Campbell heiress Dodo Hamilton's home goods bring in $4.9 million at auction in a near sell-out

Freeman’s auctioneer Alasdair Nichol directs the bidding during the auction of items from the estate of Dorrance H. “Dodo” Hamilton at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Going once. Going twice. Sold!

And just like that, Paul Cézanne’s La Vie des Champs was sold out of Philly to a bidder from the U.K., one of more than 300 available pieces from Dorrance H. “Dodo” Hamilton’s household collection. The price? A sizable $1.5 million.

On Sunday, the first of two auctions of items from Hamilton’s estate unfolded at Freeman’s Philadelphia auction house. The afternoon affair featured paintings, furniture, plateware, and other decorative arts items owned by the billionaire Campbell Soup Co. heiress, who died at 88 in April 2017.

Packing the auction house, around 100 eager bidders showed up at the Center City site, vying with dozens of others calling in by phone and posting from the Internet.

Close to 140 lots went up for bid, and all but one of them sold — a rarity in the auction industry. The lone leftover was a seascape by Philadelphia-born painter William Trost Richards, but three other paintings of his found buyers. The almost sellout brought in a total of $4.9 million.

The number will only climb when the remainder of lots from Freeman’s Hamilton collection — including  a 16.56-carat emerald-cut diamond and platinum ring estimated  at between $600,000 and $800,000 — are auctioned off  May 9 as part of a larger sale of fine jewelry.

Camera icon Photo courtesy Freeman's
Part of Hamilton’s collection, Paul Cézanne’s La Vie des Champs, sold for $1.5 million on Sunday.

“It’s just fun — there’s a thrill in bidding against others,” Doreen Merkt said Sunday. She and her husband successfully bid on a painting by American artist Edgar Hewitt Nye for just over $16,000, to hang in their Rittenhouse home. “Sometimes you go higher than expected because you’re in the moment and caught up in the rush of it. A lot of the art we collect has some tie to Philadelphia, so we were excited at the opportunity to procure a piece from the Hamilton collection.”

Hamilton was well-known as a generous philanthropist, sowing the region with new buildings, gardens, and other spaces bearing the Hamilton name. They include the Philadelphia Flower Show’s $1 million Hamilton Horticort, the area for the show’s plant competitions.

In addition to donating money to the world’s oldest and largest indoor flower show, Hamilton was a fierce competitor at the annual event, winning more than 2,000 blue ribbons over the nearly three decades that she competed. She held a deep affinity for the natural world, which appears throughout her entire estate.

Nature was in her nature

“It is clear that flora, fauna, and natural forms held an enormous appeal for her — from the beautiful flower paintings by Fantin-Latour and Redoute and the ‘Birds of America’ prints by Audubon to diamond earrings set as floral motifs and Newcomb College pottery decorated with tree forms,” says Alasdair Nichol, chairman of Freeman’s. “It is also very noticeable that the majority of her paintings are of landscapes or seascapes by artists, once again confirming where her passions lay.”

It was the maritime paintings that propelled Ron Arbuckle to make the four-hour drive from his home in Mystic, Conn.

“To see a full auction house like this is rare,” Arbuckle noted. “It’s just a great collection with a ton of provenance, and, as a private buyer, you have no doubt of the authenticity.”

After being outbid on two seascape paintings, Arbuckle went home empty-handed, though.

Along with the Cézanne, Hamilton’s collection of paintings included European artists such as Eugene Boudin and Pierre-Joseph Redouté, as well as notable American artists including Daniel Garber, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast.

Among the bigger-ticket pieces were a Hassam painting that went for $430,000, a Prendergast piece that brought in $292,000, and a work by Henry Fantin-Latour that sold for $286,000.

Mrs. Hamilton is survived by her three children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. The proceeds of both auctions will go to Hamilton’s estate.

Camera icon Photo courtesy Freeman's
On May 9, the remaining lots from Hamilton’s collection will go up for bid at Freeman’s. Focused on jewelry, the items include this 16.56-karat emerald-cut diamond and platinum ring, estimated at $600,000 to $800,000.

Seventeen lots of jewelry will be auctioned off in part two of the Hamilton collection sale beginning at noon May 9.

Items include a Tiffany & Co. 18-carat yellow gold and diamond necklace (estimated at $8,000 to $12,000), a diamond-lined ring with a large, light-purple kunzite crystal at its center (estimated at $7,000 to $9,000), an art deco diamond-covered bracelet watch (estimated at $30,000 to $50,000), and many other sparkling gems.

Anyone is welcome to show up and observe, whether they can afford to buy or not.

“The collection is out of the price range of most young professionals, but it’s a remarkable event to witness,” said bystander Jackie Killian, who attended  the  auction  Sunday  out of curiosity. “Mrs. Hamilton was an important person in the area and a remarkable philanthropist, and I feel like she set a great model for others with a similar capacity to see.”