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HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Mr PRESIDENT
01 November 1999


The art market lives through legends that make prices soar in salesrooms meaning that pedigrees count much more than the real value of most art pieces offered for sale at auction.

As an example, the special dress Marilyn Monroe wore the night she sang «Happy birthday Mr President», when she celebrated John Fitzgerald Kennedy's anniversary, sold for a record US $ 1,3 million in an October 1999 sale at Christie's in New York and such incredible result gives a clear idea about the way the art market is run.

The same dress, worn by an anonymous woman, would have fetched less than
US $ 400 in an ordinary sale but bidders at Christie's were in fact mesmerized by Marilyn alone especially as she was totally naked under that special dress when she wished happy birthday to the U.S president.

The sale of Marilyn's souvenirs was similar to that of the belongings of Jackie Kennedy and her husband a few years ago. Ordinary objects such as a cigar-box were sold at stunning prices simply because they had been the property of the U.S president.

Crazy prices also mean mad rich bidders who only bother about the previous ownership of what they are buying and major auction houses have understood that the best way to make money was to organise sales attached to famous names.

In such sales quality comes after the notion of pedigree. President Kennedy's pen would sell for an unbelievable price especially if it had been the very one that was used to sign important international treaties. However a similar pen owned by Mr Nobody would sell for nothing.

It's worth to mention that a still life by Cézanne reached a record price for the artist when part of the collection of Mr John Hay Whitney was sold by Sotheby's a few months ago. However, such painting was surely not the best Cézanne to have been offered on the market and in this particular case the name of Whitney made the difference.

Reason should come first in the mind of any bidder but the heart of the art market beats on a mad tempo that gives little way to reasoning. Marilyn's dress truly fetched an incredible price but its buyer did not care as he really believed that he would probably sell it back for over US $ 3 million.

Funnily enough Queen Victoria's knickers would sell for just under US $ 100 some 25 years ago, a poor price though people should know that the British monarch never wore knickers twice, meaning that thousands of such fittings protected her royal bottom during her lifetime. Now how much would fetch some knickers worn by Marilyn ? Certainly more than a few thousands dollars nowadays especially if they had not gone to the laundry after she wore these...

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