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Notes From Josephine--Shop Till You Drop

May 25, 1986|GREGORY JENSEN | United Press International

LONDON — A London auctioneer this Wednesday will sell a curious document that almost makes Imelda Marcos look like the model of shopping restraint.

The Marcos treasury of shoes, gowns and bad or fake classical paintings has become famous since the Philippine upheaval. But Imelda Marcos could have taken lessons from Empress Josephine.

It took 10 months just to list the possessions of Napoleon's ex-wife after her death in 1814--2,000 pages of fine handwriting, which Sotheby's auction house will sell this week.

Those possessions include 187 pairs of embroidered silk stockings--never mind the everyday stockings or unembroidered ones--76 pairs of them never worn.

Napkins to Masterpieces

There are 22 sets of tablecloths and napkins for between 24 and 50 guests each, stage props for Josephine's private theater and genuine paintings by Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens, Raphael and a gallery of other artists.

Josephine's inventory, in two large leather-bound volumes, lists all 265 of her muslin shifts, as well as the full contents of her cellars. There were only 32 bottles of champagne left when she died, but 312 bottles of rum and 562 bottles of Burgundy.

There is page after page of jewelry--emeralds, sapphires, Brazilian rubies, a diamond tiara and a diamond necklace valued at $1 million. Josephine had at least seven pearl necklaces, one thought to be the famous pearls that had once belonged to Marie Antoinette.

The inventory lists fur-lined coats of every color, boots lined and trimmed with ermine or marten fur, matching sets of fur cuffs, collars and muffs of every different skin.

Napoleon No Miser

Napoleon, Josephine's second husband, divorced her for failing to produce an heir. But the French dictator was not a stingy man while they were married and left her well provided for when they split.

Her bed hangings were embroidered with gold, the inventory shows. Her bed curtains were silk. She collected Etruscan vases, and her furniture and porcelain were priceless.

The inventory even lists the firewood in her barns, along with her carriages and the horses in her stables, a Sotheby's spokesman said. Lots of the books listed in her library concerned military history, probably Napoleon's leftovers.

On page 671 is an entry for 11 volumes of watercolor drawings by Pierre-Joseph Redoute of the rose and lily varieties she grew in her exotic gardens. A few pages further on, nine more volumes are listed.

Only seven months ago, Sotheby's sold these same volumes in New York for $5.5 million.

Josephine's inventory document, however, is expected to bring no more than $22,500 at auction, a spokesman said.

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