Baroness Betty Boothroyd’s ‘life story’ of treasured possessions swept to success at auction – with one item selling for nearly 50 times its estimate.
The popularity of the first, and only, woman Speaker of The House of Commons, blended with political provenance, proved irresistible to bidders. For example, a 20th century Papier-mâché box (below) given to her as a gift by Russian president Boris Yeltsin, soared to £2,400 - 48 times its £50 estimate.
Another item to do well was lot 21, a large fine china limited edition figure of Lawrence of Arabia which sold for £1,250 from a guide price of £250-£350. It was given to the baroness when she was president of the All-Party Defence Group.
The lots, which included costume jewellery and ornaments as well as political mementos, also saw two art glass birds by Oiva Toikka (Finnish, b.1931) soar to £190. A ship’s glass decanter and glasses presented to her by the British Navy in St Petersburg, Russia, made £110 and an inscribed pewter beer jug presented to her by the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group sold for £130.
The 91-year-old former West Bromwich MP consigned around 70 items to auction with Hansons London on April 24 and described them as ‘my life story’. Most lots sold well above estimate.
Baroness Boothroyd said: “It was very hard for me to part with some of the treasures I had built up over my lifetime and political career but, due to the need to downsize, I simply hadn’t got room for everything anymore.
“However, the support, courtesy, advice and helpfulness of Hansons Auctioneers’ staff made the process a smooth and easy one. I was delighted with the results of the auction. It was a pleasure to do business with Hansons. They provided an excellent service. They’re the tops!”
The baroness, who is leaving her London apartment to live at a Cambridgeshire cottage, said: “I’ve cherished every single thing but I had to let go. They were a reminder of a colourful life.”
Chris Kirkham, associate director of Hansons London, said: “Political provenance shone bright in the collection and aided the success of the sale. Ultimately, items excelled because Baroness Boothroyd has achieved lasting popularity. She’s a national treasure and bidders were keen to own items connected to her extraordinary life.
“She’s mixed with the great and the good including royalty and major political leaders like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and former American president Bill Clinton. She’s also received an Order of Merit, a rare honour given at the Queen’s discretion.”
Baroness Boothroyd was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, in 1929, the only child of Ben Archibald Boothroyd and wife Mary, both textile workers. She was educated at council schools and went on to study at Dewsbury College of Commerce and Art. From 1946 to 1952, she worked as a dancer and performed at the London Palladium. However, a foot infection, brought an end to her dancing career, and she entered politics.
Running for the Labour Party, she contested several seats before being elected MP for West Bromwich in 1973. In 1992 she was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, the first woman ever to hold the position in 700 years. She has received numerous awards and accolades but is most proud of her Order of Merit, an honour bestowed as a personal gift by the Queen.
It’s restricted to a maximum of 24 living recipients from Commonwealth realms, plus limited honorary admissions. The latter has included Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. The first woman to receive an OM was Florence Nightingale in 1907. Current beneficiaries include Sir David Attenborough.
The Baroness Betty Boothroyd Collection was sold at Hansons London, Teddington, on April 24. To find out more, or to arrange a free valuation, email: [email protected].