Discover more from Dearest
Nazis Ruin Everything, Vol. Infinity
Plus, a 1953 Coronation gift from QEII and a malaria warning from Dr. Seuss
Hi everyone! Hope you’re all well. I’ve had some personal news since I last checked in with you: I’m absolutely thrilled to report that Dearest has been named a 2023 Webby Honoree! The Webby Awards are “the Internet’s highest honor” (according to The New York Times), and this year over 14,000 pieces of work were entered from all 50 states and more than 70 countries, and they were reviewed by the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences.
So an “honoree” is basically a runner-up — best loser, lol — but this is still ridiculously exciting and validating and I'm delighted. Dearest is being honored in the "Weird" category, which is exactly right and true.
Huge, huge thanks to all of you who read and support this odd little newsletter. It's been a struggle lately — I still enjoy doing it, but existence in general is killing me — so I will interpret this recognition as a good, necessary kick in the pants to keep going.
Ok, back to business! The sale that’s had the auction world buzzing for the past few weeks is “The World of Heidi Horten” at Christie’s Geneva. It’s the jewelry collection of an Austrian billionaire who passed away last year, and the items are being split up into four parts: two live “Magnificent Jewels” auctions (Part 1 on May 10, and Part II on May 11) and two online auctions — one running from May 3-15 and another to come in November.
The sale initially got a ton of coverage because this is the “world’s most valuable non-royal private jewelry collection,” with over 700 pieces including some huge, historic diamonds and gemstones, as well as jewelry from all the big names like Harry Winston, Cartier, Tiffany, Bulgari, and Van Cleef & Arpels. The collection is estimated at $150 million, so it’s expected to beat the $137 million brought in by the sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels in 2011.
HOWEVER. The blockbuster sale has since been overshadowed as information about the collection’s Nazi-tinged history (which apparently Christie’s had left out of the marketing materials) was revealed.
Heidi Horten was 19 when she met 51-year-old Helmut Horten, a German department store magnate, and the pair were married in 1966. By that time Helmut owned several department stores, many of which he purchased during World War II from Jewish owners.
The Aryanization of Jewish businesses in Germany took place in two stages. Before 1938, pressure from the Third Reich led Jews to sell their businesses, at times at deep discounts. After 1938, the sales were typically forced, and the prices paid often sank even lower. Horten was active during both phases, according to historians, who said he was involved in deals that spanned the Nazi takeover of Europe from Amsterdam to East Prussia.
As a couple, the Hortens collected art, jewelry, “a fleet of superyachts,” etc., and after Helmut’s death in 1987, Heidi inherited his billion-dollar fortune. At that point she began to collect art in earnest, eventually (and just before her death last year) opening a private museum in Vienna to showcase her collection. The higher profile brought on by that project led to more scrutiny into the origins of the Horten fortune, and Heidi commissioned a historian, Peter Hoeres, to look into it. His resulting study seemed to spin Helmut Horten’s actions as being driven by opportunity rather than an adherence to the Nazi party or ideology, but according to that New York Times story, descendants of the Jewish store owners believe his report was whitewashed.
Munich journalist Stephanie Stephan, the daughter of one of the board members of a company forced to sell to Horten, told the paper:
“My father rebelled against Horten from the very beginning because he knew that he had already forced several Jewish owners of department stores in Germany to sell their department stores for ridiculous sums,” Stephan said. “He immediately dismissed my father. Horten made sure that my father was imprisoned several times and finally was expelled from the Netherlands.”
Hoeres says he will refute that claim in an upcoming book.
Christie’s has stated that they never intended to “hide” any info about Helmut Horten’s background and have now included this terse statement in their bio of Heidi:
“Mr. Horten, her first husband, passed away in 1987, leaving a significant inheritance to Mrs. Horten, the source of which is a matter of public record. The business practices of Mr. Horten during the Nazi era, when he purchased Jewish businesses sold under duress, are well documented.”
Christie’s has also pledged to donate a “significant contribution” from their cut to “an organization that further advances Holocaust research and education,” so there’s that. As for the rest, according to Heidi Horten’s wishes, the full proceeds of the sale of the estate will go to the The Heidi Horten Foundation, a philanthropic organization established in 2021 to fund her museum and also support medical research and other charitable causes.
