The personal belongings of writer Joan Didion went to auction on Wednesday, nearly one year after her death, and some of the prices may shock you.
The highlights from the sale included signed works from the likes of Richard Diebenkorn, Jennifer Bartlett and Annie Leibovitz, which sold for $80,000, $25,000 and $11,000, respectively.
None of those prices are particularly surprising for signed artworks, but it was the more mundane objects in the collection that seemed to garner buyers’ attention.
Everything from table napkins to writing desks went for much higher than estimated.
A group of 13 blank notebooks went for $11,000 (estimated for $100-$200), while a small collection of sea shells and pebbles from Didion’s fireplace mantle sold for an astounding $7,000.
Most notably, a pair of Didion’s sunglasses sold for a whopping $27,000.
To be fair, the tortoiseshell sunglasses are quintessential Didion, but the price still shocked many.
“The interest in Joan Didion is much stronger than we’ve seen for other sales,” Lisa Thomas, director of the auction house’s fine arts department, told Slate.
“The items were valued based on their innate value as an object or ‘thing,’” Thomas said. “We do not add on value based on the notable person they belonged to.”
Still, the attention placed on the mundane objects of the collection — rather than, say, her book or art collection — is revealing about how Didion is categorized as an icon. People want to dress like her, want their homes to look like hers and to be like her.
As Roxana Robinson writes in The New Yorker, we are fascinated by Didion’s “ordinary objects” because we are “mesmerized by the images of Didion: the sybil’s gaze, the glossy hair, the elegant carriage.”
But $27,000 to look through the same sunglasses as the “sybil’s gaze” is still a steep price to pay.
Readers gawking at the prices, however, can take some comfort in the fact that the proceeds will be donated to charity.
“Proceeds from the sale will benefit patient care and research of Parkinson’s and other movement disorders at Columbia University, and the Sacramento Historical Society for the benefit of Sacramento City College scholarship for women in literature,” according to Stair Galleries.