Staging an estate auction for a recently deceased celebrity can be a crass business, and when that celebrity happens to be named Cash, some unkind puns quickly spring to mind. So give credit to Sotheby's LLC for the massive auction this week in New York that is handling the estate of Johnny and June Carter Cash with as much archival reverence and sentiment as its gavel business allows.
"It's a delicate thing, and we know it. It needs to be a celebration and a tribute," said Leila Dunbar, director of the auction house's collectibles department, who oversaw creation of a catalog and website that in tone is far more A&E than EBay.
The auction, which begins Tuesday, is "unprecedented and extraordinary," according to Dunbar. Among the nearly 800 lots are Grammy trophies, handwritten lyrics, stage clothes, musical instruments, furniture and totems big and small from country's first couple.
The venture began in 2000 when the couple approached Sotheby's with the idea of a sale that would "simplify their lives," Dunbar said. By that point, the House of Cash museum in Tennessee had been shuttered and the couple's nearby home in Hendersonville was overflowing with items. The auction was postponed, though, by June, who decided she couldn't bear too many empty spaces in her house.
When June died in May 2003, her widower called Sotheby's back and restarted the process. Then he died in September of the same year, and the auction became an estate sale.
There's a mid-1950s notebook of handwritten lyrics for songs such as "Cry Cry Cry," and furniture enough to fill five warehouses. Not only can you bid on Johnny's Tennessee driver's license, but you also can take a shot at his black 2002 Ford 150 pickup truck. Bids can be made by phone, the Internet, as an absentee or in person, and more information can be found at www.sothebys.com or by calling (212) 606-7414.
-- Geoff Boucher