The seedy riff from the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” wailed through the Stair Galleries in Hudson Saturday as antique wonks peered at rugs from the South Caucus and Persia and aimed their iPhone flashlights at imperfections on sets of Venetian rococo gilt chairs.
Drug-fueled 1960s rock might not be the most natural choice for an auction of 19th-century furniture, but it was nothing but natural here — the pieces were from the Upper East Side apartment of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and his wife Patti Hansen.
Keith and Patti were auctioning off the 132 items because they wanted to redecorate — the couple’s daughters were looking to spend more time in the three-bedroom apartment overlooking Central Park, and preferred a more modern interior, according to the auction’s manager, Muffie Cunningham.
The auction was charitable — proceeds were going towards SPHERE of Ridgefield, Connecticut, a center dedicated to enriching the lives of those with developmental disabilities through the arts, and the nearby Prospector Theater, a high-end movie house employing those with autism and other special needs. Patti’s nephew is autistic, Muffie said.
The collection was an eclectic array of 19th-century Italian furniture, French paintings and rugs from the near east. The design was based on the vibrant “European jewel-box” style popular with designers and antiquers in the 1990s. Muffie called it “boho chic.”
I started talking to a pair of couples milling about the preview floor before the Richards portion of the auction began. They were all registered, but were unsure if they were going to place bids or just experience the hoopla. We kept joking about finding bags of coke in the regency-style bedside tables and gueridons.
Marion Seigel, of Catskill, said she had been coming to preview the collection over the last week and saw the sort of people who showed. I asked her if they were primarily interested in the pieces as antiques or memorabilia.
“Memorabilia,” she said. “That’s the allure of it…They don’t make them any cooler than [Richards]. He wrote cool.”
The Richards auction was not the first time Stair Galleries sold items from the famous — Muffie said the house handled the collections of high-society journalist Dominick Dunne, Oscar-winner Anthony Quinn and socialite Brooke Astor. The gallery seemed to emphasize the roots of the Richards collection — along with the soundtrack, concert stills were plastered on the preview room’s walls, and framed pictures of the famous couple stood on some of the antiques.
“I guess anybody who has the type of material we’re looking for, we’re always happy to sell it,” Muffie said of Stair Galleries’ auction items. “Whether you have a great name or not, it’s really the quality that…[decides] whether we’re going to take it, and obviously the name is just the gravy on top.”
Though Muffie said auctions were “phenomenally unpredictable,” the press the auction received could not have hurt. The announcement of the auction garnered articles in the Washington Post and NY Post’s Page Six, as well as in the British newspapers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Times.
Saturday’s auction had two parts: the first 431 lots, titled “From the Age of Enlightenment to the Age of Excess,” and then the 132 lots in the Richards collection.
I was surprised by the sparse attendance when I entered the actual auction hall. There were about 80 chairs set up, but there were no more than 35 people in them.
But it turns out that was simply my ignorance of how auctions work in the digital age. There are several ways to place bets on items while not actually being present. Interested parties can place reserve bids prior to the auction, which are then called out on their behalf when the bid nears this price. People can also request to be phoned when a particular item comes to the floor, and place bids via one of the gallery’s auctioneers.
Then there’s live online bidding, done through the websites Invaluable and Bidsquare. Eight or nine auctioneers were stationed by a bank of hardline phones, computers and printouts handling bids of those from afar, and I would estimate 95 percent of the bids were received through these means.
The most rock-n-roll item in the collection (other than spoons you could potentially do coke off of) was a porcelain tea set hand-painted with badass skulls in the style of the ring Richards always wore. The auctioneer, a florid middle-aged man with a smooth lilt, said the resemblance “has translated into some bid interest.”
The set was valued at between $600-$800, but a flurry of reserve bids pushed the price past $1,000 before a single live bid could be placed. The price boiled up to $4,000 before the caller awarded the set.
The atmosphere on the bidding floor was a lot more casual than I expected. For one, there was sandwiches and soft drinks, which wasn’t surprising, but the nonchalant way people set the over-flowing sandwich plates and perspiring Perrier cans on antiques worth thousands of dollars was.
There were also a lot of dogs. Towards the end of the auction, a posse of four unleased terriers came yapping in over the Persian rugs, then leapt, drooling, onto a 19-century chaise longue. The auction continued.
The highest sale price for an item was $15,000 paid for a 1918 Jacqueline Marval painting, higher than the $8,000-$12,000 estimated price range.
The final numbers are not yet in, but the auction raised well north of $125,000 for the charities.
A bright-eyed woman in her 50s had been sitting across the aisle from me during the entirety of the auction, placing a handful of bids on the cheaper items, withdrawing most of them, but eventually capturing a couple pieces.
I caught up with her as she was waiting in line for the bathroom.
“Congratulations! I saw you got a couple items…I was just wondering if your interest in the pieces was because they were antiques, or because they were memorabilia?”
“Memorabilia, definitely memorabilia,” she said with an ebullient grin, then disappeared to collect her piece of fame.