It’s fair to say the appetite for Joan Didion paraphernalia is at an all-time high. The sunglasses the writer modeled in a 2015 Celine ad campaign sold for $27,000 on Nov. 16 in a live online and telephone auction held by Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York.
Didion wore the tortoiseshell sunnies while seated in a chair in her Upper East Side Manhattan apartment, wearing a black shirt and a large, gold pendant. The shades had initially been listed with a price estimate of just $400 to $800.
They were far from the only thing that far exceeded their price estimate at the Didion estate sale, which was heavily promoted nationally for a month; public previews were held for a week before the sale.
Two black-and-white photographs of Didion with her Stingray Corvette sold for $24,000 and $26,000, respectively, not including a 28% buyers premium. That’s more than you’d spend on a real Chevrolet Corvette today.
Taken by Julian Wasser just after the publication of Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem in 1968, the famous series was shot at her rental on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, California, where she lived with the writer John Dunne and their daughter, Quintana Roo. The photos had initially been listed with a price estimate of $1,500 to $3,000 each.
A massive walnut, oak and maple writing desk that Didion’s parents had owned sold for $60,000, roughly six times its initial price estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. A stack of the majority of Didion’s published books, including Run River and a first edition of The White Album, sold for $15,000, 15 times more than initial price estimates. Her small Cartier desk clock sold for $35,000 after a $100 low estimate. It doesn’t even keep time.
A Victorian rattan armchair with blue-and-white seat cushions that Didion had in her homes in California and New York had been estimated at $700; it sold for $28,000. Even a stack of nondescript seashells that had adorned Didion’s home won an ungodly sum. Listed with a low estimate of $100, they sold for $7,000.
Such prices are high but not unexpected for a celebrity sale at the peak fame, when even mundane items conjure the spirit of the deceased for those with the money to buy them. ( Didion died on Dec. 23, 2021.)
In 1988, Andy Warhol’s cookie jars sold for $247,830. In 1996, an auction for Jackie Kennedy memorabilia drew more than $34 million for her jewelry, photographs and such personal effects as her 1992 green BMW 325i four-door sedan. The car fetched just $70,000, but her old oak rocking chair sold for $453,500 after listing with a pre-sale estimate of just $3,000 to $5,000.
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