Last week the contents of the late comedienne Joan Rivers’ New York City penthouse were auctioned off by Christie’s. Besides her jewelry and clothes, the auction consisted mostly of the French furniture and antique accessories she had collected over a lifetime.
French design is not exactly trending right now, so I was curious to see what the final auction prices for her furniture were. Is this a good time to buy some wonderful French antiques at a steal? And, in addition to this auction, in 2014, Christie’s auctioned off the contents of Joan’s country house in Connecticut. Together, there are some lessons to take from these two auctions.
Although Joan Rivers was known for her both her sense of humor and her addiction to plastic surgery, she surprisingly had a love of French antiques, which makes me love her just a little. A lot, really. I’ve always admired Joan because she was never afraid of anyone or anything and she was a hard worker, to the very end.I remember when I first saw Joan’s antique filled New York City penthouse, I was shocked at how dignified it all was. It was not at all what one would expect from a “loud mouthed comedienne” like Joan.
Her apartment was the penthouse in an original mansion, located right off Fifth Avenue and Central Park, a short stroll to the Plaza Hotel. Her penthouse was spread out over three floors, and her daughter Melissa stayed in the bottom floor which was a guest apartment. Last year, the opulent penthouse sold for $28 million to an Arab sheik who is said to be gutting it. Gutting it????
The heart of Joan’s triplex, which was built in 1903 for the Gilded Age Millionaires Alice and John Drexel, was the ballroom and music room of the original mansion. These two opulent rooms had all the original gilt and moldings that Joan had had painstakingly restored by artisans.
Gutting it? Why????
#1 E. 62nd Street – The Drexel mansion - now known as The Spencer Condominium, where Joan had lived since 1988, the year after her husband Edgar died. The mansion was converted into 12 apartments in 1930 and for a time, Ernest Hemingway lived here and even wrote The Snows of Kilimanjaro here. The mansion is just 47’ wide and 7 stories tall.
An early photo of the mansion – without the top two floors with the curved windows that Joan lived in. These rooms must have been added either by Joan or a previous owner. Notice the contemporary building, today a synagogue, to the right of the mansion which replaced the original house that was once there.
Close up of the top floors with the curved windows that were added later, along with the terraces. The three windows right below the two floors of curved windows is where her daughter Melissa and grandson Cooper stayed, in the ground floor of Joan’s apartment.
This book is filled with all the important Gilded Age mansions that architect Horace Trumbauer built. He also designed the mansion where Joan’s penthouse was.
Joan’s fans left flowers at her front door when she fell ill.
The Front Lobby
The grand staircase. Joan’s 5100 sq. ft. apartment had 11 rooms, including 4 bedrooms and baths and 5 wood burning fireplaces. Joan also served as President of the condo’s board and was even embroiled in a lawsuit with a condo owner at the time of her death.
The floorplan shows the three floors, with 3 staircases, 2 mezzanine balconies, and over 20 closets including a cedar walk-in and another, just for the china – of which she had many sets.
And here, a hidden jib door leads from the private elevator foyer to Joan’s Music Room.
You enter off the left of the glorious Music Room, above. This room is located between the dining room and the library and the Ballroom. On the left there is a window seat and there is a fireplace on the right. Above, is the mezzanine level with bookcases that looks down on the Music Room. At the back is the dining room. The library is to the left of the dining room, through a hidden jib door.
The auction held last week at Christie’s had a final sale total of $2,199,125 – a portion of which went to two of Joan’s favorite charities.Here’s a look at some of the item’s sold from the Music Room:
This bench is George III, 1780, and it went for $10,650 on a value estimate of $3,000.
The view from the upper mezzanine, looking down towards the ballroom with the tall columns. The parquet is Versailles pattern. Joan lived here for almost 30 years and she had never really changed a thing.
Looking towards the Ballroom with the columns. The painted clouds on the ceiling is really a dated touch – from 1988. A plain ceiling would look so much better, IMO, but I’m not surprised that Joan never updated anything here. The apartment has a timeless, classic design, not one that you would update with blue tufted velvet couches that are all the rage today.
The early 20th century Aubusson rug went for $8,125 with a value of just $6,000.
The window seat in the music room with two bergeres. Above is the mezzanine level.
Perfume burners, Malachite, the lamps sold for $9,375.00, 19th century. These are gorgeous. The estimate was $8000, so this final price is close to market value.
These chairs are from 1780 and went for only $7,500. The estimate was $6,000, so these held their value. They are really a beautiful pair with the bow detail on top.
This French table, not old, 20th century, went for $10,650 – it’s estimate was $15,000.
