Margaret Thatcher’s ‘free market’ triumphs at auction

Spectacular demand for Iron Lady’s personal effects at Christie’s

 

In May 1979, arriving at No 10 Downing Street as Britain’s first woman prime minister, Mrs Thatcher famously quoted the prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

A typed page with this prayer, signed by her, sold for £37,500 and was one of many highlights in the auction of her personal effects at Christie’s in London on Tuesday.

Mrs Thatcher was the first woman to lead the Conservative Party and served as British Prime Minister from 1979 until she resigned in 1990. She later sat in the House of Lords as Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. Lady Thatcher died in 2013 and her clothes, jewellery and other mementoes were consigned to auction by her heirs, son Sir Mark and daughter Carol.

The packed auction room in central London also attracted bids from online and telephone bidders in 41 countries worldwide – including Ireland – and many items sold for vast multiples of their estimates. As the sale proceeded, the auctioneer frequently referred to the geographic location of the bidders in locations as diverse as Austria and South Korea. Mrs Thatcher, the ultimate champion of the market economy would surely have applauded Christie’s description of the bidding as “extremely competitive.” Among those who attended the auction were her official biographer, the author and journalist Charles Moore and Lord Archer (the novelist Jeffrey Archer).

The highest price, which prompted warm applause, was achieved for a 26-inch high porcelain model of an American bald eagle, by ceramics-maker Kaiser – a gift to Mrs Thatcher from former US president Ronald Reagan – which sold for £266,500, more than 30 times the top estimate of £8,000. Her leather prime ministerial dispatch box embossed in gold with the royal cypher of Queen Elizabeth II made £242,500 – the estimate was just £3,000-£5,000. This lot attracted a bidder in Ireland at £38,000, who dropped out when bidding soared.

Among the clothing lots, the midnight blue velvet dress she wore for her wedding to Denis Thatcher in 1951 sold for £25,000. A camel-coloured cashmere coat with a mink collar, by Aquascutum, together with a pair of fleece-lined waterproof boots by Golo, worn by Mrs Thatcher during her famous visit ‘Iron-Lady’ visit to the Soviet Union in 1987, sold for £30,000. A pink silk and gold lamé brocade evening ensemble, also by Aquascutum, that she wore to Ronald Reagan’s last state dinner at the White House on November 16th, 1988, sold for £47,500.

Her famous handbags attracted frantic bidding. Among them: “a brown faux crocodile handbag” made £18,750, and a chevron quilted shoulder bag and scarf by Chanel made £22,500. The final lot in the auction was “Baroness Thatcher’s parliamentary peeress’s robes of scarlet wool with ermine collar and edging” which had a top estimate of £1,800. They sold for £81,700.

Among the jewellery, an Art Deco emerald and diamond necklace by Chaumet made £158,500; a Victorian diamond brooch, modelled as a swallow, sold for £50,000 (estimate £3,000-£5,000); a three-row natural pearl necklace, £32,500.

Even relatively minor lots made staggering prices. A modern silver bowl, engraved to the interior with the words: “The Lady’s Not for Turning” which had a top estimate of £500 sold for £47,500. Mrs Thatcher’s sewing basket, the contents of which included “a ceramic thimble commemorating the liberation of the Falklands 1982” along with two button boxes, sold for £3,250. Perhaps most astonishing of all: a pair of Manolo Blahnik black velvet evening court shoes, with kitten heels and trimmed with ruched velvet, for which the top estimate had been £200, sold for £4,375.

Some of the prices achieved may seem extraordinary but, when these items are re-consigned to auction in future years, as some inevitably will be, their value will likely have appreciated considerably. Mrs Thatcher’s legacy as one of the most famous public figures of the late 20th century, could mean that some of Tuesday’s successful bidders got real bargains.

Christie’s said the auction had raised more than £3.2 million (€4.4 million).

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