Conspicuous consumption was a theme of the Reagan era, so it wouldn’t be surprising to find an auction of Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s personal effects littered with high-status, high-glitter items in keeping with 1980s excess. But while the auction of Reaganobilia taking place at Christie’s later this month does feature some glitzy high points—like a diamond, sapphire, and ruby Bulgari American flag ring Nancy used when pledging allegiance—it’s more notable for its humble touches, like the horse-shaped jar of jellybeans than once sat on Reagan’s desk or the linen dinner napkins he favored, embroidered with the phrase “Mr. President.”
The auction includes plenty of glimpses of Reagan the man, including a set of doodles he penciled on White House stationery around 1982. Alongside cartoon characters with a Western theme, they feature two self-portraits: one of Reagan dressed up as a cowboy, and another of him in a suit. In keeping with the former president's love of Western themes, the auction also features a pair of Tony Lama-designed cowboy boots made of ostrich, cowhide, and bullfrog skin, embossed with the Great Seal of the United States in 14k gold.
Another doodle in the same set, of a football player, reflects one of Reagan’s most famous film roles, when he played the gifted but doomed Notre Dame player George Gipp in the 1940 film Knute Rockne, All American. That role is also commemorated by another item in the collection, an official NFL Wilson football Reagan inscribed “win one for the Gipper”—a line Reagan uttered both in the film and at the 1988 Republican National Convention (when he directed it at George W. Bush).
Aside from repeated uses of the phrase “president” (“first place president” is engraved on one punch bowl), the football is one of the few items with obvious political overtones. However, there’s also a fine needlepoint pillow decorated with the line “you ain’t seen nothing yet,” and depicting all the states Reagan carried in the 1984 election (all but Walter Mondale’s home state of Minnesota). The 1984 election is also echoed in a Tiffany marine chronometer Frank Sinatra gave Reagan as a 1981 inauguration gift, which includes an inscribed plaque that reads “Good morning Mr. President.” (That “morning” theme, of course, is reminiscent of the TV ad campaign that propelled Reagan to his second term: “It’s morning again in America.”)
Politics also shows up in a more humorous vein in the couple’s collection of 27 elephant figurines, which were once strewn (alongside several bald eagles) around the couple's Bel Air home at 668 St. Cloud Road. According to the auction catalog, the original address was 666, before Nancy Reagan made them change it.
But perhaps the most humble item of all is the most significant—a chunk of graffitied concrete to which Reagan added his name in black felt-tip marker. The 25-inch slab of the Berlin Wall recalls another of the 40th president’s famous moments, on June 12, 1987, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and implored “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
For those interested in owning a piece of presidential history, the auction runs live at Christie’s in New York, September 21-22 (public previews run until September 20) and online September 19-27. While there are plenty of items with lower estimates—you can have napkins that once graced presidential lips for only a few hundred dollars—the auction in total is expected to raise over $2 million for the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute.