President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy lived two very different public lives: first they were famous Hollywood actors and then decades later, they spent eight years in the White House, a tenure that occurred as the Cold War cooled and Americans were allured by a new conservative movement.
Throughout all of that glamour, the Reagans maintained a simplicity in their private lives, especially as it relates to the collection of furniture, decorations and other trinkets they acquired over the years.
“They bought nice things,” says Andy McVinish, regional director for decorative arts of Christie’s Americas. “There was a sort of simple elegance to the decorations and items they lived with.”
Famed auction house Christie’s is in the process of selling over 700 lots, with 90% of those items either found at the Reagan family’s private residence in California or at some point found in the White House during their eight-year stay in the 1980s. The auctions—which include a traditional live component on Wednesday and Thursday this week as well as an online sale that extends through September 27—is projected to realize $2 million in sales with items ranging from under $1,000 to $50,000. Proceeds will go to the nonprofit The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.
McVinish, who is overseeing the auction, says when he took a tour of the Reagan’s Bel Air, California home, he was struck by their loyalty to familiar objects that the famous couple would keep for decades. “They re-used these brilliant sofas and arm chairs for decades—and maintained them fantastically well,” he said.
The auction—with highlights that include a signed fragment of the Berlin Wall, Reagan’s cowboy boots, and a Tiffany clock that was a gift from Frank Sinatra—is the latest “personality” driven sale hosted by Christie’s. In general, auctions can be divided into two categories: a professional artist’s pieces or a collection of items acquired by a famous personality. In the case of personality sales, auction houses see greater interest from a wider variety of shoppers that might not have the means (or interest) in scooping up the latest pieces of fine art.
“Everyone has a chance to buy something in these types of sales,” says McVinish. “Only a small percentage of the market can buy into a contemporary art sale. But with more personality-driven sales, it is incredibly more democratic.”
The auction is the first ever for items that were personal to the Reagans—essentially a way for shoppers to bid on a piece of history. And unlike an auction of Andy Warhol or Jackson Pollock pieces—which have a history of sales trends to help guide estimates—for auctions like the Reagan collection, there’s an emotional component that can make it difficult to predict sales prices.
“That’s the secret to these types of sales,” McVinish says. “Of course we have estimates. But we don’t know what it will be worth until the hammer is down on the last lot.”