The Rockefellers were one of the wealthiest and most influential American families of the 20th Century.

By Daniel Herborn


Posted on January 10, 2019

Nelson served as Assistant Secretary of State under Presidents Harry Truman and Franklyn Delano Roosevelt before becoming Governor of New York and the US Vice-President under Gerald Ford.

Along with his wife Margaretta ‘Happy’ Fitler, he lived in a three-storey Penthouse in Manhattan filled with expertly curated and custom-designed objects.

Few collections rivalled the Rockerfellers’

The couple were among the nation’s most prominent collectors and many of their prized pieces have gone to auction recently. An auction in December sold off their extensive range of jewels, while another in November included many of their 20th-century design and contemporary art pieces.

A third auction, scheduled for 18 January at Sotheby’s New York, will span almost 300 eclectic lots, including Americana artefacts, rare books and manuscripts and artworks by Pablo Picasso, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin.

The auction, titled ‘A Collecting Legacy: Property from the Collection of Nelson & Happy Rockefeller’, also includes dozens of fine Chinese ceramics, some dating back to the 17th Century as well as a range of Japanese calligraphy and woodblock prints.

Meissen Monteiths from the Swan Service

Above: A pair of Meissen Monteiths from the ‘Swan’ Service. Expected price: US$150-200,000

One of the highlights of the lot is the Meissen ‘Swan’ service ceramics, which includes a duo of Meissen Monteiths circa 1740-41. The pair of ceramics are estimated to fetch US$150-200,000 at the auction.

The service had originally been commissioned in 1736 by German Count Heinrich von Brühl, later the Director of the Royal Porcelain Factory at Meissen. It has since become prized for both its historic importance and aesthetic beauty. Such elaborate services acted as genuine status symbols among aristocratic families in the 18th Century.

Meissen Wine Bottle Holder

Above: A Meissen Wine Bottle Holder from the ‘Swan’ service. Expected price: US$30-50,000

Many of the couple’s most rare and valuable works have already been given away to museums and galleries or distributed to family members. Happy Rockerfeller, who earned her nickname for her perpetually sunny demeanour and outgoing nature, kept some of her favourites until she passed away in 2015.

These remaining items form the core of the trio of auctions and paint a vivid picture of a glamorous, internationally-minded collector.

Images courtesy of Sotheby’s