Published: July 5, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Doyle Auctions
NEW YORK CITY – As travelers make their way back out into the world in an era of security check-ins, long lines, health and safety measures and crowded public spaces, Doyle Galleries conducted its Luxury Travel: The Louis Vuitton Sale on June 21. The majority of the offerings bearing the gold monogram on a brown leather field came from the estate of Joanna Semel Rose (1930-2021) and that of “a Park Avenue Lady.” Rose was an American philanthropist, patron of the arts and collector of many categories, including early American quilts. The sale had a 100 percent sell-through rate and produced double its expected outcome at $204,900/311,050 resulting in a total of $539,424. International bidding for this “White Glove” sale, with half of the buyers from Europe, was conducted via the Internet and by phone, with some absentee bidding.
Louis Vuitton was established in 1854 by Gaston-Louis Vuitton (1883-1970), but it was not until 1896 that his son Georges (1857-1936) created the globally recognized Monogram logo. It was registered the next year and as a branded item in 1905, when counterfeits became an issue for the company. Vuitton developed a special kind of coated canvas used exclusively for their products, and the label continues to produce variations on the original print each season.
Each of the top lots were souvenirs of a time when “traveling light” was for those who possessed little, which was and is not the case of those who bought luggage from Louis Vuitton. Sets were designed to bring entire seasonal wardrobes for extended stays in faraway places as well as clothing to wear while traveling, especially on long sea voyages before commercial flight was the norm.
The top lot was an exemplar of this glamorous excess, a “Lily Pons” shoe trunk. It contained one lift-out compartment for stockings, two drawers for accessories and 30 small shoe drawers. Lily Pons (1898-1976) was a French-American operatic soprano who also appeared in a few 1930s RKO films. Her original trunk of this kind was designed for 36 pairs of her shoes, or 36 single shoes for larger feet. It sold for $37,800.
The second highest price was for a secretary wardrobe, named so for the pull-out writing surface between the interior drawers. Made for stationery, pens and anything else one would need for correspondence, the trunk is another relic of another almost obsolete activity, writing letters. This sold for $32,250. Another smaller travel secretary case was fourth in the line of top lots. The trunk was designed to contain paperback books, which could be strapped down for travel. This case sold for $22,680.
Two large steamer trunks sold, like most other lots in the sale, for far above their estimates. “Steamers” were named after their usual storage location in the cabin of a steam ship. Still suitable for storage and interior statement pieces, both trunks had some wear that did not exclude them from being the highest priced steamers of the sale. The first had a worn exterior with the monogram “RL” (not Ralph Lauren) hand-painted on the side, with slight soiling to the interior and was missing its shelf tray, yet still achieved $25,200 against a $3/5,000 estimate. It was the only top lot without Rose estate provenance. The second was slightly larger with a vertical red band through its exterior center, had replaced handles and an added Gucci belt, and had staining on the interior lining. The exterior had been refinished and painted with two red diamonds on either side of the trunk. Despite these flaws and alterations, this steamer also outperformed its $6/8,000 and closed at $16,380.
Wardrobe trunks were a popular subcategory within the Vuitton sale. Three made it to the top of the auction, all with slight variations. All three were painted with red rectangles on either side to void the monograms of previous owners, while one had a vertical red band and another had handwritten writing on one side. This fetched the highest price out of all the trunks at $17,640, while the other two sold for $16,380 and $15,480.
“Antique and vintage Louis Vuitton does well at auction because it is a timeless, classic and well-made product, as well as an iconic status symbol. People recognize the name and the monogram and associate it with quality and luxury.” Leigh Kendrick, Doyle’s specialist for this sale, commented. “Additionally, people now utilize them in a wide variety of ways, because travel and luggage have changed since the age in which these trunks were made. For example, I have seen trunks now used as coffee tables, bar carts or other cabinets.”
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Doyle’s Fine Jewelry & Luxury Handbags sale will be conducted on July 20. For more information, 212-427-2730 or www.doyle.com.
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