Source: Christie's
Art & Design

The Surprising, Precious Antiques in Joan Rivers's Estate Sale

The bawdy comedienne collected jewels from Fabergé, as well as extremely valuable French furniture.
NEW YORK - APRIL 27:  Joan Rivers from the film "Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work" attends the Tribeca Film Festival 2010 portrait studio at the FilmMaker Industry Press Center on April 27, 2010 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)

Joan Rivers.

Photographer: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Fe

Comedian Joan Rivers famously described her opulent, Horace Trumbauer-designed apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side as “how Marie Antoinette would have lived if she had money.”

But a comparison to Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna might have been more apt: Rivers was a passionate collector of Fabergé, the jeweler favored by the last imperial court in Russia, and acquired dozens of pieces with her husband over the course of several decades.

A silver topped diamond and sapphire brooch by Faberge, which has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000.

A silver-topped diamond and sapphire brooch by Fabergé, which has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000.

Source: Christie's

Now, after her death from a botched throat surgery in 2014, 22 of those Fabergé pieces are included in an auction of her estate at Christie’s New York, and the public is finally privy to the full extent of her collection.

A silver-gilt mounted nephrite frame by Faberge, estimated to sell for $25,000 - $35,000.

A silver-gilt-mounted nephrite frame by Fabergé, estimated to sell for $25,000 to $35,000.

Source: Christie's

“Jokes aside, there was a serious and passionate interest in [Rivers’] collecting,” said Gemma Sudlow, the Christie's specialist in charge of the Rivers sale, which will take place on June 22 and carries an estimate of $1.5 million. (That estimate includes an online-only sale to be held June 16-23.) “She worked very closely with Wartski, one of the foremost Fabergé dealers, and over the years collected some of the finest pieces in the world.”

An amethyst brooch by Faberge estimated between $20,000 -and $30,000

An amethyst brooch by Fabergé is estimated from $20,000 to $30,000.

Source: Christie's

Sudlow says that there’s been interest from Fabergé collectors around the globe. “It’s an elite and reasonably small group of people,” she said, “and they all knew Joan had this fabulous collection.”

A jeweled gold photo frame by Faberge estimated between $20,000 and $30,000.

A jeweled gold photo frame by Fabergé, estimated from $20,000 to $30,000.

Source: Christie's

The top Fabergé lot is a sculpture in the shape of a lily of the valley leaf, made out of jeweled and gold-mounted nephrite, a type of jade. Carrying an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, the leaf is coveted for its rarity, materials, and proximity to Russian royalty. “We know that the lily of the valley sprays were owned by members of the imperial family,” said Sudlow. “And another of the known lily of the valley pieces is part of the Matilda Geddings Gray collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The rarity and esotericism of the leaf indicates, Sudlow said, “her depth of understanding and knowledge of these works.”

A turquoise and pearl Faberge bracelet, which carries an estimate of  $8,000 to $12,000.

A turquoise and pearl Fabergé bracelet, which carries an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.

Source: Christie's

Not every work by Fabergé costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. The cheapest is a small, 3.5-inch-high, silver-mounted enamel and agate frame, which is estimated to sell for $7,000 to $9,000. “Right, that’s one of the interesting things about Joan as a collector,” said Sudlow. “It wasn’t just about the showiest objects.”

A group of eight porcelain birds estimated between $2,000 and $3,000.

A group of eight porcelain birds, estimated from $2,000 to $3,000.

Source: Christie's

Given that this is Joan Rivers, a preponderance of objects would put Liberace to shame: A pair of candelabra are decorated with porcelain “Buddhistic lions” and ornamented with metal flowers and what appears to be stylized grape leaves (estimate: $2,000 to $4,000); there’s a two-foot-tall, silver palm-tree centerpiece with dangling cut-glass inserts (estimate: $800 to $1,200); and an ochre evening ensemble by Oscar de la Renta, replete with leather and sequin “embellishments” and enough fabric to upholster a couch. (Estimate: $1,200 to $1,800.)

A French ormolu commode estimated between $100,000 and $150,000.

A French ormolu commode, estimated from $100,000 to $150,000.

Source: Christie's

Most everything in the sale, Sudlow said, was chosen with care. “There’s a magnificent French ormolu commode, it’s a really serious piece of furniture,” she said. “This isn’t just the sort of thing you buy for decoration; if you’re going to spend $150,000 on a chest, it’s because you appreciate the extraordinary workmanship and craftsmanship that goes into it.”

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