More than eighty years after her death, more than $3 million Australia dollars ($2.3m US dollars) have been paid for items from Dame Nellie Melba’s estate in a Sotheby’s auction. She was one of the most famous singers of her time and the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician. The name ‘Melba’ came from Melbourne, her home town, where the two-day auction was held.
The auction concluded yesterday with most of the brooches, items of furniture, paintings and silverware selling for way over the estimated bid. An Arthur Streeton painting from 1903, estimated at $50,000, went for $189,000. More personal objects scored even better with an inscribed silver tray (‘Dame Nellie Melba DBE in appreciation from the committee’) going for almost ten times Sotheby’s estimate. A Victorian tortoiseshell writing box, with an applied silver inscription ‘Melba’, was sold for $34,000 (est $6,000). Dame Nellie also had a sizeable collection of 19th Century Chinese objects: figurines, vases and bowls.
There were few objects to indicate that their owner was a singer: there was a jewelled gold novelty brooch designed as a harp and a gold pill box embossed with the trademark symbol of ‘His Master’s Voice’ with an inscribed interior ‘With the Compliments of the Gramophone Co Ltd’. The pill box went under the hammer with an estimate of $1,000 yet was sold for a whopping $27,000.
The Australian taxpayer made a contribution to the takings when Arts minister George Brandis paid $134,200 for a 1922 gold paperweight. It is elaborately decorated with a boomerang and Australian native flora and fauna motifs including a gumtree, kookaburra, kangaroo and wallaby. It was given to Melba by the citizens of Geelong as a thank you for her performance at a charity fundraiser.
Sotheby’s Australia CEO Geoffrey Smith, said,
It is impossible to determine the true value of extraordinary and impeccable provenance. Dame Nellie Melba has stood the test of time. She is truly ordained into our national psyche.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.