The 52 percent discount was not in effect last week when Patricia Kluge’s furnishings went on sale. Though she dropped the price of Albemarle House, the 45-room English country-style home from which 933 lots of stuff were culled, to $48 million from her original $100 million, by midday Wednesday it seemed similar bargains would be scant. Sotheby’s organized the house auction, which followed a week of previews, and after the prize piece from the collection, a Qing Dynasty clock, sold for $3.8 million, more than three times the expected price, staff were practically giddy with delight.
This hand-colored lithograph of a California Hare, sold for $2,200, wasn’t the only item to move quickly at Sotheby’s auction of “The Collection of Patricia Kluge.” A pair of faux bamboo beds, expected to sell for $800 to $1,200, shot to $20,000, and a bison head brought in another $3,400.
But not everyone in the room shared those feelings—at least not on Wednesday morning, when the contents of Albemarle House’s many bedrooms went on the block. The price to slumber like a millionaire, Kluge-style, is north of $550,000, including a hammer price of $70,000 for the canopied bed that Pat and Bill (Moses, her husband) slept in. It had been estimated to fetch between $30,000 and $50,000.
“This is so depressing,” said an interior designer, who, with her husband, had traveled from Baltimore. “I thought I’d get something.”
Comparatively little of the serious bidding took place in the event hall on the lower grounds of Albemarle House, where Sotheby’s had set up two dozen-plus telephones and chairs enough to accommodate 200 people. “The bid is with J.R.,” auctioneer Lisa Hubbard, a winning Jane Lynch look-alike, announced, pointing to one of the many dapper Sotheby’s staff working with remote bidders. “The bid is with Alejandra …The bid is with Alistair…”
“Good start, everyone,” Hubbard jocularly intoned, after the George III master bed sold—the first item of the day.
Later in the four-hour session, a pair of faux bamboo beds pitted six bidders against each other until the hammer went down on a $20,000 bid. The expected sale price had been $800 to $1,200. And a very commanding bison head, about the size of a Prius, sold for more than $3,400, slightly ahead of Sotheby’s estimate.
Provenance is a byword in the auction trade: “From the collection of….” In Kluge’s case, Nancy Lancaster was an important previous owner of many of the furnishings that Kluge put on sale. The native Virginian (born at Mirador, a historic Greenwood mansion) was once reputed to have the greatest taste in the world, according to Sotheby’s—an aspiration that would be right in line with the baronial style of Albemarle House. Last week’s auction made clear that “From the collection of Patricia Kluge” carries a great deal of currency, too. Said the Baltimore designer who was chagrined by the prices even the smallest lamps were commanding, “This is all the new rich who want something to collect.”
Sotheby’s had estimated the sale would bring in about $9 million, on top of the $5 million that Kluge’s jewelry fetched in April. In fact, by the end of the first day, the register tallied $12.4 million. Total for the two days was $15.2 million.
Still, while this news will clearly thrill Sotheby’s and Mrs K., auction etiquette seems to dictate that bidders maintain a dour visage at all times—even when they prevail. All of which made the sale of Lot 552, “California Hare (Plate CXII) from the Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America,” a hand-colored lithograph after John James Audubon, that much more interesting. The winning bid went to a woman of certain years, seated in the room, who had bid on nothing else. “Sold for $2,200 to the lady,” announced Maarten ten Holder, a soft-faced, blue-eyed auctioneer who’d taken over from Hubbard. At which point the lady lifted from her chair, pumped two fists high into the air, collected her shopping bag and headed for the check-out counter.
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