Historic Sale Marked by Strong Bidding from Fairbanks' Fans Worldwide
Hollywood Leading Man, Highly Decorated War Hero, and Distinguished Gentleman in International Society
Over 430 Lots of Memorabilia, Bespoke Clothing, Accessories, Photographs, Books, Silver, Furniture and Decorations
On September 13, 2011, Doyle New York auctioned the Estate of Hollywood Legend and Decorated War Hero Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. This landmark sale comprised over 430 lots of memorabilia, bespoke clothing, accessories, photographs, books, silver, furniture, artwork and decorations from Mr. Fairbanks’ Park Avenue home.
Competition between bidders in the salesroom and a global audience participating on the telephones and live on the Internet drove strong prices throughout the sale. This competition resulted in an exceptional sale total of $513,581 -- far surpassing the presale estimate of 207,775-318-225 -- with a remarkable 96% sold by lot and 98% by value.
ACCESSORIES, ART AND FURNISHINGS
Highlighting the sale was a luxurious 9-karat gold dresser set from the collection of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. that soared past its estimate of $2,000-3,000 to achieve a staggering $45,000. The 25-piece set was made in London by Finnegan's Ltd., Bond Street.
Art in the Fairbanks collection featured a marvelous Old Master drawing of flying angels in ink and paper by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (Italian, 1727-1804) that sold for $15,000, doubling it estimate of $6,000-9,000. Furnishings offered a 19th century English Regency mahogany cellaret estimated at $1,500-2,500 that sold for $9,375.
From the Fairbanks library were numerous autographed books and photographs, including some Winston Churchill material that attracted a great deal of interest. A 1941 signed and dated gelatin silver print photograph of Winston Churchill inscribed as a gift to Mr. Fairbanks shortly after the Battle of Britain estimated at $2,500-3,500 fetched $9,375. A signed set of Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (London: 1956-58) bound by Sangorski & Sutcliffe estimated at $4,000-6,000 achieved $8,750.
The Royal Family
The Fairbanks collection contained material reflecting his long-standing friendship with England’s Royal Family, including numerous signed cards and photographs from the Queen and Prince Philip. A pair of limed oak stools used by the Fairbanks at the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II sold for $2,500, far surpassing their estimate of $400-600. A 1948 signed gelatin silver print photograph of Louis Mountbatten of Burma and his wife, Edwina, inscribed “A souvenir of India,” sold for $2,375, many times their estimate of $200-300. A leather dispatch case with the gilt cipher of King George VI estimated at $300-500 sold for $1,625.
A stunning price of $1,920 was achieved by a gelatin silver print photograph of a group of early Hollywood celebrities, including D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, with both of their signatures. It had been estimated at a mere $100-150. A gelatin silver print photograph of Joan Crawford inscribed to 'Doug' and signed 'Billy' sold for $1,375, many times its estimate of $400-600.
The sale offered several lots of guest books from the Fairbanks’ homes in Pacific Palisades, London and Palm Beach. These fascinating books chronicled the entertaining hosted by the Fairbanks for such guests as Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Margaret, Princess Grace of Monaco, Judy Garland, Charlie Chaplin and hundreds of others. The top lot among the guest books was the two from the Fairbanks’ Palm Beach home, the historic “Vicarage” estimated at $500-700 that sold for a stunning $8,750 after a prolonged bidding war between two very determined telephone bidders.
Watches and Cufflinks
Mr. Fairbanks’ collection of fine watches and cufflinks was highlighted by an elegant Patek Philippe 18-karat gold wristwatch engraved 'D.F. Jr.' that was offered together with a black and white photograph him wearing the watch with Marlene Dietrich. Estimated at $5,000-7,000, it achieved $18,750, the second highest price at the auction. An 14-karat gold cigarette case and lighter by Tiffany & Co. and an 14-karat gold cigarette holder by Cartier sold for $5,938, well over their estimate of $3,000-4,000. A 14-karat gold cigarette lighter by Dunhill monogrammed 'D.F. Jr.' fetched $5,000 against an estimate of $1,000-1,500. His collection of cufflinks and formal dress sets was highlighted by a platinum and gold dress set featuring diamonds and cabochon turquoise estimated at $1,000-1,500 that sold for $3,427. An unusual offering was a pair of 14-karat gold and elastic sock garters designed as initials 'DF' that sold for $3,125, far surpassing their estimate of $300-500.
Bespoke Clothing, Shoes and Trunks
The Fairbanks collection offered over 75 lots of English bespoke clothing made by some of the most prestigious London Savile Row tailors. Included were formal morning and evening suits, business and daytime suits, country tweeds, topcoats, waistcoats and classic navy blazers by Stovel & Mason, Ltd.; H. Huntsman & Sons; Hawes & Curtis; and others. The top lot was a three-piece dress suit with black cutaway coat by Hawes & Curtis that fetched a stunning $6,250 against an estimate of $300-500. A 1953 morning suit with black wool twill tailcoat by Stovel & Mason Ltd. with striped trousers sold for $3,125, many times their estimate of $300-500. A handsome 1960 smoking jacket in black velvet with a satin shawl collar by Stovel & Mason Ltd. with black wool trousers achieved $2,125, well over their estimate of $300-500. Topping his footwear was a pair of midnight blue velvet monogrammed evening slippers by Henry Maxwell that sold for $1,250 against an estimate of $150-250.
A large Louis Vuitton steamer trunk with a cloth travel tag addressed to Captain Douglas Fairbanks fetched $5,938, almost tripling its estimate of $2,000-3,000.
All prices includethebuyer's premium.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Born into Hollywood royalty – his father was the swashbuckling actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and his stepmother was "America’s Sweetheart" Mary Pickford – Douglas, Jr. entered the film world at the young age of 13 and starred in such films as Morning Glory, Prisoner of Zenda and Gunga Din.
After the onset of World War II, Fairbanks was appointed by President Roosevelt as special envoy to South America, in which capacity he gathered intelligence about Germany’s activity there. Later, as part of an officer exchange program directed by Lord Louis Mountbatten, he trained with the Royal Navy, with a stint at the Commando Training School at Ancharry Castle, Scotland. Mountbatten had been friendly with Douglas Jr.’s father, and had requested his assignment to the program. The two men remained life long friends — a friendship that would ultimately extend to the entire Royal family.
In 1943, Fairbanks returned home. Using the knowledge he had gained with the Royal Navy, under the command of U.S. Admiral Kent Hewitt he was instrumental in establishing the Beach Jumper program, which specialized in the art of naval deception and misinformation. Following the War, he was the first director of C.A.R.E., which assisted in providing much needed food and supplies to a war-torn Europe.
Fairbanks spent his later years acting in stage, film and television productions, traveling often to his beloved England and his "Vicarage" in Palm Beach, and enjoying the company of the myriad close friends he made during his long and well-lived life.