Windsors' wares going on auction block
February 8, 1998
Web posted at: 9:57 p.m. EST (0257 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- At the House of Windsor, too much was never enough.
The Duke of Windsor may have had to give up the throne of England to take the American divorcee Wallis Simpson as his duchess. But even as outcasts, they continued to live royally.
"They did for shopping what Einstein did for physics," says Bruce Wolmer of Art and Antiques Magazine. "They took it to a whole new dimension."
Now, their possessions -- some 40,000 items -- are about to go on sale at Sotheby's auction house in New York. To display the collection, Sotheby's has re-created rooms from the Windsors' Paris home.
"It helps the audience that we're trying to address put it all in context," says Chapin Carson of Sotheby's. "They like to see how they lived. They like to see where the object was in their house."
The duke, the uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, died in 1972; the duchess, in 1986. And in a royal twist, their home and possessions ended up as the property of Egyptian millionaire Mohammed al-Fayed, the father of Dodi Fayed, who died in a car crash in August with Princess Diana, the duke's ex-great niece-in-law.
The auction was originally scheduled for last September but was postponed after the deaths of Diana and Fayed. The proceeds of the sale -- Sotheby's expects it to raise $5 million -- will benefit some of Diana's favorite charities, as well as a children's foundation named for Fayed.
To create the proper ambiance for displaying the Windsors' wherewithal, Sotheby's hired the New York firm that created the exhibition for the wildly successful Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis estate sale in 1996.
"What we wanted to do was really to create a ghost house, a phantom of a lost age," says Francis O'Shea of Ralph Appelbaum Associates.
"Auction houses have been learning for a long time, and increasingly over the last decade, that there's no business like show business," says Wolmer.
And, as the Windsors would have done, great attention was paid to get things just right. A longtime friend of the Windsors, C.Z. Guest, was brought in to set the dining room table.
"I think people who come here who didn't know the Windsors will get the feeling of the taste they had and the beauty of all the wonderful things they collected," he said.
Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist contributed to this report.