Dowager Duchess of Devonshire collection raises almost £1.8m at auction

Auctioneer Henry Wyndham fields bids for items from the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's collection at Sotheby's in London.
Auctioneer Henry Wyndham fields bids for items from the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's collection at Sotheby's in London.
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More than 1,000 bidders fought over the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s private collection in an auction that raised almost £1.8m.

The salesroom at Sotheby’s London was packed for the sale of 465 lots of the Duchess’s possessions.

Deborah, known as Debo, was a huge fan of the arts and counted John F Kennedy, Lucian Freud and Winston Churchill among her friends.

During her time as chatelaine of the Chatsworth Estate the Duchess accumulated a wide range of rare and interesting possessions, from Elvis Presley memorabilia to fine art.

The pre-sale estimate for the entire collection was between £500,000 and £700,000. But Wednesday’s sale attracted huge interest, and the final total was £1,777,838.

A statement from the Duchess’s family said: “Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire was always interested in and excited by the auction process, so we can guess how much she would have enjoyed today’s sale. It was very pleasing to see her personal collection received so warmly at Sotheby’s.

The late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's possessions are auctioned by Sotheby's of London.

Lot 11 - A Japanese gilt-decorated lacquer guardian figure, Meiji Period, late 19th century, sold for �62,500.

The late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's possessions are auctioned by Sotheby's of London. Lot 11 - A Japanese gilt-decorated lacquer guardian figure, Meiji Period, late 19th century, sold for �62,500.

“She would have loved the idea that many people from all over the world will now enjoy some of the pieces she lived with. We have been hugely impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the team at Sotheby’s, and are very grateful for their efforts on our behalf.”

The items offered at auction came from The Old Vicarage, an 18th-century house in Edensor, a village on the Chatsworth Estate, where the Duchess spent the last 10 years of her life.

Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe Henry Wyndham was auctioneer for much of Wednesday’s sale. He said: “Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire represented the last of a special era – I can’t think of anyone left who has quite the same charisma.

“She enjoyed the friendship of some of the most celebrated and interesting figures of the 20th-century. She knew the world, and everyone knew her. It was wonderful, but perhaps unsurprising, to see her collection received so rapturously today. I am sure the Duchess would have been quietly amused by the whole event, but most of all would have been pleased to see her belongings find brand new homes where they’ll be treasured.”

Many of the Duchess’s possessions sold for significantly more than their original estimates.

The most expensive item was a Japanese gilt-decorated lacquer guardian figure, dating from the Meiji period in the late 19th-century, which was acquired by the Duchess’s grandfather, Algernon Bertram.

From an estimate of £20,000 to £30,000, it eventually sold for £62,500.

Another top seller was a first edition copy of the Duchess’s friend Evelyn Waugh’s best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited, distributed by the author to his inner circle. It is one of 50 pre-publication copies, and is one of only a small number of which were inscribed by the author.

The book sold for £52,500.

Further down the list but just as interesting was the Duchess’s collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia, including a novelty telephone previously installed in the Blue Drawing Room at Chatsworth.

The lot was estimated to sell for between £500 and £1,000, but eventually went for £4,375.