Art & the Artist Interiors & Design

Inside the Private Collection of President Reagan and His First Lady

The historic collection will be sold on September 21 and 22, 2016, at Christie’s in New York during Americana Week

In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own art and collectibles as well jewelry and furnishings that once belonged to the much celebrated President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, collectors, curators, and historians are gathering for a landmark auction of items from the private home of the 40th President and First Lady of the United States. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, per the Reagans’ wishes.

The sale, a live auction in New York and online, will include items from the Reagan’s gracious home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The objects range from books and memorabilia, furniture and jewelry, to sculptures and drawings. The home, which was decorated by Ted Graber and Peter Schifando of the famed William Haines Inc. interior design firm, was appointed with Hollywood Regency-style, English, and Chinese furnishings. 

“Among the interesting things about this collection,’’ says Richard Nelson, Senior Specialist of Christie’s Decorative Arts department, “is that Mrs. Reagan had great taste and cared about her surroundings. She loved fresh flowers, but she was more interested in people than ‘stuff’. They surrounded themselves with photos of family and friends. The Reagans were comfortable living with things they had lived with most of their adult lives, and much of what they treasured were personal gifts from friends.” And, what friends.

To be offered at auction is the pair of Elizabeth II silver beakers British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis gave the Reagans. Each beaker is engraved on the outside with the initial R or N, and on the gilt interior of each are the words, “With love from Margaret and Denis Thatcher.”

An American marine chronometer by Tiffany is also to be sold. This 20th-century piece includes two engraved plaques saying “Good Morning Mr. President’, and “January 1981 Love Francis and Barbara.” Who are Francis and Barbara? Mr. and Mrs. Frank Sinatra presented the chronometer to the Reagans as an inaugural gift on January 20, 1981. 

“A lot of the things have a sentimental background, as so much of what they treasured were personal gifts from friends as well as the special items they collected over the years,” continues Richard. “This is an incredibly personal collection. It’s really a behind-the-scenes, secret look at how these very public people really spent their time when they were at home.”

The collection will offer “unprecedented insight” into the private lives of the Reagans, agrees Brooke Hazelton, president of Christie’s Americas. “Each object offers a ‘though-the-keyhole’ experience, revealing as yet-untold stories of two of the 20th-century’s most celebrated figures.”

As the Reagans planned, the sale proceeds will go to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute as well as the presidential library it supports. Says John Heubusch, Executive Director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, “It is our honor to fulfill their wishes for the benefit of countless numbers who will visit the Reagan Library in the future.”

Header image: A group of Chinese export wares for the American market. Late 18th Century. Comprising a part tea set; a teabowl and saucer; and a larger plate; together with a modern Haviland tea cup and saucer after the President Abraham Lincoln service, with green inventory labels.