In a Wildly Successful Auction of Joan Didion’s Belongings, People Paid Thousands for Her Journals, Photographs, and…Trash Cans

Fans of the late famed writer Joan Didion have anxiously awaited the first sale of her personal effects.

"An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion" on view in Hudson. All photos courtesy of Stair Galleries.

The much anticipated, first-ever sale of personal effects from famed, late writer Joan Didion’s estate concluded today with Hudson-based Stair Galleries, whose live auctioneers fielded bids from both online and in-person attendees. Lot 1 opened at 11 A.M. Lot 224 closed much later, well into the evening, with only a few breaks between.

In total, the sale raised $1,920,700 to support research into movement disorders at Columbia University and also the Sacramento City College scholarship for women in literature.

Didion’s family selected the sale’s beneficiaries, but Stair carefully curated its intimate offerings. Their eye for the everyday created a classic Didion portrait: her Loro Piana cashmere shawl, her reading glasses, family photographs, the paperweights from her desk, even her Le Creuset dishware—perhaps stained while making her famous jambalaya.

The writer’s art collection of paintings, prints, sculptures, and exhibition ephemera also hit the block.

Everything was on public view at Stair’s Warren Street headquarters. “We set it up to feel like her apartment,” Stair’s director Lisa Thomas told Artnet News of the showcase, which came down this morning.

“An American Icon: Property from the Collection of Joan Didion” on view in Hudson.

Scores made their pilgrimage to see Didion’s personal belongings. Although Thomas declined to share specifics, she allowed that “Some notable people did come through the exhibition, including artists.” Notable bidders from California were also getting in on the sale, she added.

Some visitors at Stair were shocked by the modest estimates attached to each lot: $100 for Didion’s brass Cartier desk clock, $1,000 for a Robert Rauschenberg etching.

“The items were valued based on their innate value,” Thomas told one potential bidder who was eyeing desk articles including a journal and glass cube printed with the letter J. “We do not add on value based on the notable person they belonged to.”

Well before the sale started this morning, online bids for those desk articles pushed the lot from an opening estimate of $200 to an active ask of $2,200. In the end, it all went for $11,000. The Cartier clock went for $35,000. The Rauschenberg etching sold for $27,000, as did an early standalone lot featuring the oversized faux tortoiseshell sunglasses from Didion’s recent Celine ad campaign.

Holy moley the joan didion auction looks like the crypto bubble never popped,” someone tweeted. Her scattered collection of beach shells sold for $7,000. YOLO.

Although Didion has passed away, her readers are living on. “We have no plans to have another Didion auction in the future,” Thomas said, “but we’d love to!”


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