Mrs. Mellon, generally known as "Bunny", was one of the last of a generation of very wealthy, very genteel, society ladies. Born Rachel Lowe Lambert in Princeton, NJ, she was the grand daughter of the inventor of Listerine and the daughter of the president of the Gillette Safety Razor Company and founder of the pharmaceutical concern Warner Lambert. As the saying goes, money begets money, and in 1948 she became the second wife of banking heir, art collector and horse breeder Paul Mellon.
Paul and Bunny Mellon lived a charmed life with homes in New York, Cape Cod, Paris, Antigua and a massive horse farm in Upperville, Virginia. The couple mingled with the cream of American and international society and amassed a remarkable collection of art and antiques, much of which was donated to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Although never formally trained, Mrs. Mellon was a renowned horticulturalist and designed gardens for her own properties and for close friends like Jacqueline Kennedy and Hubert de Givenchy.
Paul Mellon died in 1999 and now with the passing of his widow the contents of the townhouse in New York, the beach residence in Antigua and the 4,000 acre Oak Spring Farms in Virginia will go on the auction block. Sotheby's New York has already sold the masterworks of the art collection, including the two magnificent Rothkos that fetched over $75 million, but the bulk of the estate will go under the hammer next week. Beside the usual potpourri of furniture, china, books, decorations, silver, linens and other household items befitting a person of her social stature, is Mrs Mellon's extraordinary collection of jewels and that is what I would like to focus on here.
The catalogue for this section of the sale is the thickness of a telephone book (remember those?!) and offers 267 lots of jewelry and objects of vertu including gold compacts, cigarette cases, snuff boxes and designer handbags with monogrammed clasps in gold and semi-precious stones. The sale will be offered in two parts beginning with an evening session on November 20, 2014. Here are some of the highlights:
For the well-dressed table, this gold, enamel and gem-set ornament of a nearly life-sized pomegranate should be just the ticket. Made by Verdura, the brightly colored enamel skin is offset with numerous ruby, pink tourmaline and citrine seeds with the stem and leaf set with garnets and colored diamonds. Lot # 39 carries an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.