Published: April 20, 2021
Review by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy of Kaminski Auctions
BEVERLY, MASS. – Frank Kaminski continued his run of celebrity auctions, selling property from the Palm Beach estate of Mrs Henry Ford II and other estates, in a three-day sale, April 9-11. Model Kathleen DuRoss married Mr Ford, one of the world’s wealthiest men, in 1980. He was 23 years her senior, and had recently retired following 35 years as chief executive officer of the Ford Motor Company; he was also president of the Ford Foundation. He died in 1987; she did not remarry. After Ford’s death, relations with the rest of the Ford family were strained for a time, resulting in court actions.
Based on a 1981 interview in Milwaukee Magazine, her story is a “rags-to-riches” tale but she remained a down-to-earth woman. The daughter of a blue-collar family in Detroit, she was a high school dropout, married at 15 to her high school sweetheart, was a mother of two and a teenage widow at 19 when her husband was killed in an automobile accident. Needing to support her family she used her beauty and poise, eventually turning to modeling and, to make a long story short, after a few years, met Henry Ford II. They married a few years later in 1980, after he divorced his wife, but Ford died in 1987. The reporter who interviewed her for the magazine, Edward Whelan, said that at their first meeting, she was on her way to an appointment and they stopped for lunch – at Burger Chef. Whelan said in his article, “my boss will probably not believe my expense account, which will show lunch for Mrs Henry Ford – $2.20.”
The first day of the sale included jewelry and the 35-year collection of haute couture, high fashion clothing, shoes, handbags and fashion accessories belonging to Ford, nearly all from fashion’s best-known designers. Items from the Ford estate and other homes were offered on the second and third day of the sale and included fine art, lavish furnishings (both indoor and outdoor), large porcelain dinner services and large sets of stemware, among other things. The 26,696-square-foot Palm Beach Florida mansion in which Ford lived and entertained included seven bedrooms. It had been completed by Ford in 2002 and sold last year after her death, at the age of 80, for $55 million.
Kaminski’s presale advertising stated that there were 1,217 pairs of shoes, all size 7½. Shoe designers included Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and others. Designers of clothing, which varied in size reflecting the passage of time, included Hermes, Chanel, Yves St Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and several more. Many undoubtedly originally sold for several thousand dollars. Wikipedia defines “haute couture” as high-end fashion that is constructed by hand from start to finish, made from high-quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail, and often finished using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.
That’s one definition. But collectors, and those planning to wear the items, may look at it differently. During the preview, we met Alice Senko, a Swampscot, Mass., resident, who, since she wears size 7½ shoes, and who much of the clothing would fit, was hoping to add to her wardrobe. She explained her viewpoint: “Couture implies constructed by hand and of fine materials and, therefore, to me is akin to enjoying beautiful art. Art is always pleasurable, just looking at it makes you feel good, you admire the creator and appreciate its beauty for different reasons over time. Enjoying art has absolutely nothing to do with who may have owned it before you and has everything to do with how you feel when looking at it and in the case of clothing, when you wear it. For me, the same is true for beautiful glassware and dishes and other decorative arts. First, there is design, then the most beautiful materials and colors and then the production. It is art. It is museum-quality art that you wear or serve food or drinks in and it makes you feel good.
“Buying couture and goods from the highest of the high end of designers is out of reach for most of us and, therefore, to see it, feel it, try it on and – maybe – be able to purchase it is wildly exciting. I would never feel comfortable in a Chanel or Valentino boutique in New York or Paris because I most likely would never purchase that clothing at retail prices. However, I would love to own a Valentino jacket and enjoy it and pass it on to someone else someday. Buying goods second hand is a wonderful, magical mechanism of reuse rather than consumption. And, auction houses like Kaminski’s make it fun and invite everyone to come and see it and feel it and imagine the life it had before you and the one that it will have with you – maybe. And, of course, there is the thrill of the hunt and the bidding process, which is always exciting even if one is not successful in the end…because there will always be another opportunity!”
