Collection of Elvis-loving Duchess of Devonshire up for sale
Possessions of a poultry-raising aristocrat who ran Britain's grandest stately home, was friends with John F. Kennedy and adored Elvis Presley are up for sale at Sotheby's in London.
The auction house is offering belongings from the estate of Deborah, the dowager duchess of Devonshire, who died in September 2014 aged 94.
The March 2 sale includes insect-shaped jeweled brooches, a gyrating Elvis telephone, gifts from JFK, Madonna and Henry Kissinger and a pair of wooden chicken boxes monogrammed "DD."
Sotheby's U.K. chairman Harry Dalmeny said Friday that the items revealed "the private world of one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th -- and frankly probably any other -- century."
Known as "Debo," the duchess was the youngest of the six witty, unconventional Mitford sisters who captured Britain's imagination during the 1930s.
Sotheby's expert David Macdonald likened them to an early 20th-century Kardashian clan -- though without the ruthless knack for self-promotion.
The siblings included novelist and historian Nancy Mitford and writer and social activist Jessica Mitford. Two sisters became infamous for their right-wing politics. Unity was a friend of Adolf Hitler, and Diana married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley.
Deborah was resolutely apolitical. She married Andrew Cavendish, who later became the 11th Duke of Devonshire. Together they transformed Chatsworth House in central England from a deteriorating pile into one of the most-visited historic properties in Britain -- a 175-room stately home on 35,000 acres of land.
She ran the estate's farm shop and raised chickens -- the sale includes a plethora of poultry, from chicken-shaped tureens and Chinese porcelain cockerels to oil paintings of magnificent hens.
A famous and beautiful hostess, she was photographed by Cecil Beaton, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. Friends included Winston Churchill, artist Lucian Freud, writer Evelyn Waugh and Kennedy, with whom she danced as a teenager at her debutante ball.
The sale includes a book of portraits that Kennedy sent the duchess as a gift, inscribed "L.O." -- "Loved One" was the Mitfords' nickname for the president.
The duchess "made three pilgrimages to Graceland," Macdonald said, and accumulated a trove of Elvis memorabilia, including albums, posters, key chains and action figures.
With price estimates ranging from 10 pounds ($1.40) to 60,000 pounds ($84,000), the sale is not the highest-value auction Sotheby's has held. But Dalmeny said, "it's things chosen with life in mind by a very life-enhancing person."
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