Final Take for Jackie O Auction Tops $34 Million
The auction fever of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate sale ended Friday with frenzied Camelot souvenir hunters ringing up $34,457,470 during four days on Sotheby’s cash registers, over seven times the original estimate of $4.6 million.
Last to go out the door was Onassis’ 1992 BMW 325i sedan, with 10,032 miles on its odometer, selling for $79,500. The item before that--an oak rocking chair used by President John F. Kennedy in the second floor oval room at the White House--was purchased for $453,500 by Carol Bayer Sager, the Grammy Award-winning lyricist, Sotheby’s said.
Her bid topped the price of another oak presidential rocking chair, which sold for $442,500 the first night of auction.
As the auction wound down Friday, even photographs of portraits of Onassis and her children went for tens of thousands of dollars.
“The success of this auction does not belong to Sotheby’s,” said Diana D. Brooks, the president of the auction house, who spoke with tears in her eyes. “It belongs to Mrs. Onassis. It is her grace and style, her dignity, her courage that are behind the results this past week.”
“People have bid and bought at this auction because she and President Kennedy touched our lives in a profound way,” Brooks said.
Sotheby’s president said Onassis’ children told her Friday that they were “surprised and delighted” with the sale and “pleased so many people were able to be here.”
Sotheby’s savvy marketing, which tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia, yielded big profits for John F. Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. The sale of 105,000 copies of the auction catalog alone--in $90 hardcover and $45 softcover editions--brought $2.5 million in profits, which will be donated to charity by the two Kennedy offspring.
After the 584-page catalog was printed, and as absentee bids began to arrive for the sale, the auction house issued an addendum with 106 added lots, an indication that the Kennedy children had decided to sell more items after sensing the surge in interest.
For some in the audience, the sale mixed unabashed hero worship with catharsis-by-cash.
“They want a piece of a myth,” said David Post, a Boston psychologist who attended the auction Friday.
“I think it put final closure on an era, which I think had many abrupt features to it,” said Reeva Maker, a New York social worker who sat a few rows behind him. “I think Jackie Kennedy was the last remaining icon of that era.”
As the auction drew to a close, bidding escalated to bizarre heights.
A set of 38 decorated French drinking glasses went for $43,700, a mother-of-pearl-handled magnifying glass and letter opener, whose value was estimated at $200 to $300, sold for $24,150. A painted plastic model of Air Force One, the presidential plane, was bought for $48,875. It was valued at $300 to $500 in the catalog.
And so it went. Three silk cushions were bought for $25,300. A print of Caroline Kennedy’s cat, “Tom Kitten,” went for $14,950.
Not a single item in the auction of 1,301 lots went unsold.
The highest price--$2,587,500--was paid for the 40.42-carat diamond engagement ring that Aristotle Onassis gave his bride. The buyer was Anthony J.F. O’Reilly, the chairman and chief executive of H.J. Heinz Co.
The lowest price paid was $1,250 for six volumes about Asia.
Brooks said Sotheby’s received 125,000 absentee bids and people from 19 countries participated in the auction.
“I’m thrilled beyond words,” said Edith Armstrong Toor of Palm Springs, Calif., who bought some of the books that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis owned. “We owe so much to her.”
Among the big ticket purchasers was actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Maria Shriver, President Kennedy’s niece. He bought President Kennedy’s MacGregor golf woods for $772,500, a Norman Rockwell painting of the president for $134,500 and a leather desk set for $189,500.
The White House also was a bidder this week, but found itself nearly shut out by the huge prices. Backed by donated money, not tax dollars, White House bidders had hoped to buy items associated with the Kennedy years in the White House and with the White House itself. But by Friday afternoon, the White House curators had been able to buy only one item, an original drawing of an 1860 reception in the Blue Room, near the end of the administration of President James Buchanan. The price tag: $14,000.
The total auction revenue easily surpassed the $25 million raised when artist Andy Warhol’s personal effects were auctioned in 1987; and even though it didn’t reach the $50 million the Duchess of Windsor’s jewels brought the same year, it nevertheless yielded hefty profits for the Kennedy children, who will use a portion of the money for estate taxes.
Trust and estate lawyers said the auction may also be followed by visits from the tax man, as the IRS may seek to reevaluate initial appraisals of goods.
“In assessing the value of Mrs. Kennedy’s gross estate for tax purposes, the IRS will most certainly consider the value received on the auction block,” said Frank R. Rosiny, a veteran estate lawyer in Manhattan.
Among the items sold Friday was a Christmas present given by the then-Mrs. Kennedy to her mother and stepfather just weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. The purchaser was Don Carter, a private investor from Old Brookville, N.Y., who the night before had failed to buy Kennedy’s golf clubs.
“For Mommy and Uncle Hugh, Jack was going to give you this for Christmas--Please accept it now from me--With all my love, Jackie, December 1963,” the book’s inscription read.
The gift that JFK was never able to deliver himself was a rare collection of every presidential inaugural address from George Washington’s through his own.
“Truly, there’s only one opportunity to do this,” Carter, who paid $110,000 for the volume, said. “There will never be another Jackie Onassis auction.”
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Top 10 Items Sold at the Jackie Auction
Here are the top 10 sellers in Sotheby’s auction of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ belongings. The buyers of the merchandise are listed where known.
1. $2.6 million for a 40-carat Lesotho diamond engagement ring from Aristotle Onassis. Value estimated at $600,000. Bought by H.J. Heinz Co. Chairman Anthony J.F. O’Reilly for his wife.
2. $1.4 million for a desk used by President John F. Kennedy to sign the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Value estimated at $30,000. Bought by an unidentified European foundation.
3. $772,500 for a set of MacGregor woods golf clubs, with a red and black golf bag inscribed “JFK Washington D.C.” Value estimated at $900. Bought by actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
4. $574,500 for a walnut cigar humidor, a gift to Kennedy from comedian Milton Berle. Value estimated at $2,500. Bought by Marvin Shanken, publisher of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines.
5. $453,500 for an oak rocking chair used by Kennedy in the Oval Office of the White House. Value estimated at $5,000.
6. $442,500 for an oak rocking chair also used by Kennedy in the White House, exact location undocumented. Value estimated at $5,000.
7. $415,000 for a kunzite and diamond ring bought by Kennedy as a gift for his wife. Value estimated at $8,000.
8. $387,500 for a set of Ben Hogan Power Thrust irons, together with a black leather MacGregor touring bag inscribed “JFK Washington D.C.” Value estimated at $900.
9. $360,000 for a pair of ruby-and-diamond-pendant ear clips. Value estimated at $35,000.
10. $343,500 for an 18th century John Wootton oil painting of Lord Bateman’s Arabian. Value estimated at $120,000.