Brooke Astor's Books (and Book Objects) at Auction

Next month Sotheby's New York will sell property from the Estate of Brooke Astor. Nine hundred items from her Park Avenue duplex and her Westchester country home, Holly Hill, will go under the hammer during the two-day auction.

Astor was a legendary figure in New York society until her death in 2007. She was primarily a collector of decorative arts, furniture, and jewelry, a piece of which is a jewel-encrusted lion brooch (estimate $20,000-30,000) that evokes the iconography of the NYPL, an institution the Astors have supported for more than a century.

Astor Lib small.jpgBut was she a book collector? Holly Hill boasts this lovely library (above), and yet there appears to be only one lot (#67) consisting of "A Very Good Reading Library of Standard Authors Mostly 19th Century." There are approximately 711 volumes in the lot, and the asking price is $3,500-5,000. Not bad. A pre-fab library of classics mostly bound in morocco or calf with a charming provenance. Later in the auction, fifteen lots of miscellaneous books sorted by subject (Reference, Cooking, Dogs, New York, etc.) turn up, with low estimates of $100-500 for lots of one hundred-plus books each.

BookVase.pngThere are some book objects of interest. A French earthenware vase in the form of a stack of books (seen here at left; estimate $1,000-1,500) and a painted book box (estimate $100-200) and a few historical documents crop up too, but the evidence suggests that Brooke was not much of a book collector even if she had a beautiful library. Still, for the right antiquarian bookseller or book collector, her books might yield surprising opportunities -- association copies from society artists, or tucked-in treasures related to this Old New York family...