Duchess of Devonshire’s collection goes under the hammer

Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
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Collectors are paying tens of thousands of pounds to own some of the late Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s possessions.

Her personal keyring, jewels from her husband and a rare copy of Brideshead Revisited, personally inscribed by her friend Evelyn Waugh, are among the precious items in the collection at Sotheby’s in London today (Wednesday, March 2).

Among the biggest sales so far are a 19th Japanese gilt-decorated guardian figure, which sold for £62,500, and a painting called The Potato Patch: October Twilight by Sir George Clausen, which sold for £50,000.

The collection, entitled ‘Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire: The Last of the Mitford Sisters,’ includes the contents of her final home, the 18th century Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth estate. It was here she spent the last ten years of her life, until her death in 2014 at the age of 94.

Among the 450 lots of personal belongings was her prized Elvis Presley memorabilia collection, a number of signed books and her collection of walking and shooting sticks.

Born in 1920, ‘Debo’ as she was affectionately known, was the youngest of the six legendary Mitford sisters. In 1941, she married Andrew Cavendish, who went on to become the Duke of Devonshire and together they set up home at Chatsworth House.

Her family issued a statement ahead of the auction, saying: “Our mother was very clear about how things should be organised following her death. She left precise instructions for a large number of personal legacies and specific bequests to the Chatsworth House Trust, and the remainder of her possessions she left to us. Given the kind of person she was, and the rich and varied life she led, there are more belongings than we can accommodate. We are keeping items that are particularly precious to us, but we have made the decision to consign the remainder to Sotheby’s.”

David MacDonald, Sotheby’s specialist in charge of the sale, said: “This auction paints a vivid picture of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, featuring mementoes, objects and pictures that tell the story of her remarkable life, as friend to many of the people who shaped her generation. The objects with which she chose to surround herself in her final home, the Old Vicarage at Edensor, were often moving, funny, or both, and usually had marvellous stories attached.

“The items in this sale capture the very essence of this endlessly captivating woman.”