So, on to the jewelry. The piece with the highest estimate in the collection is the Cartier “Sunrise Ruby” ring, which features a 25.59 carat cushion-shaped ruby with shield-shaped diamond side stones set in platinum. The estimate is $15 million to $20 million, which National Jeweler notes is “a seemingly low estimate considering it sold for a record-setting $30.3 million eight years ago.”
THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS. Sometimes as I sit here typing this stuff, my brain will suddenly leap out of my nose, turn around, and punch me in the face.
The second-highest estimated piece in the collection is the Harry Winston “Briolette of India” diamond necklace, seen above and in the photo of Horten. The 90.36 carat (!!) briolette-cut diamond — which was first purchased by Cartier in 1909 — was later set in its current necklace form by Harry Winston. The piece comes apart: the briolette pendant can be worn alone, and two parts of the chain are also detachable and may be worn as a short necklace. It is expected to sell for $10 million to $15.6 million.
But enough about the Horten sale. Another big-ticket item, this jadeite bead, ruby and diamond necklace, was included in the Sotheby’s 50th Anniversary Luxury Evening Auction: The Exceptionals on April 5th in Hong Kong. Dubbed “The Emperor’s Treasure” it sold for $61,489,000 HKD (nearly $8 million USD).
The necklace consists of 43 well-matched, intense Imperial Green jadeite beads that range from 11–13mm in size, and the clasp features a central cushion-shaped ruby, along with calibré-cut rubies and rose- and brilliant-cut diamonds mounted in 18k white gold.
Jade has been revered in China for centuries. It’s regarded as the “Stone of Heaven,” to which the ancient Chinese attributed the ability to ward off evil, as well as provide such benefits as longevity, wisdom, courage and purity. It is found in various — and really beautiful! — colors, but to be considered the pinnacle known as “Imperial Green,” the stone must be exceptionally translucent, with a deep emerald green color and a fine texture.
Sotheby’s explains why this necklace — which is very pretty, but still, just a set of beads? — is such an important piece:
Jadeite bead necklaces are treasured collector’s pieces, as works of the highest qualities are exceedingly rare. The production of a jadeite bead necklace requires a sizeable rough that is pure and even in quality, as well as the craftsman’s eye and skill to create beads with matching colour and texture throughout the entire necklace. In selecting the rough crystal, the craftsman must ensure that there is enough of the material that will produce good colour and excellent translucency accounting for any flaws in the material that might be present. Often significant amounts of rough are discarded in the carving of round jadeite beads to match, and thus bead necklace projects are often abandoned in favour of other types of jewellery. Due to this, jadeite bead necklaces are rare and highly valued by collectors.
If you’ve been around for a bit, you may remember the Oved lion ring I featured back in 2021. He was known for these wonderfully simple animal rings — which were originally borne out of a moment of extreme London Blitz-related stress — and this one also features the words “Smoke gets in your eyes, 15 August 1945” engraved on the base.
Here’s another London Jewels piece I bookmarked:
This circa 2012 “Wonderland” platinum and diamond swan cuff is by Boodles, a UK family jewelry business that dates back to 1798 Liverpool. It features a pair of swans with entwined necks and outspread wings, with a diamond briolette suspended from the center of the piece and brilliant-cut diamonds covering the rest, amounting to 22 carats total. It didn’t sell! Huh.
But that’s fine, because I really was using that bracelet as an excuse to show you this Boodles “Just Beyond the Setting Sun” cuff from 2019. It’s no longer available on their website, but I’ve literally had this image saved on my desktop for four straight years. I just open it up and look at it every once in a while.
This Garrard & Co. diamond brooch dates to 1953. It’s one of six identical brooches that the late Queen Elizabeth II gifted to her coronation maids of honor in thanks for their service — including carrying her train — on the big day. Featuring the initials “ER” in a design inspired by the Queen’s own handwriting, the piece is set with single-cut diamonds and finished with a brilliant-cut diamond.
This brooch belonged to Lady Moyra Campbell (1930–2020). Campbell (formerly Hamilton) was an aristocrat who had known Queen Elizabeth since they were children, and Sotheby’s dug up some comments she made about the coronation to the BBC:
“I was terribly lucky to be invited to be one of the maids of honour to carry the Queen's train. There were so many highlights. The amazing feeling in the abbey; the incredible prayerfulness throughout and the sight of all those crowds who had been waiting in appalling weather all night; some of them had been there overnight, others had been there from early the day before.”
