Wednesday - 23 July 2014

When life is one long picnic

17 January 2006Written by ATG Reporter

Ninety-one-year-old John Werner Kluge is the stuff of the American Dream – a German immigrant who amassed his fortune in the States buying radio and television stations.

He bought his first radio station in Maryland in 1946 for $15,000. Forty years later he had vaulted to the top spot on the Forbes list of the richest Americans, having sold his network to Rupert Murdoch.

So, what does a man worth over $10bn spend his money on?

Well, this one invests in restaurant chains, medical and light technology, gourmet beef and collects everything from Australian aboriginal art to Baroque and Biedermeier furniture. He also enjoys a good picnic.

Amongst the contents of Morven, a Colonial period Virginian estate with a history of distinguished owners and important associations, acquired by Kluge in 1988 and gifted to the University of Virginia in 2001, was the mother of all picnic hampers. It was offered for sale by Christie's New York on December 16.

Perhaps in anticipation of buying his new home, where he hosted frequent shoots for his guests, Kluge commissioned the wicker and brass-mounted hamper from Asprey's in 1987. The 'off the shelf' models were really far too small.

Instead, with around $150,000 to spend, he envisaged something that most of us could not fit in the garage.

The main hamper, fashioned in two parts with brass carrying handles, leather straps, and hinged lids, sits nicely on a steel trailer and requires four 12-volt batteries to power six hot-cold boxes and a water pump. Inside is a chief picnic hamper that, like a Russian doll, opens to reveal various wicker hampers, each labelled appropriately for china, glassware, cutlery, bar, thermos flasks, miscellaneous, garbage, and spares.

That means: a 137-piece Elizabeth II silver table service with the mark of Asprey, London, 1987, a 113-piece staghorn-handled part table and bar service, 16 Elizabeth II horn and silver cups, the body applied with a large initial K and the mark of Asprey, Birmingham, 1987, a 79-piece Baccarat stemware service and a 118-piece Bernardaud (Limoges) cream porcelain dinner service decorated with the monogram K plus the Kluge shotgun and bird armorial.

Naturally, with such a table setting, the two folding mahogany tables and 16 folding and monogrammed mahogany chairs are a necessity and in case of confusion Asprey supplied an embossed leather instruction manual.

Christie's thought such late 20th century opulence might attract a bid in the $20,000-30,000 range, but the opportunity to beat the Joneses once and for all prompted a private buyer to part with $120,000/£70,600 plus 20/12% buyer's premium.

Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.

Written by

ATG Reporter

Back to top