On the divinity that doth hedge a king — and all his possessions. A trip to Dorotheum and the Kaiserhaus sale, a place and an event you never knew existed… and will hereafter never miss.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. I am calm again… but I know, none better, that I shall again be overcome by a kind of fever, a fever that causes me to lose interest in the usual activities of life and focus instead on the lives of certain folks, usually long dead, who yet from the very grave have more allure and glamor about them than all our own babbling leaders. But then these leaders have nary a princely attribute, much less artifact with which to captivate us and willingly enthrall.
Even their autographs, signed and dated on grim official photographs, often have no value whatsoever (beyond the ego massage it gives the signer), for such leaders are quotidian and our interest in them and their artifacts wanes with their power. No one, and certainly not a brilliant royalist like Shakespeare, will ever lose sleep or commit pocketbook to gain a slice of their wedding cake or a lock of hair in a golden locket with a pose at once regal and wistful. Mere prime ministers much less ministers of transport have no such magic.
But even the youngest prince or princess of the most transient royal dynasty does most surely have it… and what they have we want. Hence the twice annual imperial sales in Vienna, the great city of the Habsburgs and their imperium, every stone of which recalls them still, and affectionately. Let me be your host and guide. And for the music to accompany us, it must be “Der Kaiserwalzer” Opus 437 “Emperor Waltz” by Johann Stauss II composed in 1889. Its history is telling…
Emperor Franz Josef, Europe’s longest reigning monarch (1848-1916) originally conceived this waltz as a most elegant imperial compliment, in this case to his ally the Emperor William II of Germany, to be delivered in the form of a toast. And so this most Austrian of waltzes was presented in Berlin to the man who, more than anyone, brought down the entire structure of European royalty and lived to rue the day… but not yet. For now, go to any search engine and find this brilliant paean to an emperor, a king of kings, and to an era marked forever by his cypher. Thrill to the sweeping crescendo with which it opens… then be prepared to waltz, just as the emperor himself would be doing if he were in attendance with his gentlemen (as he often was). For his Imperial and Apostolic Majesty loved to dance with a beautiful woman… and forget his troubles, just like you. It was the secret of why the empire loved him, despite the many troubles “serious but not important”.
They knew, every single subject, he was one of them, Viennese to his fingertips, and, like the whole imperial structure, in his waning days. This cast a bittersweet pall over Vienna and the House of Habsburg, so much so that when dancing one would often find a tear in one’s eye… for such happy, golden days could not last forever, and didn’t. Thus one wanted a souvenir of this time… proof that one was present and empathized. They looked to Dorotheum for assistance. Then as now Dorotheum specialized in providing such valued mementoes, grand, opulent, intimate, human, joyful, even tragic, presented to you lot by entrancing lot, lavishly photographed to make them irresistible to — you.
The first thing you need to know about Dorotheum, Vienna’s premier auctioneers (founded in 1707), is its name. It is not “the Dorotheum”; it is simply “Dorotheum,” and to add the article drives purists (like me) wild; it is the same with RMS Titanic; there is no article in front of the name of the doomed vessel, never was, never will be… and so it is with Dorotheum. Thus we shall start as we mean to get on: with total accuracy and an eye for detail. These traits are of the essence in succeeding at Dorotheum and its highly specialized world. The more you epitomize them, the more successful your sojourn at Dorotheum, and I assure you if you are a connoisseur at any level of expertise, you will want such success here.
Dorotheum online and off.
These days Dorotheum presents its offerings in both the traditional paper catalogs and also online. Personally I find both information sources useful. Paper catalogs, of course, can be taken everywhere; one needs no plug. But online imagery, blowing up the image to better grasp its particulars — and its particular problems — is invaluable, not least because you can examine each part of the lot slowly, carefully, thoroughly as you should.
Hardly a day goes by when I fail to consult even a smidgeon of the voluminous resources available at Dorotheum. If I believed in being overwhelmed, even I should admit to a degree of awe in the detail provided. Thus, one must carefully select the areas of one’s interest, since concentration and focus are absolutely required. For me this meant the twice a year sales of artifacts from what they call in Vienna Kaiserhaus, Haus Habsburg, the imperial family. I have just emerged from the most recent, dazed, bruised, challenged… and, yes, even victorious. It was despairing, it was exhilarating, it was fun, it was expensive; it was a grand auction of grand artifacts… and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Because I am a serious and a frequent buyer and totally committed collector, I approach the catalogs with serious intent. I am not merely looking; I am looking to buy, to augment my already sizable collection. Moreover, because my Harvard Ph.D. is in History, specifically Modern European History, I expect to know something about what is being presented… but with the necessity to do more refined research and other homework to provide me with the edge I need for maximum success at absolutely the lowest price. I have money, but not to burn. Thus shrewdness must be acquired and keenly used. And I am assiduous in both.
For the last imperial sale, I marked 18 items which, upon preliminary view, would fit nicely into my Cambridge collection, a place where space (or the lack of it) is a pressing problem. I asked for condition reports on each; talked to their experts twice, asked my own London-based conservators for their professional opinions on the relevant items… and did my own homework, no slacking allowed. In due course, just the day before the event, I at last felt ready.. which also meant being prepared for serendipity, that is being ready for what one cannot predict… taking advantage of the unexpected which is a key factor in one’s success.
Every monarchist in Europe present, every monarchist in the world on the telephone.
I do my bidding by phone, by myself not with an agent. I prefer to control my destiny… and keep to my preassigned limits. And since it is my limited resources I’m spending… I usually do, but only “usually”. Very quickly I came to understand, by close questioning of the charming lady who transmitted my bids to the auctioneer that there would be no bargains today… and so the imperial china of the Empress Maria Anna slipped away along with paintings, silver, autographs of a half dozen archdukes, and a lovely seascape I thought sure I’d get… all gone. Monarchists and aficionados of the Habsburgs had waited patiently for this day… and were not to be denied. And so a long day went slowly, painfully indeed…. until… that imp serendipity, always present in an auction, never predictable, sometimes for you, sometimes against. Now, for a single instant, my ally.
“Enormous changes at the last minute.”
This is Grace Paley’s famous line. I love it and frequently see the world through this aperture. It certainly applied now because as the number of lots remaining fast dwindled, the substantial crowd ready for dinner dissipated and started home from the magnificent palace where these auctions are held. Few people remained; fewer lots. And thus when the signed photograph of German Emperor Frederick III came up the auctioneer offered a low bid… half the low estimate. I bit. And, in a minute, he gaveled the item to a close — for me! A pip of an item (for autographs of this Emperor are rare; he only reigned for 99 days), for a pip of a price, virtually a gift.
“Dr. Lant,” my representative said clapping her hands in glee, “You got the only bargain of the auction!” And I believe I did. “I am so happy for you!” Her sincerity and joy for me were palpable… and pure Viennese, pure Dorotheum.
I was so happy that I quickly acquired a fine portrait of English King Edward VII by Heinrich von Angeli (1840-1925). Perhaps I overpaid just a bit, but I wanted it and still have funds to fight another day.
And believe me, at these imperial sales I will.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.Worldprofit.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.