- Written by Dr. Lori Verderame Dr. Lori Verderame
Recently, one of the most important and diverse fine-art and antiques collections amassed from all parts of the world went up for sale on the auction block at Christie’s in New York. The collection belonged to David and Peggy Rockefeller.
David Rockefeller died at 101 and was head of Chase Manhattan Bank, a philanthropist, and a grandson of John D. Rockefeller.
What struck me most about the Rockefeller collection and their well-advertised art and antiques auction had very little to do with the exceptional beauty, artistry, or value of any of the nearly 2,000 items.
Certainly, there were fine paintings by Cezanne, Seurat, and Gris, to name only a few. On the auction block was a highly sought-after Pablo Picasso painting, once owned by Gertrude Stein, of a girl holding a basket of flowers; various pieces of antique English furniture; and a Sèvres porcelain service commissioned by Napoleon himself.
Yet the variety of objects in this highly publicized, once-in-a-lifetime auction was not what stuck with me when I read — in newspapers, trade publications, magazines, and online — all about the Rockefellers’ collection and their prearranged donations to museums, foundations, and universities.
In fact, what I remember about the reports of the Rockefeller auction was the comment that the couple’s youngest child, Eileen Rockefeller Growald, made when an interviewer asked her if she would attend the auction of her parents’ belongings. Her answer was no.
“It feels like selling pieces of my parents, and I just can’t watch,” she explained.
Right there is why you, your children, and your grandchildren are probably a lot more like the Rockefellers than you might think.
While most of us don’t have the collections of note or the resources that the Rockefellers had to amass such a collection over generations, most of us do have objects that mean something special to our friends and family.
Rockefeller Growald’s comment moved me because so many people tell me that their children don’t want their stuff, that their family wouldn’t care about this collectible or that piece of furniture.
I know that isn’t true. I think it is often a mechanism for people to take the easy road: the road far away from being hurt if a daughter rejects a family china dinnerware set from Austria, where your grandmother was born; or if a son doesn’t covet the violin that he took lessons on, which once belonged to his great-grandfather from Italy.
It is easier to contend that a family member doesn’t want a work of art, antique, or collectible instead of putting in the time, effort, and emotional resources to deal with it as it moves onto another person’s collection.
Perhaps your collection is not like the Rockefellers’ in size, scope, or value. But in your home there are works of art, antiques, and even small, collectible objects or souvenirs from your travels that your children and grandchildren associate with you and your values. Perhaps many of them wouldn’t want to watch your items go by the wayside either.
So, before you downsize, liquidate, or dispose of your heirlooms, have a chat with your kids and your grandkids, and think about your friends and others who would like a memento. Of course, value is important, but their feelings are more important.
When it comes to your children’s attitude about your antiques, you may be just like the Rockefellers.
Dr. Lori Verderame is the author, Ph.D. antiques appraiser, and award-winning TV personality on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. Dr. Lori provides expert appraisals and consulting services for art/antiques. Visit www.DrLoriV.com or call (888) 431-1010.