A populist to the last: affordable prices for Margaret Thatcher personal items at auction

Whether you’re a fan or an astute collector, you’ve the chance this week to bag a bargain in Christie’s internet auction of some of the personal effects of the late British leader

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 1:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 December, 2015, 2:11pm

Personal items belonging to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher have gone on sale this week in an online auction.

London’s Christie’s auction house will sell 200 personal items belonging to Britain’s only female premier in the online auction that runs until Wednesday.

The lots, owned by Thatcher’s family, could fetch a combined total of about £500,000 (HK$ 5.8 million), says Orlando Rock, president of Christie’s UK.

SEE ALSO: Auction houses remain optimistic about upcoming sales in Hong Kong

The auction house is used to dealing with works of art that regularly sell for more than 10 times that amount. “It is quite unusual for us that the vast majority of lots are affordable to a very, very large number of people,” says Rock.

Some of the most famous items, including the dresses she wore when first meeting Nelson Mandela and when dancing with Ronald Reagan, went on public display at Christie’s in London on Friday.

The auctioneer says the collection gives “unique insights into the ‘Iron Lady’.”

“She had a secret passion for clothes,” curator Meredith Etherington-Smith says of Thatcher, a dressmaker’s daughter born Margaret Hilda Roberts in Grantham, central England, in 1925.

“From a very young age, she and her sister used to make clothes,” she adds.

“When she became the first woman prime minister she used clothes as a way of emphasising her power. Every time there was a photo opportunity, she was beautifully dressed, immaculately coiffured, with a nice handbag, and she looked what she was: a powerful person.”

Historic lots include the blue suit she wore in a 1990 parliament debate on the expansion of the European Monetary Union, in which she uttered the now immortal line: “No. No. No.”

Thatcher went to great lengths to ensure she wore colours appropriate to any country she was visiting – green, a symbol of hope, in Poland, and blue and cream in Israel to mirror the country’s flag.

“It was all very carefully thought out,” says Etherington-Smith.

“At her party conferences, she always wore a very sharp blue suit,” the colour of her Conservative Party. “She never wore red in the UK because that’s the colour of socialism but she did wear it in America because that’s the colour of Ronald Reagan’s Republican party,” the curator says.

Her “special relationship” with US president and fellow free-market reformer Reagan is a focal point of the collection.

Items include a statue of a bald eagle, the symbol of the United States that Reagan gave her as a gift, which is expected to sell for between £5,000 and £8,000.

One of the most emblematic pieces is the iconic red leather briefcase that contained the prime minister’s confidential documents, which is expected to fetch between £3,000 and £5,000.

Other items include signed copies of some of her most famous speeches, her wedding dress, her handbags – which used to strike fear into colleagues during cabinet meetings – and jewellery.

The items, proceeds of which will go to her children and grandchildren, were initially offered to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, but it decided against showing them.

Thatcher was in power from 1979 to 1990. Her privatisations and deregulation helped turn around Britain’s ailing economy. But she remains a divisive figure, particularly in Britain’s hard-hit working-class heartlands.

She died on April 8, 2013, and received a ceremonial funeral attended by Queen Elizabeth.

Agence France-Presse