Bunny Mellon Collection More Than Doubles Expectations at $218 Million

Bunny Mellon's world record setting blue diamond. Photo: Sotheby's.
Bunny Mellon's world record setting blue diamond. Photo: Sotheby's.

The collection of Rachel Lambert Mellon, better known as “Bunny,”  was the source of  a wildly successful series of auctions at Sotheby’s that wrapped up Sunday night, bringing in a grand total of $228 million and more than doubling the presale estimate of $100 million. Mellon, a Listerine heiress who married Paul Mellon, son of banking tycoon Andrew W. Mellon, died in March at the age of 103.

Over the course of five days, Sotheby’s presented a total of 1,551 lots, selling a commanding 98.1 percent of them. Over 85 percent of lots exceeded their high estimates, accounting for the impressive overall numbers for the collection. Over 5,000 visitors attended the eight auction sessions in interiors, masterworks, and jewelry and objects of vertu.

The sales included a world record $32.6 million hammer price on a 9.75 carat blue diamond, shattering the old mark of $24.3 million. More than doubling the pre-sale estimate of $15 million, Mellon’s diamond, dubbed the Zoe Diamond by its anonymous Hong Kong buyer, also set a price-per-carat record with $3.3 million.

Mellon-Rothko Untitled blue

Mark Rothko, Untitled (1970) sold for $40 million on an estimate of $15-20 million.
Courtesy of Sotheby’s.


Mellon’s collection of artworks was also particularly successful, with every single lot finding a buyer, for a total of $159 million in sales (see “$159 Million Bunny Mellon Auction at Sotheby’s Sells Out Amid Bidding Frenzy“). The highlights included a pair of Mark Rothko paintings, fetching $36.5 million and $40 million each, the latter smashing its expected $15–20 million estimate. At the interiors sales, sculptures by Diego Giacometti, a personal friend of the Mellons, also surpassed pre-sale estimates by wide margins.

“Mrs. Mellon was a woman not only of exceptional taste and style—she had a vision, and that is an even greater rarity,” said  Elaine Whitmire, vice chairman and head of Sotheby’s single owner sales department, in a statement. “It has been wonderful to witness the response over the last six months from collectors, longtime admirers, and those learning about Mrs. Mellon’s life, eye and passions for the first time.”

The unexpected success of the Mellon sale was preceded by a great deal of advance promotion, including a dinner party set in a recreation of her Virginia estate that offered prospective buyers an unconventional preview of the late philanthropist’s jewelry, furniture, rugs, silver, and other objects as they might appear in one’s home (see report from the New York Times). The massive Mellon numbers should help offset the disappointment of the auction house’s recent Important Russian Art Sale, where 25 of 37 lots failed to attract a buyer.

The auction holds up well compared to that of other socialites, according to the New York Times. In 2012, philanthropist Brooke Astor’s 901 lot estate went for $18.8 million, or $19.4 million adjusted for inflation, and in a 1996 auction, over 5,000 of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s possessions brought in $34.5 million, the equivalent of $52.2 million today.

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