million in 1999.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE BARBIE DOLL Crafted by famous jeweller Stefano Canturi, the custom-designed Diamond Barbie, featured a 1 000 carat pink diamond, commissioned by Mattel Inc to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic toy sold for $302 500 at Christie’s, with the proceeds going to The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

THE MOST EXPENSIVE CHAIR The ‘Dragon’ Armchair, designed and crafted by Irish Designer Eileen Gray between 1917 and 1919 is adorned with sculptures of dragons on its arms and sold for $29 million.



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