If you like Henry Kissinger, you would have loved yesterday's unprecedented government auction of 182 gifts from foreign governments to U.S. officials that netted the U.S. Treasury over $55,000.
At least 45 items had been given to Henry and Nancy Kissinger during his tenure as secretary of state and were swooped up mainly by souvenir hunters. One of the most remarkable sales was of an obviously well-worn Gucci purse given to Nancy Kissinger by the Italian government. It went for $170.
"Can you believe that?" saida Washington socialite there to bid on a Japanese painting. "You can even see the line where her wallet was."
Nevertheless, all the Henry the K "gifts" went, including four carved busts of the statesman, ranging from $80 to $205; a small vicun a cloth for $160; a silver cigar box for $425; and a gilded silver Russian tea set for $2,475.
"I just paid $170 for a Kissinger plate probably worth $30," said real estate investor Neil Donnelly. "I don't know what I'll do with it. But its a conversation piece."
Many shared his sentiment. Such as Esteban de la Riva, an accountant from the Export-Import Bank who spent $500 on a silver frame and a picture from the collection of Mexican anthropologist Jorge Encisco. He said the "value was not as important as who gave it and who owned it."
Three hundred well-dressed and well-jeweled bidders showed up at the Commerce Department Auditorium for the Government Services Administration auction. Few of them were professional art, antique or jewelry dealers.
The retailers or wholesalers who were there complained that the prices were inflated by the collectors.
George Bush's cigars, for instance, went for $40 for a box of 25, and a papier-ma che' pen box from Iran was sold for $85. The cheapest item was a pair of stainless steel and enamel cufflinks from Japan that sold for $22.50.
The most expensive gift was an 18-karat gold Piaget wristwatch given to former chief of protocol Henry Catto by Oman. Its estimated value was $6,000 and it sold for $4,000 to a man who registered as Valle Shop in Brooklanville, Md. There is no such listing in Brooklanville and the man -- who could have passed for Andy Warhol's brother -- refused to talk to anyone.
As did Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), who appeared embarrassed to be recognized. He rushed out a side door after buying a "broken" onyx cigarette box and a brass cigar box given to Henry Kissinger by the Soviet Union and Thailand, respectively.
The GSA announced the sale of the gifts about three weeks ago and advertised it heavily. "Actually, we were pretty disappointed in the turnout," said GSA's Charles Benner, who headed the operation, even though the government seemed to have achieved its sale estimate of $40,000 to 60,000.
Under a 1966 law, government officials were required to turn in all gifts valued in excess of $50. By 1977, the law was ammended, upping the ante to $100 and imposing a $10,000 fine on anyone refusing to comply.
While some of the items were of desirable quality, the largesse had already been picked over. Originally 260 gifts were offered to various federal agencies and museums for display. They were then offered to the original recipients for fair market value.Among the gifts so purchased were a $4,800 necklace from Pakistan by the Kissingers; a set of binoculars from Germany and a tablecloth from the Philippines by Donald Rumsfeld, and an amber necklace from the U.S.S.R. by Juanita Kreps.
Yesterday's auction was the end of the line.