Since the death of doyenne Brooke Astor, the longtime queen of New York Society, those who care about such things have wondered and discussed who might be her successor on the throne—or if  New York society could even be ruled again by just one person.  About all this I know little, sitting up here in Down East Maine, where paying the oil bills or the declining price of lobster worry one far more than who will preside over the leaderless elite of Manhattan.  

This wonderful photograph pictures neither Mrs. Astor nor her throne, but is a scene captured  at another end-of-era auction, the effects of Miss Julia Berwind at ‘The Elms’ in Newport Rhode Island.  The photograph is by Nancy Sirkis from her marvelous book ‘Newport, Pleasures and Palaces‘ (Viking/Studio, 1963) 

An auction of Mrs. Astor’s lesser effects was held three weeks ago at Stair Galleries in Hudson, New York.  Her leftover possessions were typical  goods of a well placed lady of the second half of the 20th century—pretty and decorative, with a French accent. Several friends and acquaintances attended the auction, and depending on whom one asks, and what they hoped to buy, prices were either terribly high or terribly low.  My own observation is that the sale followed the current market—where style and eye appeal trump age or quality, or even provenance— many of the pieces were chosen for her by Parish-Hadley.  I scratched my head at some of the prices—$5500 for a Metropolitan Museum reproduction of St. Gauden’s iconic statue of Diana—available in the Met Gift shop for considerably less—-down to a mere $15.00 for the Louis XV style Chaise Percée pictured below.

Mrs. Astor’s Chaise Percee (Stair Galleries)
I was immediately reminded of another wonderful Sirkis photograph, of an elegant woman examining a chaise Percée in a bathroom at ‘The Elms’.


And then, it came to me:  The new owner of this chair is now the possessor of  Mrs. Astor’s throne.  Society need wonder no longer.

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