From a chunk of the Berlin Wall to a jar of jelly beans – the Ronald Reagan auction offers ‘something for everyone’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 8:28pm

From cowboy boots to a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a jar of jelly beans: an auction of Ronald Reagan memorabilia offers a tantalising glimpse into the private world of a US conservative icon.

Hundreds of items from the 40th president’s White House residence and the Bel Air home he shared with wife Nancy until his death in 2004 go on sale in New York next week and are expected to fetch US$2 million.

From upholstered furnishings to mementos of his Hollywood career and a monogrammed dinner service, the more than 700 lots include gifts from notables such as Frank Sinatra and Margaret Thatcher.

It was an incredibly warm home ... One really got the sense that it was filled with furniture that they had had for almost their entire married life
Gemma Sudlow of Christie’s

Interest in the sale is likely to be high just six weeks before Americans go to the polls to elect either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican rival Donald Trump in a deeply divisive race that has left many Republicans more nostalgic than ever for the late president.

Critics today may root much of today’s income inequality in Reaganomics, but for many on the right it was an era when American power seemed unchallenged, before the uncertainties of the post 9/11 era and the 2008 recession.

The collection goes on display at Christie’s showroom in New York on Saturday. An online auction begins Monday, followed by a live auction on Wednesday and Thursday.

Gemma Sudlow, head of private and iconic collections at the auction house in New York, said the collection was a biography of sorts of Reagan and his wife, who died earlier this year at 94.

“It was an incredibly warm home,” Sudlow said. “One really got the sense that it was filled with furniture that they had had for almost their entire married life. There was a modesty to it, there was a simple elegance to it.”

A marine chronometer, from Frank Sinatra and his wife, is engraved with “Good Morning Mr President” and dedicated “Love Francis and Barbara”. It is expected to fetch US$5,000-US$10,000 on the auction block.

Fans of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister, may want to bid for “his ‘n’ her” silver beakers – engraved R and N – and each inscribed “With love, from Margaret and Denis Thatcher”.

Patriots and historians may hanker after a piece of the Berlin Wall, which Berliners tore down after he left the presidency and following his famous 1987 exhortation to Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. Weighing nearly 9kg, the chunk is signed by Reagan and valued at US$10,000 to US$20,000.

It was bought back to the United States by a member of the White House staff and presented as a gift to the former president, Sudlow said.

Another star lot is a pair of cowboy boots made of ostrich, cowhide and frog skin, hand-tooled in 14 carat gold, decorated with the presidential seal and valued at US$10,000 to US$20,000.

They were one of four pairs presented to Reagan in 1980 by actor and “singing cowboy” Rex Allen. Custom-made, Reagan never wore them, leaving the boots in impeccable condition.

Those short on furniture could splash out US$3,000 to US$5,000 on floral armchairs – or perhaps bid for one or two dining tables that the Reagans used when not indulging their fondness for eating on television dinner trays. Another standout is a Chinese screen, originally a gift from the Chinese premier and one of Nancy’s particular favourites.

Sudlow said the sale offered “something for everyone”. The cheapest lot is a set of bar napkins starting at US$200. There is also a fun collection of accessories from the president’s desk, including a jar of his beloved candy, jelly beans.

But the most expensive lot is a gold and diamond necklace valued at up to US$50,000, which Nancy wore during a state visit to Britain in 1988. Reputedly one of her favourite pieces of jewellery – the pendant doubles up as a brooch – the necklace can be shortened into two or divided into four bracelets.

Further testament to her extravagance, which at times fanned controversy, is a diamond, sapphire and ruby ring made to look like the US flag and a crocodile Hermes handbag valued at US$10,000 to US$15,000. There are plenty of ornamental elephants – the emblem of the Republican Party – and porcelain eagles – central to the presidential seal.

“There’s a real sense of fun and playfulness in some of the aspects of the decoration,” Sudlow said.