The brooch is included in The Coronation Sale at Sotheby’s London on Thursday, and is estimated at £30,000 - £50,000 ($38,000 - $63,000).
There’s been a whole lot of mucho expensivo stuff in this edition, so let’s finish up with something fun. Above is a World War II informational poster illustrated by none other than Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss (as if you can’t tell just by looking at it!).
Titled “This Is Ann...she drinks blood!,” it’s a circa 1943 lithographed poster intended to warn U.S. troops of the dangers of malaria carried by the Anopheles genus of mosquito.
Geisel formally joined the U.S. Army in 1943 after previously creating posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. He was put in charge of the animation department of the 1st Motion Picture Unit, where his commanding officer and chairman of the unit was none other than Col. Frank Capra. Yes, THAT Frank Capra.
Although the work of both Capra and Geisel is generally considered “Rated G” today, the two were part of a star-studded Army team that created a series of cartoons definitely NOT intended for kids (or the public in general). According to Military.com:
Geisel wrote the shorts with a team that included children’s authors P.D. Eastman (Go, Dog, Go; Are You My Mother?) and Munro Leaf (Ferdinand the Bull). The writers collaborated with Looney Tunes animators Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin and voice actor Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam) to create a series of forgotten classics.
The cartoons were based around a character called Private Snafu (named after the military acronym slang for “situation normal: all fucked/fouled up”), and were educational but deliberately racy and anarchic, in order to hold the attention of the soldiers. You can see some of them at the Military.com link above: they’re very Looney Tunes, just with swastika boobs and super racist stereotypes. (One of the shorts also inadvertently managed to predict the atom bomb and was swiftly confiscated by the Powers That Be, as recounted in this fantastic deep dive into the cartoons by Mark David Kaufman for the Public Domain Review.)
Another one of the cartoons features poor old Snafu neglecting to use his GI Repellant and getting the sharp end of Mosquito Mike, so that neatly brings us back to the poster above. It’s unsigned but dates to Geisel’s time with the Unit and comes with a booklet that expands on the poster text. The copy for both was written by Munro Leaf, who is also uncredited. It’s estimated at $800 to $1,200, and is included in the Bonhams Skinner Fine Books & Rare Manuscripts online auction ending on Wednesday.
Ok, enough of all that: What I REALLY want to do is tell you all to check out Michael Baggott’s Instagram page. Michael is an extraordinarily knowledgeable silver expert and dealer, and his resume includes writing various books, running a Sotheby’s silver department and a stint on the much-missed BBC program Flog It!.
I met Michael years ago through Twitter, and he has since become one of my most favorite people as well as my savior when it comes to oddball items that need identifying. He has recently started recording Instagram talks about bits of silver in his collection and I HIGHLY recommend them — personally, I think there are few things more enjoyable than listening to an expert talk about their passion (especially when said expert has a sense of humor dryer than the Sahara), so if you’re also into that, do check it out. He’ll make a silver collector out of you.
So that’s that! I hope you all have a wonderful week and I’ll talk to you soon. If you’re so inclined, feel free to leave a comment, hit reply, or check out the new Substack “Notes” social media feature, which certainly got Enon Morp’s knickers in a twist recently. You can find it by going to substack.com/notes or clicking on the “Notes” tab in the Substack app.
I’m shutting up now, holy crap. Love you all, take care, stay safe, BYE!
The winner of the “Weird” category is Porn Week, a fantastic educational site from New Zealand that focuses on teaching kids about pornography and how to handle the content that they are inevitably — no matter how sheltered — being bombarded with from all corners of the internet. (There’s also a great sister site for parents with guidance on how to talk to their kids about porn.) According to the site, one in four New Zealand kids see pornography before they’re 12 years old, and 71% of them weren’t looking for it when they first saw it. I would imagine the numbers are similar in any countries where the internet is readily available. Another stat: 66% of kids have never spoken to an adult about porn. You guys know the kind of stuff that’s swirling around out there online — if you’ve got kids, talk to them about it, because you can bet they’re confused, interested and probably pretty weirded out right now.