The stuff comes from a good family. Some of the items were part of the personal collection of Post’s father, C.W. Post (1854 to 1914), founder of Post cereals, which eventually became General Foods. The rest belonged to the glamorous Marjorie (1887 to 1973), famous for her lavish parties, well-staffed houses and, of course, fine furnishings and collecting.
“This is a great opportunity to own something that has an interesting provenance and was part of the story of important American people,” said Liana Paredes, Hillwood’s chief curator. Paredes said the pieces to be auctioned have been in long-term storage with little hope of being displayed: a medieval Italian suit of armor ($1,000 to $1,500) , a pair of 18th-century stools from Post’s private dressing area ($1,000 to $1,500), a George III-style mahogany dumbwaiter ($200 to $400), a replica of the Canterbury Cathedral bells ($800 to $1,200), two pairs of nesting tables bearing the Post family crest ($200 to $250) and a Roycroft Arts and Crafts bedroom suite ($20,000 to $30,000).
The items are on display at Doyle’s New York showroom until tomorrow and will be sold Wednesday as part of Belle Epoque, an auction of 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts. Only a handful of things from Hillwood have ever been deaccessioned. “This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Reid Dunavant, senior vice president and director of Doyle New York’s Washington office. He, by the way, said his favorites are the eight Louis XV fruitwood and raspberry-silk chairs ($3,000 to $4,000), part of the original 30 that Post bought for Hillwood’s glittering dining room. “Buying them would be the only opportunity you would get to sit in these chairs.”
Though some local arts institutions are struggling, Hillwood officials say the decision to put the pieces up for auction was not financially motivated. “A couple of years ago, we started evaluating everything. These items were just sitting in storage,” said Lynn Rossotti, spokeswoman for Hillwood. “We have a lot of things [that are] important for research and exhibition value. But some are redundant and are not Russian or French.”
Rossotti said 2012 attendance at Hillwood was a record-setting 74,624, a 16% increase from 2011. (Over the past five years, museum attendance has increased almost 69%.) The endowment is currently at $190 million “and funds approximately 86% of our annual operating budget,” Rossotti said. “The proceeds from the auction will go into a fund only to be used for future acquisitions.”