President Ronald Reagan. A needlepoint cushion, circa 1984. 19 in (48.5 cm) wide. Sold for $71,250 on 21-22 September 2016

‘My highlight of 2016’ — President Reagan’s cushion

Gemma Sudlow, Head of Private & Iconic Collections, on a needlepoint cushion that tells an unequivocally American story

The live and online auctions of The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan attracted an extraordinary level of interest from collectors in late September. Record numbers of registered bidders from 36 countries ensured that all 702 lots, ranging from items of jewellery to tableware, framed photographs, the President’s cowboy boots and even a signed fragment of the Berlin Wall, were sold.

‘This was the first time the estate of a President and First Lady had been offered at auction. Theirs was an unequivocally American story, and it captured the hearts and minds of our clients all over the world,’ says Gemma Sudlow, Head of Private & Iconic Collections. ‘Receiving the call to see if I could attend a walk-through of the post-presidential home back in April was one of those moments that will always stay with me — it’s not every day that you are invited to review a collection of such historic import.’

Nor is it every day that a Christie’s lot sells for more than 71 times its low estimate, as happened with lot 49, this needlepoint cushion aptly embroidered with the slogan, ‘YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YET’. A gift from Hollywood producer Ray Stark and his wife Frances, it was offered with an estimate of $1,000-1,500, and sold for $71,250 at the auction in New York. Ray Stark had represented Ronald Reagan when he worked for the Famous Artists Agency. ‘The result for a relatively modest item summed up the high regard for the Reagans,’ says Sudlow. 

‘That such a high price could be achieved for such a modest item reflects the respect and esteem in which the Reagans are still held’

Sudlow spent almost six weeks in the Reagans’ Bel Air home working with some of their closest advisors, family and inner circle. ‘It was a privilege to be entrusted with documenting the personal items of the 40th President and First Lady,’ she says. ‘Uncovering the secret lives of the objects and their provenance was a fascinating time for me. Peeling back the layers and finding gifts from friends and world leaders of the time — as well as searching the magnificent archive of more than a million images at the Reagan Library for clues — was an all-consuming task.’

The live and online auctions of the Reagans’ private collection achieved a combined total of $7,253,750, with the online sale realising ten times its initial estimate. ‘This year has been a dynamic and exciting one for us here in New York,’ says Sudlow. ‘There have been extraordinary Private and Iconic Collections throughout the calendar, including the Private Collection of Joan Rivers and the Golden Age of Baseball. We’ve been keeping good company in 2016.’