This pair of sofas, NOT antique, went for an outrageous price of $37,500!!!!. They were valued at only $5000. This price was driven up by the sentimental value that Joan Rivers owned them – something you have to be very careful when buying from a celebrity auction.
If you want to own a piece of the celebrity, choose something small and personal – a hand mirror, a brush, a perfume bottle. But big sofas that aren’t antique? You could buy these new for a 10th of this price.
Night view of the Music Room, with the dining room door closed – it’s mirrored French doors. Wow, I really don’t like that painted cloud ceiling! Especially when the hidden lights are turned on.
Joan entertained a lot. Each Thanksgiving she held a large dinner party where a long table was set up in the Music Room. Her surprisingly good friend shock-jock Howard Stern attended each year and would talk about how gorgeous an event it was. It looks like everyone got a red wrapped gift.
Here, the jib door to the library is open – to the left of the dining room.
Joan collected model chairs – and used them to hold books – in each room, especially bedrooms. Here is a painted French chair that is just adorable. In the tall cabinet is Joan’s Faberge collection. These small items ended up being the most valuable and most anticipated items in the Christie’s Sale. For example:
This frame went for $245,000 on a $60,000 estimate!!! This Faberge frame was the most expensive item in the entire sale. Wow. The frame was given by Queen Victoria to her daughter Queen Louise of Denmark. The frame had last been owned by Queen Anne of Romania.All these frames below are also Faberge:
This sold for only $100,000, with a value at $150,000.
$68,750. valued at $30,000.
$60,000. estimate $70,000.
$50,000. valued at $40,000. There were even more Faberge items. So, these pieces were some of the best investments Joan made, although we don’t know what she paid for them and some didn’t sell for their estimate. The lesson though is buy Faberge, if only you can afford it!!!
This early 20th century Russian Karelian birch box with a sapphire clasp was a whopping $7,500 with a 3K value. Interestingly, Joan herself bought this in an auction in 2002.
The library through the jib door. The clock was listed in the catalogue, but not on the final sale tally.
In this video, Joan is bragging that she is friends with Prince Charles and Camilla and each year they send her a hand addressed Christmas card. She said she likes to keep it here on this table, very nonchalantly. It was so funny the way she said it! Then she said her friend who was on her way over was sure to notice the card. AND, since there are no pictures of the staircases, you can see a tiny bit of the bottom stair at the left of Joan, to the right of the dining room door. These stairs lead up to her bedroom and the mezzanine and the help’s bedroom. The stairs down, lead to the guest apartment where Melissa and Cooper stayed.
And here, to the right of Joan, is the second set of stairs that lead up the help’s quarters.
Night view from the mezzanine looking towards the Ballroom. At the right, the door is open that leads to the private elevator foyer.
These crystal candelabra went for $8,195 but the value was just $3,000. The mud men were not in the sale. Perhaps Joan’s daughter decided to keep them?
Looking from the mezzanine into the Ballroom.
The Ballroom has large windows on both sides with a crystal chandelier and piano. The rug, which is 19th century, went for only $7,500. but I’m not surprised, Aubussons are not in big demand now. Someone got a great deal on the rug which is a classic.
This pair of French chairs, 19th century, sold for $5600. These would be so pretty with new fabric.
The 19th century German malachite clock sold for $6,875, with a 5k value. The side pieces malachite, 20th century, went for $6,000. The mirror went for $7500, with a $8000 estimate. All accessories – and all held their value.
This chest was the 2nd highest item in the sale. By Francois Linke and Leon Message, 1905. It went for $160,000, assessed at $150,000. It truly is a beauty. I would love to know what she paid for it.
Beautiful quartz crystal chandelier – this was not in the sale.
This chair is Russian, 18th century, and went for $13,750. which was a little over its appraised value. Wow. Russian furniture is expensive!! Who knew??? No, I knew, but you don’t see much Russian furniture in Texas.
These two sofas and ottoman went for a whopping $21,500 – the value was $4000. Someone got really ripped off!!! Again, this price was driven by sentimentality, not value. The sofas are 28 years old – there is no value in that. Plus, they can’t be pristine clean – she had 3 dogs. Oh well - my advice is don’t buy custom upholstery at a celebrity auction.
Looking the other way toward the Music Room.
The Ballroom was set up for conversation with its deep sofas and window seat.
Nighttime view of the ballroom. I can imagine that these rooms look best at night in candlelight and low lamp light. Joan was like me and disliked bright overhead lighting. When she stayed at Melissa’s house in California, she would turn down all the lights.
