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Excerpts from “We’ll always have Paris.” A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, Connoisseur.

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“We’ll always have Paris.”

A story of wealth, obsessions, and the emperor’s ransom collected
and dispersed by Christopher Forbes, connoisseur.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Excerpts from Chapter 2

I didn’t know that Kip Forbes was selling the work of a lifetime
until the hefty plum colored catalogs (2) arrived and, in an instant,
maybe less, left me to ogle night and day, you are the one; in
the roaring traffic’s boom; in the silence of my lonely room, with
apologies to Cole Porter. I lugged them everywhere.

As soon as I dug in, I knew all my worthy and well-meant promises
to “go slow, there wlll be other auctions” went out the window, as they had gone out so often before. This is what happens with connoisseurs.
We mean well but we are putty in the hands of the particular objects
of our affection. We mean well, but that, when decisions must be
made, means nothing. Don’t scold us for our acquisitive dispositions. It could happen to you.

We can’t help ourselves. In for a penny, in for a pound, or a whole lot
more. We ought to have a help group entitled “,
Anonymous,” but it wouldn’t do any good. Even if we were shackled
by Houdini, we’d find a way out. Others may like a thing, but we connoisseurs are obsessed, a feeling we try to disguise, never to admit upon pain of death.

My heart sinks.

I noticed right away that Christopher’s trove was being auctioned off
by Osenat, the Peck’s Bad Boy (1907) of auction houses. They often
snag the best Empire artifacts, from important documents and autographs to over-the-top fauteuils and hard-to-find encoignures; reasonably estimated and so close the deal that justifies exceeding your limit. Oh, if only the story ended there. But it doesn’t.

For example, try asking them for a condition report, as I do with
despair because Osenat seems incapable of providing this necessary and timely intelligence, absolutely necessary in the determination to  proceed, or not.

I email and say, “Please send me a condition report for such and
such a lot.” In my early dealings with Osenat I was so naive as to
expect a precise and helpful response. Silly me. So, I ask again
and again and again; all to no avail and much exasperation. Take
the matter of the royal and imperial photographs available in
abundance thanks to Kip’s ardor and persistence.

Now, I happen to have an extensive collection of such photos,
nearly all autographed and as such exceedingly rare. I add to it
whenever such items come up, though I admit the signed photo
of Alexis Romanov (1904-1918), the last Tsarevich of a doomed
and tragic dynasty, was at $50,000 a bit steep.

Despite numerous requests to tell me which photos were autographed by their subjects, yes, despite my dogged efforts I never did get a response. This is the Osenat way, and it is most irritating. However, it gets even worse….

To make telephone bidding work, it is necessary for the bidder, the
Osenat representative transmitting the bids, and the auctioneer
to be in perfect sync. However here, too, Osenat stumbles. In one
famous instance (of several) the auctioneer was simply not paying

As a result a pair of the most stunning Empire pedestals in verde
mare marble were sold to a lucky Russian lady, not to me. Hell
hath no fury as a connoisseur slighted. It took me over ten years
to get my hands on them. They adorn the Blue Room where I am
writing you now.

I have never seen a pair with such chic and panache, and have still
not forgiven M. Osenat for keeping me from them for an infuriating

The same thing happened in the Forbes sale. There was an impressive photograph of Prince “Plon-Plon”, otherwise Prince Napoleon Bonaparte,(1822-1891), one of history’s most unattractive characters. He didn’t matter much so long as Napoleon III’s only son “LuLu” was alive. He wasn’t called the Prince Imperial for nothing.

However, once he was killed by Zulus (1879), Plon-Plon stepped forward as the Number I reason why the Bonapartes and their post 1870 chances of restoration ended with the thrust of an assegai.

He was detestable was Plon-Plon. Of course, I had to have him in my
collection where imperial princes of any dynasty trump all. Kip had two Plon-Plons. I “owned” one for a week until I inquired after my bill and was told “my” treasure was sold the next day to a luckier punter than me . This is all too typical of my checkered experience with Osenat.

Just one more finger pointing…

The first two days of the Forbes sale took place March 5 and March 6, 2016.
Instead of numbering all the items sequentially they numbered each catalog from 1 thus creating some serious muddle, especially for collectors like me who always go over each item with our own advisors, the trusted folk who work for me, not the auction house. I never imagined some of them knew such  indigo lingo as I heard because of this needless error. Thus did Osenat make clear they are still not ready for prime time and a worldwide clientele.

So why, then, did Kip Forbes bestow his golden patronage on such a
place? As he told me, it was because the larger and more well known
auction houses would not have taken the whole collection, over 1300 items,  thus declining the hundreds of documents.

Selling such documents is an Osenat specialty, and hence just right for Kip whose intense interest in autograph documents mirrors that of father, brother,  grandfather, world without end, amen, amen.