RBG tea set, coat and other items fetch $800,000 for opera
WASHINGTON — Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s silver tea set goes to a family with a 5-year-old daughter who was once Ginsburg for Halloween. A medal Ginsburg received upon her induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame goes to a family who recently demonstrated for reproductive rights. And a drawing of her hanging in his office was a Utah scientist’s Mother’s Day gift to his wife.
In total, an online auction of 150 items belonging to the late judge raised $803,650 for the Washington National Opera, one of the late judge’s passions. The auction ended in late April, and buyers are now picking up items or arranging for them to be shipped to their homes in 38 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Germany. Winning bids ranged from $850 to $55,000.
Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, owner of The Potomack Company auction house in Virginia, said they were “really blown away by the interest”. A pre-sale estimate was that the auction might fetch $50,000 to $80,000.
Ginsburg died of cancer at age 87 in September 2020. In her later years, the court’s second female judge and liberal icon also became a pop culture figure known as “Notorious RBG.” In January, an online auction of his books brought in $2.3 million, nearly 30 times the pre-sale estimate, according to Bonhams, the company that conducted the auction.
Washington National Opera artistic director Francesca Zambello, a friend of Ginsburg’s, said proceeds from the auction will be “a huge help this year as we try to cultivate feedback from our audiences.” amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The biggest ticket in the auction was Ginsburg’s drawing, which sold for $55,000. The image had accompanied a 2015 article about him in The New York Times. Ginsburg loved it so much she got a copy for her Supreme Court office signed by artist Eleanor Davis. The buyer requested that his name not be made public.
Other high-priced sales included modern art that Ginsburg had collected. A terracotta Pablo Picasso jug she displayed in her living room sold for $25,000 while a terracotta Picasso plate hung in her dining room sold for $22,500. A print of Josef Albers’ “Red Orange Wall,” which hung in Ginsburg’s bedroom, sold for $27,500. Albers was among Ginsburg’s favorite artists, and one of his original works on loan from the Smithsonian was prominently displayed in his office at court.
Even much less valuable Ginsburg pieces cost large sums. A drawing that one of Ginsburg’s grandchildren, Paul Spera, made as a child showing his grandmother under the Statue of Liberty sold for $12,000. At the top, Spera had written “Bubbie of Liberty”, using the Yiddish word for grandmother.
Other sales included $5,000 for a souvenir glass vase given to attendees of a Capitol luncheon after President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, $16,000 for a black mink coat with Ginsburg’s name sewn into a pocket and $30,000 for her 2002 National Women’s Hall of Fame Medal. Buyers paid an additional 27% in auction fees on top of their winning bid.
Prior to his death, Ginsburg displayed a number of auction items at his apartment in the Watergate complex in Washington. The auction’s online catalog included images of how Ginsburg had displayed these items.
Jennifer DiBrienza, a California-based educator, won the medal, spending nearly double what she had planned. When the bidding towards the end of the auction drove the price up, she thought, “I’ve been winning for days. I can’t give up now,” she said.
DiBrienza, who along with her three children protested last week over the leaking of a Supreme Court draft opinion that would strike down a national abortion right recognized by the court in 1973, said she hopes Ginsburg’s medal will be “a reason to talk about her”. ”
Krishan Paramesvaran was the winning bidder on two items: a wooden sculpture for $3,500 and a silver tea set for $5,000. The technical director and father of three said his family planned to put the sculpture in their living room and the tea set alongside the china in their dining room. The tea set will be primarily for display, he said, although he imagines it will be used once or twice. Paramesvaran said her 5-year-old daughter, the one who dressed up as Ginsburg for Halloween, knew it was coming and they had spoken with her in the past about ‘powerful women’ and the ‘impact that RBG had”.
Right now, he said, the family is “super, super excited” waiting for the items to be shipped to them in Washington state. Said Paramesvaran, “We couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that we’re about to have something she owned in our house.”