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Monday, December 5, 2011

Christie's

What do you do when your hero is a lord and just inherited estates, art, jewels (more possessions than anyone could everneed), along with debt up to his beaver top hat? His grandfather and father both believed that possessions “made the lord”so to speak. This left my hero with the need to either marry an heiress (something he would prefer not to do) or sell off possessions. I decided to have him sell. But, how and to whom? Thus, my research began.


I love being surprised by history. I know history shouldn’t be surprising since it is the past and it isn’t like being surprised when something happens in the moment like walking into a dark room and the lights suddenly go on as people shout “happy birthday”. This surprise came with the history of Christie’s. I knew Christie’s auction house had been around for a very long time. I just didn’t realize that their first sale was on this date in 1766. There is some information that sales were made prior to this date, but from the literature I have read December 5, 1766 is listed as the 1st sale.

James Christie holds a sale from his Great Rooms in Pall Mall, his first permanent auction rooms, on 5 December. The sale includes 2 chamber pots, a pair of sheets, 2 pillowcases and 4 irons.” http://www.christies.com
My guess, had he limited himself to such sales, Christie’s would not be what it is today. I do wonder though, who would buy a chamberpot at an auction? Had someone famous used it?

Their website does report the following on their history page for 1778, however:

"James Christie values Sir RobertWalpole’s collection of pictures on behalf of his grandson George Walpole, 3rd Earl, and negotiates their sale from Houghton for £40,000 to the Empress ofRussia, Catherine the Great." http://www.christies.com

So, in two years he went from chamberpots and sheets to pictures (which I have decided translates to “art” - though I could be wrong), and one of the things Christie’s is known for today.

Did you know they became known for their international art trade after the French Revolution. The following sale reportedin their history for 1795:

The five-day sale of the contents of the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A.. realizes £25,000. Following the execution in 1793 of Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XVI, her jewels are sold by James Christie for £8,791,4s 9d.http://www.christies.com

In 1823, the location of Christie’s moved to the current location, 8 King Street, St. James’s. I have been planning for a trip to London in the near future and I think this will be one stop added to my itinerary.

As we all know, Christie’s has grown far, far beyond great rooms on Pall Mall, to having auction houses all across the globe. I wonder if James Christie had any idea what his business would become the day he auctioned off chamberpots and sheets. Regardless, I am glad he did, because my hero is off to Pall Mall to unload some art to save him from a marriage to an heiress. I may even have him sell a few chamberpots just for fun.

Have you ever been surprised by history?

Jane Charles
Countess of Content

3 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff, Jane! I am constantly surprised by history and I think that's what draws me to the genre. There are so many untold stories in our history and it just infuriates me when people say, people didn't do that back then. BS, how do you know what people did or didn't do back then. And there are always exceptions to every rule.

    I love when I stuble on something fascinating, it just makes me love this genre so much more. Thanks for posting this!

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  2. I was surprised to learn that the Puritans really knew how to party. They drank beer and celebrated life and death. Also, a woman could sue her husband for not doing his marital duty bu her.

    Quite a contrast to what we've learned in school. ;)

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  3. I love finding out weird things. Like, who invented the toilet and where the phrase "Bob's your uncle!" came from. History surprises me all the time. There's just so, so much to learn. :)

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