Hundreds of family items from the estate of the late Durham philanthropist Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans go on auction next weekend, and the auctioneers expect a lot of interest.
“We’ll have seating for 600,” said Laura Crockett, fine arts specialist with Brunk Auctions of Asheville. “It’s the only time anything has been offered from this part of the family.”
The auction is being held in the President’s Ballroom of the Washington Duke Inn, starting at noon Sunday, with a public preview on Saturday afternoon.
One interested party is Jennifer Farley, manager at the Duke Homestead State Historic Site in Durham. The Homestead is soliciting donations for bidding at the Duke-Semans auction and at a September auction of tobacco memorabilia.
“Our budget is extremely tight,” Farley said. “We started with no funds set aside, as these auctions were a surprise to us.”
Farley said she’d like to bring “home” anything that came from the Homestead, where Washington Duke and his family lived from 1852 until 1874 and began their tobacco business.
Crockett said “approximately 500 lots” of jewelry, furniture, art, china, silver and assorted other household items will be auctioned.
They came from four Duke residences: a Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City, the Four Acres mansion that once stood on Chapel Hill Street in Durham, and two houses at the Semans homeplace in the Forest Hills neighborhood.
“Probably the most wonderful, or symbolic, I guess,” Crockett said, “we have five of the plates that were made with the crest, the family heraldry that was designed by Mr. and Mrs. Semans to kind of join the family.”
The plates, she said, are being sold separately. Among other items are a Louis XVI fruitwood desk; a gilt brass canopy bedstead with its original Saks Fifth Avenue draperies; a Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph; and 19th century lithographs of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in their original frames. An auction catalog, with valuations, is at bit.ly/Wo7uyr.
Crockett said there will not be a printed catalog, to comply with family wishes: “They’re very interested in the environment.”
Semans, Washington Duke’s great-granddaughter, was born in New York but spent most of her life in Durham. In 1951, she was the first woman elected to the Durham City Council. She was a Duke University trustee, chairwoman of the Duke Endowment and, among other things, was instrumental in having the one-time family farm become a state historic site.
“They are such an amazing, generous family,” Crockett said.
Duke Homestead is also interested in the tobacco memorabilia collection of the late Joseph E. Hudgins, which is being auctioned Sept. 28 in Siler City. Hudgins was a member of the Duke Homestead support organization, and his collection includes some items from W. Duke Sons & Co., the family firm that grew into the American Tobacco trust that dominated the U.S. cigarette industry from 1890 until its breakup by the Supreme Court in 1911.
The Homestead staff had discussed buying the collection with Hudgins before he died, Farley said, but, “He wanted to sell his collection as one unit ... and unfortunately the price for the collection was out of our price range.
“We have no idea how much (money) we will need” to make buys at either auction, Farley said. “The more funds raised, the more we can bring home.”