In the year that Margaret Tatcher would have celebrated her 90th birthday, about 350 historic and personal lots of the Iron Lady went under the hammer at Christie’s. It all started with furor and bitterness, it spread on social media and ended in a roaring jackpot. But this story is more about the live of objects that outlived their owner.
The collection included the red leather Prime Ministerial Dispatch box and a gift from President Ronald Reagan that were sold for over 240.000 £ each. Speech notes, jewellery, furniture, clothes and handbags and a silver bowl engraved with the Baroness’ famous quote “The Lady’s not for turning” . Every lot fetched many times more than what expected and Christie’s raised over £3m thanks to buyers from all over the world from Bermuda to Switzerland and South Korea. “The Iron Lady was worth more dead then alive” wrote John Grace on The Guardian. One questions arises: the final value of the Baroness’ personal effects was determined by historic relevance, the real passion of her fans, the wish to make an investment or the hype of the media?
It all started when Victora & Albert Museum declined the offer to showcase the Iron Lady’s collection. The museum that has one of the largest fashion collections in the world replied that Mrs. Tatcher’s belongings deserved a more proper place for their historical value and added that their “collecting policy tends to focus on acquiring examples of outstanding aesthetic or technical quality”.
Vivienne Westwood said: “Lady Thatcher had terrific taste and it would have been lovely for the V&A to put her dresses on display.” In 1989, the British fashion designer mockingly dressed up as Margaret Tatcher for the cover Tatler magazine. V&A quite bitter response led to a storm of comments and fights both within the Iron Lady’s family and the Tory party as well as on the press and social media. Historian Robert Havies tweeted: ““Is it me, incidentally, or is there something slightly kinky about male Tory MPs who want Lady Thatcher’s clothes put on public display?””.
On Dezeen, designer Sam Baron wondered who the collectors might be: “Perhaps you might want something to augment your personal Thatcher alter? Maybe you’d perform some kind of posthumous voodoo on the Baroness. Perhaps you’d slip on one of her outfits, prime an orange with poppers and, well, then just see what happens next?”.
At the end the auction was a success. But a success for who? Beside political opinions and the monetary interest, would you call it a success for Margaret Tatcher herself? Even if we are not the most controverse British Prime Minister or the first woman to to have mail sent to 10 Downing Street, eventually we all turn in to ashes and memorabilia. When it will be our turn, we probably prefer that our stuff will let us rest in peace.