The first lot Kaminski sold was indicative of the level of interest. It was a group of three handbags; one by Louis Vuitton and two by Fendi and Furta. The lot had an estimate of $150 but prior to the start of the sale, online bidders had pushed it to $600 and it sold for $1,080. Clearly, Kate Ford loved color; much of her clothing displays that taste, as does nearly all the dining accessories. She also liked fur coats, and while the issue may be politically sensitive today, if a woman chose to wear fur coats, there were several to choose from, including a full-length golden sable coat that sold for just $2,280. Similar coats listed on the internet start at around $10,000 and go up from there.
While many evening gowns were black, when appropriate, color predominated. A lime-green, satin Chanel evening bag with a shoulder strap, sold for $2,040, well above the estimate. Also bringing more than the estimate was a lot of two colorful beaded evening jackets by Oscar de la Renta. Both were long sleeved, with bright, overall beading. Joi Kaminski, Frank Kaminski’s wife, was discussing these jackets during the preview and the ladies agreed that the beading was done by hand. The two sold for $1,680. Two multi-colored silk dresses by Yves Saint Laurent finished at $1,020, and a Yves Saint Laurent strapless blue and white polka dot ball gown earned $840. This list could go on and on. Designer shoes, of which there were more than 1,200 pair, were sold singly and in lots of three to five pairs, generally in the $300 price range. The sale offered a rare opportunity for the fashion conscious to add to their wardrobes. Kaminski will sell part II of the Ford estate in mid-May and the sale will include hundreds more items from Ford’s wardrobe.
Numerous pieces of fine jewelry from various estates found new homes and the highest priced item in the sale was a 6.88-carat round cut diamond, GIA graded J color and SI2 clarity, set in a 14K white gold ring, which sold for $43,200. A heavily engraved Lucerne lady’s watch with a gold buckle band sold for $1,140, while a double strand pearl, diamond and ruby necklace reached $1,320.
Sets of ceramics and glassware sold in large lots, illustrative of the lifestyle of a woman living in a $55 million mansion. Forty-seven pieces of gold-rimmed stemware by Moser earned $7,200, a set of 18 signed Murano wine glasses reached $1,232, 48 pieces of engraved Waterford stemware, sold in three lots, brought $1,830 and 11 Baccarat martini glasses reached $960.
About 50 pieces of artist signed Bernard Atelier dinnerware, including coffeepots and candlesticks, earned $6,600, a 125-piece dinner set of Royal Worcester china, in the “Strawberry Fair” pattern, sold for $1,020. Fifty-two colorful pieces of DeSimone 1965 glazed pottery dinnerware earned $720. A dinnerware set with 70 pieces of French glazed pottery pieces earned $2,520. Perhaps unique, about 30 pieces of a dinnerware set made for use on Mr Ford’s 1964 180-foot yacht, Southern Breeze, sold for $1,320. Each piece either pictured the yacht or was lettered with its name. Mr Ford entertained foreign royalty and Hollywood celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Zsa Zsa Gabor and many others on his yacht. The sale included many more dinnerware services, along with large serving pieces and linen with Ford family monograms, some of which was bought by Edsel Ford II.
After the sale, Frank Kaminski said, “Obviously I’m pleased with the sale. It was an amazing collection, all of the highest quality. We had bidders from all over the world competing for some lots. Kate Ford loved color and her home was a bright and colorful place. She had great taste and entertained the best of the Palm Beach social scene. The fine art was high quality as were the rugs. The gross was about $500 thousand, which is a satisfying number. My wife Joi, who is our resident couture expert, and the rest of our staff, worked hard to get everything ready for the sale.” When asked if there were any disappointments, he responded “Yes, we passed about ten items. I really wanted to sell it all.” He also said that the May 14-16 sale will include more of Ford’s wardrobe and quantities of monogramed linens and much more.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For information, 978-927-2223 or www.kaminskiauctions.com.
An earlier version of this story appeared with the incorrect sale total. We have updated it to the correct amount.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm