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Gerald and Betty Fords’ estate sale: Pipes, polos, and lots of elephants

Here’s something for all you presidential history buffs: Gerald and Betty Ford’s estate sale.

The family of the late president and first lady is auctioning off the contents of the Fords’ California home next month — and all the proceeds are going to three local charities: Their church, the Betty Ford Center, and the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club.

“This was a gift to the people of Coachella Valley,” said Rev. Lane Hensley of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.

The Fords built the house in Rancho Mirage in 1978 and it remained their home until he died in 2006; she lived there until her death in 2011. The couple designated a few historic items to go to the Ford presidential museum, and their kids picked out a few sentimental items to keep, but the rest of the personal goods will be offered at auction on Nov. 16.

“Some of it is unremarkable and used for running the household,” said Jan Hart, Betty Ford’s personal assistant for a decade. Some, on the other hand, is kind of cool.

We’re basically talking anything you might find at a neighborhood yard sale — but owned and used by the Fords in their post-White House years: Polo shirts, hats, ties and sweaters worn by the president; handbags and shoes worn by the first lady. “If I were to get something, I would get one of those items,” said Hart.

More interesting: Golf clubs, pipes (one hand carved of Ford’s face), luggage with the tag “Mrs. Betty Ford. The White House,” a few pieces of White House china, autographed books, and decorative elephants that lived in a special “elephant room.”

Everybody gave them an elephant,’” said Hart.

Something for everyone — except a few rare items that went to the museum and library. In addition to thousands of letters and photos, the museum snagged two rare items: the Cabinet room chair Ford used during his eight-month term as vice-president, and a collection of old vinyl 78s owned by the young Betty Bloomer. “These were the actual records she danced to,” said James Draper of the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The public sale at the Renaissance Esmeralda hotel includes about 1,000 items grouped into about 500 lots— most in the silent auction, a few big-ticket items offered in the live auction — but no online bidding.

No estimates on what the items might bring in, but a similar auction in 2007 of the Fords’ vacation home near Vail brought in more than $200,000, also benefiting neighboring charities.

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