This chair is 18th century and went for $2750, a really good price for that age of a chair.
Night view of the ballroom’s bay window.
This set of chairs in front of the window went for $4,000, 19th century, valued at just $3k. These are quite pretty with the painted finish and would go well, mixed with Swedish antiques.
In this room, the large rug is early 19th century, and was valued at $12,000. It sold for just $7,500, again because these rugs are not quite as popular today. Someone got a great deal on this beauty.
The piano was not included in the sale.
The dining room, off the Music Room.
This Regency table, went for just $6000, with a $9000 value! 19th century – someone got a good deal!!!
Night view out the windows to the terrace. To the right, the opening leads into the kitchen. This early 20th century Aubusson rug went for $16,250 with an appraisal of just $4000 – so this rug was highly valued – more so than the more traditional rugs in the Music Room and Ballroom. This is a pretty one – and much more unusual than the others – which probably accounts for the high price.
This room is a bit too busy with the patterned rug and curtains and the decorated boiserie. I would have used plain curtain fabric instead.
The wall panels in pink and gilt boiserie are 18th century. The set of six chairs, 20th century, were quite a bargain. They sold for just $2,125 – valued at $3,000. Still, that’s a lot of chair for 2,000!! They are pretty, too, in silk velvet with trim.
Set of mostly Tiffany tea set, 19th century. It went for $27,500, value of $25,000. I’m loving this collection. Really pretty. The Tiffany and Faberge held their values. Names and brands are worth it judging by the values in the auctions.
This 20th century corner chinoiserie cabinet went for $4,375. with a $3,000 value.
There are no pictures of the kitchen, but I found this in a video. The kitchen needs major updating, but the tiled floor is pretty, as is the hanging shelf. I’m sure the Sheik is building a fabulous kitchen!!
This 20th century Tiffany bowl engraved with Spike – Joan’s dog’s name - went for an amazing $13,750 on just a $500 value. WOW. This was definitely a fan buying this for sentimental value!!!!
Off the dining room and the library is the terrace. At the end of the terrace, Joan put a mirror on the wall that gives the illusion that the terrace is larger.
The same view – in winter.
The view from the dining room windows framed this statue.
The library with the curved glass – looking over the street. You can see there are a few original mansions left on the street.
The library – it was changed around a bit in different photographs.
George III, 1760, $12,000 value – sold for $10,000. The English furniture seems to have held its value, more than the French.
I spy a beautiful collection of antique tortoise shell tea caddies that were not at the auction – under the coffee table. Someone decided to keep these, probably Melissa? As much as was sold at auction, there are still masses of things not at the auction.
The desk and chair, 20th century, with a value of $1500 went for a huge $12,500!!! Again, English, but not an antique. This was another sentimental purchase from a fan who wanted this well worn chair and desk used daily by Joan. But again, the English pieces went for higher prices.
I think the library and the bedroom above it were added on either by Joan or possibly before her.
Even her phone was pretty!
This bench, George II, 1745, went for $5,250. – estimate was $9,000. Whoa. That is a surprise. This is an original George II – from before we were even a country!!!!! Up the steps is the Music Room.
Above the dining room - on the mezzanine, is the foyer to the master bedroom.
On the mezzanine floor – the master bedroom foyer with its domed ceiling and marble floor.
The bedroom is ultra feminine with a lace canopy and hand painted pink wallpaper – probably Gracie. Even the ceiling was wallpapered. Through the door is the foyer which overlooks the Music Room. And further down is the master bath.
Joan gave an interview in her lace canopy bed.
The bathroom was all marble and silk. You can see Joan’s easel at the far left. She painted in here. She claimed it was because the light was good, but probably it was the only place she was able to paint and not ruin anything!
Joan collected French chair models, or children’s chairs and used them to hold books and magazines in bedrooms and bathrooms. The trio are gorgeous – to die for! They sold for $9,375 – valued at just $1500!!! One is 18th century, the other two, later dates. The green chair is shown in her bathroom. The one on the right was in the Music Room, remember? So cute!!!
The apartment had 20 closets. Apparently she saved many of her clothes. Attached to each dress was a ziploc bag with information of where she had worn the gown and with what accessories. She was obviously a Type A personality who never stopped moving. Here is a close up of the pink hand painted wallpaper in the bedroom. Quite beautiful.
