I generally spend a great deal of time going through all the items in auctions of Chinese antiques. But recently I found myself totally intrigued with a catalog of an auction sale of belongings of the very handsome proper late actor and member of the international social set Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. I was shocked — everything was there but his underwear. Whatever happened to dignity after death. And his death was many years ago so where have all of these belongings have been kept for so long?
The auction included the usual items, Louis XIV style chairs, silver platters, crystal and dinner services. And the books. That is where I really got interested. What an incredible library this actor had!
There were beautifully leather bound complete collections of the work of Gustave Flaubert, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Alexander Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde for starters. Hundreds and hundreds of leather bound books. Then such items as A Display of Heraldry London 1638. Something that tempted me to bid was four signed or inscribed books of Robert Benchley including his great The Treasurer’s Report.
Katherine Hepburn was included with signed copies of her books Me & The Making of the African Queen. And there were personal letters from her to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. signed by a nickname “Pete.” Andrew Wyeth was well represented with books, drawings, and a watercolor of him fencing with Fairbanks (sold for $1,024).
Then there was something as far to the extreme from all the leather bound classics as a delightful poster by Dong Kingman of San Francisco Chinatown. (sold for $281) The books with regular covers were sold in lots — there were hundreds of them. One lot featured Slim Arons The Wonderful Life. I hope it was signed. My copy is inscribed to me by Slim.
Silver gelatin photographs popped up occasionally through the list of items for sale. There was one of George Bernard Shaw, and a good one of Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Countess of Burma in a silver frame with them dressed in formal court regalia estimated at $200-300 sold for $2,375. It did have “Dickie” and “Edwina” signed on the mat by each of them.
I was intrigued with a worn leather dispatch case with the cypher for King George VI (sold for $1,625). And John Barrymore‘s white silk evening scarf was bought for $875. Then there was one lot of the 1984 commemorative United States post office stamp honoring his father Douglas Fairbanks Sr worth $288 to someone. This was accompanied by photos and envelopes featuring the stamp. He had a Civil War bullet and huge collection of medals and Masonic pins.
Then things got personal and I was a bit shocked. Two complete Rolodex files sold for $625 which was probably no bargain because most of people listed were dead; Douglas Fairbanks’ wallet with all his signed credit cards as well as his passport brought $1000; Thirty-five signed canceled 1935 checks and a ledger sheet were worth $750 to someone.
He had 3 police badges, an endless collection of cufflinks (some knotted cloth and some very elegant like a set of coral, gold and diamonds that sold for $2,304. The were many shirt studs and cuff link sets as well as many cigarette cases, watches, gold buttons for blazers. The cases for his contact lenses weren’t fancy! Imagine having the case for your contact lenses sold at public auction! Well I don’t wear them so that’s not a worry for me.
Then the clothes. These went on and on and on. The sport jackets, the smoking jackets, suits endlessly — all so elegant! A mountain of ties; complete white tie evening apparel from tail coat to an assortment of white ties; a great array of cotton shirts and lots of Lilly Pulitzer shorts and tops for summer visits on private islands I suppose. Or maybe Palm Beach. An item with one of highest estimates other than cigarette cases and watches from top jewelers was his Louis Vuitton steamer trunk which sold for $5,938.
Did I weaken and bid on anything? Well actually I did. A hip length man’s black wool evening cape with velvet collar. Not in the usual man’s wardrobe. But Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was a very elegant gentleman. And no my absentee bid didn’t make it. Just as well. It wouldn’t have looked very good over blue jeans anyways!
Well there is much more I could write about but I want to get busy cleaning out my drawers and closets. One has to face the inevitable I guess…
Kathleen Fetner, Technical Advisor and Friend