04 December 2014

Pretty Souvenirs: A 2014 Marlene Dietrich Auction Overview

Many a Dietrich admirer (and lovers of fine jewellery) would love to be the owner of this tri-colour gold bracelet, with a lapis lazuli clasp, which is being offered by Sotheby's New York as part of their Magnificent Jewels sale next week. Made by Cartier, it was given to Marlene by Erich Maria Remarque. She was photographed wearing it by Harper's Bazaar's Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Sotheby's estimates the 14 karat bracelet will fetch between $ 20 000 - $ 30 000. 

Perhaps you'd prefer to strut your stuff à la Dietrich? That can be arranged!

This pair of custom-made Delman shoes, used by Marlene in her stage shows, will be sold this week by Julien's. Online bidding is already under way (the top bid is currently at $ 700: it should easily reach their estimate of $ 800 - $ 1 200).

Salerooms have been earning nice commissions offering an interesting mix of other Dietrich items for sale this year. Some other highlights:

In January,  Sotheby's also sold this Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot sketch of a landscape with cows, another gift from Remarque.  Previously, the sketch had been offered to the public in November 1997, when the contents of Marlene's New York apartment was sold by her heirs. This time around, it brought  $ 11 250 (buyer's premium included) — well in excess of the the estimate of $ 6 000 - $ 8 000.

The most high-profile Dietrich auction of 2014 was the “Marlene Dietrich Inheritance Sale” which garnered worldwide press coverage. The internet-only sale, held in March by UK-based newcomer Auction My Stuff, featured everyday items gifted by Marlene to of some of her grandchildren (many were from John-David Riva's collection).

Not since Julien's sold Dietrich items which had been abandoned in storage, in 2011, have such a large number of Dietrich-related items been sold in a single sale.  Egg cups and other household items, notes and letters by the likes of Hemingway and Coward, a dressing room plaque from the Queens Theatre and a slew of compacts and lighters were offered.  The very personal nature of some of these items make them impossible to link with the star, other than their provenance; whether the sellers issued letters of authenticity of the items after the sale is not known, but this will have an impact on their future value. 

Joseph went to an exhibition of the auction items at the Hollywood Museum; you can read his excellent coverage here. In the end, many of the items sold were bought by Nate D. Sanders, a memorabilia dealer who subsequently offered the items for resale on his own website and via ebay.

Soon after this sale, the Official Marlene Dietrich Facebook Page announced that further Dietrich-related items would be sold via Sotheby's in June, presumably also by her heirs:

These included a letter from Jean Cocteau (shown above left, which sold for $ 6 875, buyer's premium included). In the illustrated note, written in the South of France in November 1957 (around the time Marlene was filming The Monte Carlo Story)  to  “Marlène, mon bon ange”, Cocteau begs that Dietrich write a few lines to him, as he is “sad to be so near, and yet so far” from her. 

The Hemingway letter (above right), four pages dated September 1951, reads in part: “I feel truly badly for you to be alone now because we both have been in love enough to know what it is: better than heaven and worse than hell...”

According to Sotheby's,this was only the second letter from Hemingway to Dietrich to have been offered for sale; it fetched $ 37 500 (premium included). The other letter they refer to was also sold by them (in 2011, for $ 19 000). Interestingly, yet another Hemingway letter was offered this year, by John-David Riva in the Auction My Stuff sale; this seems to have gone unsold. (Thirty letters between  Hemingway and Dietrich were donated to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum by Maria Riva in 2003: copies are held by the Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin.)

At the same sale, a cache of Remarque's correspondence to Dietrich (comprising 42 pages) fetched $ 8 750 (buyer's premium included). The letters, addressed to “Angel” and “Enchanting one” from her “Rem” (and  his alter-egos “Ravic” and “Alfred”) had been estimated to sell for between $ 10 000 and $ 20 000.   

A unique item of social history offered at this particular Sotheby's auction was Marlene Dietrich's short snorter (made up notes of various currencies, strung-together these were collected by members of the military on tours of duty and signed by people they met on their travels). Marlene's, from the days of her USO tours, is made up of 83 notes with over a thousand signatures (including those of  Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, Irving Berlin, her fellow USO troupers Lyn Mayberry and Danny Thomas, and her husband, Lt Rudolf Sieber). Valued at between $ 15 000 and $ 20 000, this item appears to have gone unsold.

Trajan auctioned a diamond, gold and chrysoprase broach in Monte Carlo in July. Dating from the mid-1940s, the broach, which had originally been sold by Marlene as part of her 1987 Christie's jewellery sale, fetched € 6 064 (buyer's premium included).

A luminous study, c 1935. Inscribed to her future collaborator, John Engstead (then still a photographer's assistant at Paramount, but who would go on to take many of those amazing Vegas portraits of Marlene), "with lots of thanks!". This rarely-seen portrait was sold for $ 1 500 by Profiles in History in October.

More art from Marlene's collection: an Alberto Giacometti lithograph — gifted to her by the artist during their brief friendship in the late 'fifties. Sotheby's New York offered this as part of a print sale held at the end of October, but it failed to find a buyer. (The estimate had been $  6 000  - $ 8 000.)

This auction round-up would be incomplete without slipping in a little item sold at the end of 2013  — one which conjures up all those legendary images of Dietrich puffing away: a 14K gold lighter engraved  with her signature on the side. A gift to Destry Rides Again director, George Marshall, it was consigned to Heritage Auctions by his granddaughter. It fetched $ 3 000:


  1. What an excellent overview of all the recent auctions! I need to get on working on that tedious article about the Nate Sanders items.

    1. Thanks! I'd love to read your piece on Nate (although his prices are slipping ... the egg cups are still there! -- Have you seen his visit with Farrah Fawcett on youtube?). Steady little stream of items coming from New York in recent years, no?

  2. Someone with a keen eye pointed out to me that it appears that Maria Riva was wearing the lapis lazuli bracelet in her 2010 (?) Emmy TV Legends interview! Take a look.