Besides the NYC penthouse, Joan also owned a country house in tony Litchfield County, Connecticut that she bought after visiting Bill Blass’ country house. She loved this house and visited often, but she ended up selling it in 2014. At that time, she had another sale at Christie’s which is really, really interesting. The house was furnished in country French and country English manor style and the furniture was very casual – quite different from the penthouse in every way. When she bought the house, it was a modern ranchburger that Blass called the ugliest house in Connecticut. Joan said it was a “Frank Lloyd Wrong” and she called it “Denny’s.” She hired Joe Cicio to remodel the house completely. He added on 2,000 sq. ft., and 4 stone fireplaces with wood ceiling beams and wood and tile floors.
In 2003, Architectural Digest took pictures of the house which was very long and wide and then ten years later, real estate photographs were taken which shows the house in a different light – much used and with changes. The Christie’s sale which happened when she sold the house in 2014 must have been a huge disappointment to Joan. The auction prices were abysmal. Antique armoires went for $650. Yes.
2014 Real estate photos: The double French doors open to the foyer with its cozy fireplace. LOVE! This reminds me of Michael Smith’s old house with the fireplace in the foyer. I love that. There is a skirted table, and to the left is a library, with books piled on a library stairstep. Down the hall on the left are murals of friends’ houses.
This 19th century relief – found above the door – went for $1375.
In this week’s auction, these 20th century steps went for $3000 – valued at just $1200! And, without the bench too. You can see that when the “star” has passed, the sentimental value adds so much to the bottom line. Better to avoid celebrity auctions, especially those that have passed. The deals were all found at Joan’s first auction. After she passed away, the next auction had higher sale prices.
These 18th century French chairs went for just $2750, valued at $6000! You pay more for a reproduction – but these are 18th century!!!!
AFTER: 2003 AD. The second seating area, facing the fireplace with its new wood mantel. Bookcases were added to the sides of the fireplace and the two doors on the side of it – were made smaller and arched. I notice in the bottom shelves – the terracotta figures which ended up in the penthouse’s auction this week. At some point, she must have moved them back home to NYC.
What is most interesting is this set of 8 French & German birds from the 19th and 20th century were sold in this week’s Christie’s sale, as opposed to 2014. The price was $6,875 on a value of $6,000. Had they chosen to sell these in 2014, they probably would have sold for $1,000. Another set of birds were perched in the high window sill in the Connecticut family room. They were also sold this week for some reason.
19th century Chinese lacquered pigskin trunks – went for $1000. Valued at $3k. One of Joan’s yellow sofa went for $2750, the other went for $3250. - good prices considering the high prices that people paid for her sofas in the penthouse, but still expensive for 10 year old used sofas. The two orange chairs and flame stitch ottoman all went for $3250, which seems high for the age.
Buying nice custom new upholstery is very expensive, so I guess if you were going to recover the fabric, you might have saved just a little, but not much. All the other upholstered chairs went for around $1500 each, which is about what you would pay for one new, custom, plus fabric. Again, not a great deal, just a break even. But, still less than the prices went last week at the penthouse sale.
This 19th century Victorian scale went for $350. Yep. A steal!!! Valued at $1500. The group of 9 crocks went for $250. Gulp. 9 crocks.
AFTER: 2003, AD. Off the foyer, down a few steps, this tiled hall was opened up with a wall of windows. On the opposite side, a set of mirrors reflect the sun and view. In between the mirrors are murals of favorite houses: The Prince of Wales, Melissa’s house in California, and Blaine Trump – sister in law of The Donald. Blaine is very active with the charity God’s Love, We Deliver, which Joan also was active in.
2003: For Architectural Digest. The painting over the fireplace looks like Joan and Melissa. I’m noticing that back in 2000s, Architectural Digest would photograph interiors with the lights turned on – which I have always loved. Today, most magazines don’t. But compare the bedroom without the lights on, below:
2003: For AD: There were three guest rooms – with upholstered walls. The green velvet chair was sold for $750. And there is the tiny chair model – holding extra books, just like Joan loved.
This 19th century mahogany games table went for $625. Valued at $2000. A steal!
This pair of chairs went for just $750, under a $3000 value. This was probably another disappointment for Joan, but not as much as these:
What to learn from these two auctions? French furniture is not in demand right now – if you are in the market for some, try auctions rather than antique stores to save money. English, Russian and Swedish are more pricey at auction. Buy Fabrege! If only you can afford it!
But, really – brand names seem to hold value best, names like Tiffany and Cartier, etc. Don’t buy old upholstery at auction, it’s a ripoff and not clean. Don’t buy at auctions of famous people – you will pay higher prices driven up by fans.
To see ALL the auction items and the final sales – from both the 2014 and 2016 auctions, go HERE.
AND, finally -former domino editor and co-founder of Lonny, Michelle Adams is having a private sale on One King’s Lane. HERE