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A Life Of Privacy Goes Public Sotheby’s To Sell Off Possessions Of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Maryln Schwartz Dallas Morning News

Flipping through the auction catalog for the estate of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is like being at a garage sale for the super-rich and famous.

There is glittering jewelry, engraved silver and framed paintings, as well as chipped knickknacks and worn furniture none of her relatives wanted.

In life, the elegant Onassis was exceedingly private. Her possessions, like her comings and goings, were gossiped about and speculated upon. But the public never knew for sure, because the public never got that close.

But in death, a great deal of the private “Jackie” will be put up for sale April 23-26 at a special auction at Sotheby’s in New York.

Not only are many of the thousands of items personally revealing, many are surprisingly affordable.

A simulated turquoise, emerald and diamond necklace the former first lady wore at the anniversary of her husband’s inauguration is offered, along with a picture of her wearing it.

It is valued at $150 to $200. Why so cheap? “Simulated” means the jewels aren’t real.

This reveals something never discussed when she was alive: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore a lot of costume jewelry.

Beautiful but fake earrings and pendants - an array of faux diamonds, rubies and emeralds - are up for sale. Most are accompanied by photos of the historic occasions at which she wore them.

If you aren’t interested in jewelry, you can bid on the youth chair “John-John” Kennedy used at the White House. It has a value of $1,500 to $2,000. Or there’s the dedication copy of John F. Kennedy’s first book, “Why England Slept.” The leather cover is engraved with the name of the owner - Rose Kennedy.

A brown leather Stetson hatbox with a leather tag that reads “The President” is valued at $200 to $300.

Items given to his wife by Aristotle Onassis are a bit more pricey. For example, a diamond engagement ring valued at $600,000.

The historic value of the former first lady’s possessions is expected to drive the bidding for many of the individual items to $1 million or higher.

This is how the entire auction is expected to go. The estimated value of the possessions is $5 million. But the historic and “special” value of anything belonging to “Jackie Kennedy” is expected to raise the value to wildly unknown heights.

Diana Phillips, a senior vice president of Sotheby’s, says this is the third auction her company has held that is of mammoth social and historic proportions.

“The first was the Duchess of Windsor in 1987,” she says. Her estate was estimated at $5 million to $7 million. It finally brought in $50 million.

“In 1987, Andy Warhol’s estate was valued at $10 to $15 million. It brought in $25 million.”

Phillips says the Onassis auction is expected to eclipse both of those.

Getting to attend the Onassis auction is not a simple matter. But anyone can bid by mail or by telephone.

Phillips says that in order to be there in person, you must have purchased an auction catalog. The hardback edition sells for $100, the softback for $55. “There will only be room for 2,000 at the main auction building,” says Phillips. “Twelve hundred will be in the main room and 600 in an auxiliary room. There will also be audio bidding from locations in Los Angeles and Chicago.”

So far, 100,000 catalogs have been printed and 38,000 have been sold. Most people who want to be there will be disappointed.

“But please don’t give up and think you can’t bid,” says Phillips. She says anyone can call Sotheby’s and get a mailing bid form. You can consult the color catalog and see the item you wish to bid for and the estimated value. Then you mail in a bid as high as you will go.

If an item is listed as worth $1,000, you can bid that amount or even as high as, say, $10,000. “Then the auctioneer has your high bid in front of him. If the in-person bidding stops at $4,000,” says Phillips, “you get the item at $4,250 or whatever the next increment is. It doesn’t have to go as high as $10,000. That just tells us that’s your limit. You can also make special arrangements with Sotheby’s to bid by telephone. This must be done in advance.”

But for many, just having the catalog is like having a piece of history.

There are pictures of the rooms in her home, her dishes, her art, her mementos from the White House years.

There is also a touching introduction from Nancy Tuckerman, a childhood friend who, in later years, became Onassis’ social secretary. Tuckerman also worked with the former first lady at Doubleday when she became a book editor.

It is Tuckerman who has fielded most of the questions from people wanting to know why the family is selling such personal items.

How can the children give up the rocking chair their father used in the White House? How can they not want to keep the original sketch for the first lady’s White House portrait? There are notes being auctioned from foreign heads of state. Dishes and jewelry presented to her from the rich and famous all over the world.

Authors from Truman Capote to Norman Mailer gave her books with personal inscriptions. They are all going in the auction.

Tuckerman says the family gave much of the estate to the Kennedy Library and friends, and the children, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg and John Kennedy Jr., kept some.

But there is simply too much. President Kennedy owned several rocking chairs. The family kept the best of the bunch.

Onassis owned four homes: an apartment in New York and houses in Hyannisport, New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard. There was simply too much stuff for any family to keep.

Serious art collectors will not expect to find important pieces in the sale. Onassis had only “minor” art. Her homes were quiet, with understated elegance, and did not contain show pieces that would be considered major decorating statements.

Among the things in the catalog expected to be most popular are several family portrait studies by the artist Aaron Shikler. Several are of the Kennedy children as they were in the White House, and the largest is a full-length study of the late first lady. It is valued at $10,000 to $15,000.

For historic and sentimental value, a set of golf clubs with a leather bag engraved with “JFK, Washington, D.C.” will surely go for much higher than the $700 to $900 estimated valued.

Fans and “Jackie watchers” have expressed excitement, as well as some sadness and concern, that the belongings of the very private Onassis will be scrutinized by strangers.

But those acquainted with her say she knew exactly what was going to come about; she even helped plan some of it.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: MAKE YOUR BID FOR A PIECE OF HISTORY Interested in purchasing an auction catalog for the estate of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis? The soft-cover version is $55 and the hard-cover is $100, including tax, shipping and handling. To order, call (800) 601-6155. And be patient - you’ll have to contend with busy signals and being put on hold (but the operators are very gracious). Proceeds from its sale will go to charities, including the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Proceeds from the auction go to the former First Lady’s daughter and son. The catalog includes instructions on placing absentee bids. If you bid high enough, you may just end up with something that belonged to one of the most legendary women of this century.

This sidebar appeared with the story: MAKE YOUR BID FOR A PIECE OF HISTORY Interested in purchasing an auction catalog for the estate of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis? The soft-cover version is $55 and the hard-cover is $100, including tax, shipping and handling. To order, call (800) 601-6155. And be patient - you’ll have to contend with busy signals and being put on hold (but the operators are very gracious). Proceeds from its sale will go to charities, including the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. Proceeds from the auction go to the former First Lady’s daughter and son. The catalog includes instructions on placing absentee bids. If you bid high enough, you may just end up with something that belonged to one of the most legendary women of this century.

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