03/09/1998 at 01:00 AM EST
For Matthew Coleman, 17, it was a chance to take home some regal history. Entering Sotheby's in New York City on Feb. 20 with a pocketful of money earned from a summer job, the Woodmere, N.Y., high school student and royals fan successfully bid $400 on lot 336, a silver-plated plaque presented to the Duke of Windsor in 1926. "I had no idea what I was bidding on," Coleman admitted afterwards. "But I always wanted to be part of the royal family, and now I kind of am."
He was hardly alone. The nine-day (Feb. 19-Feb. 27) auction of memorabilia from the Windsor clan's most romantic couple, King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, far exceeded expectations. Though the hoopla surrounding the 44,000 items paled compared with that attending Diana's dresses or Jackie O's tchotchkes, the sale brought in $17.2 million by Day 6 (Mohamed Al Fayed, owner of the Windsor goods, is donating proceeds to the Dodi Fayed International Charitable Fund, in memory of his late son). Whoopi Goldberg stopped by, Tommy Hilfiger spent $350,000 on home furnishings on opening night, and a painting of Edward on his horse went for $2.3 million. Then there were those whose shopping had just begun. In the first days, clothing designer Pat Kerr spent more than $175,000, including $4,025 for a leather bridle. "Now," she said, "we've got to get a horse."
"I'm furnishing my house in Greenwich [Conn.]," said designer Tommy Hilfiger (with wife Susan). He plans to pass his purchases on to their son and three daughters.
Hilfiger bought this Venetian rococo-style painted commode, which was formerly in the Duchess of Windsor's bedroom. Sotheby's had estimated its value at $4,000-$6,000.
This box—written on in ink by the duke and duchess—reportedly contains a piece of their 1937 wedding cake (no one's sure). It was expected to sell for $500-$l,000.
Amanda and Benjamin Yim came from San Francisco to bid on the wedding cake morsel. "It's almost like a time capsule to us," said Benjamin. "We're not going to eat it, for sure."
Edward Meyer, vice president of Ripley's Believe It or Not!, won a copy of the abdication speech.
Meyer bought this '50s silver jacks set, which the duchess demonstrated on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person.
Memphis clothing designer Pat Kerr, who bought four Diana dresses at auction last year, landed the Windsors' wedding album for $32,200.
Kerr also won the first item up for bid, this 2½-inch portrait of the infant Prince Edward in his christening gown in 1894. The framed picture was expected to bring in $2,000-$3,000.
Manhattan fourth-grader Alexandra Bernardin, 10, had some difficulty at the sale. Once, she said, "I was about to itch my forehead and [the auctioneer] almost thought I was bidding."
With the encouragement of her father, Tom, who works in advertising, and mother, Martha, a homemaker, Bernardin managed to raise a successful paddle for a 212-piece set (shown in part) of French engraved and etched table glass. "It was fun playing against people," said Bernardin. "I thought it was going to be boring."
Preferring the phone to the paddle, anonymous bidders prove nothing is priceless
This 1921 painting by Sir Alfred Munnings, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales on "Forest Witch," was expected to bring $600,000-$800,000. Instead, it set a record high for one of the painter's works.
The mahogany table where Edward signed his 1936 abdication of the crown (in order to wed the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson) was estimated to sell for between $30,000-$50,000.
Like many bidders, the duke and duchess were renowned pug fanciers. These French porcelain dog bowls, named for two of their pooches, were listed at $1,000-$1,500.