On the evening of November 7 1974, one of the most enduring and baffling mysteries of the 20th century began to unfold. Lord Lucan vanished without trace in the wake of the murder of his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, and an attack on his wife. Despite numerous alleged sightings across the world, he was never seen again. He was officially declared dead in 2016 and, in the wake of Lady Lucan’s death in 2017, their personal effects will be auctioned at Bonhams London on Wednesday October 3.
According to Bonhams, the sale is already stirring interest due to the intrigue surrounding the family’s history. “People are absolutely fascinated,” says Charlie Thomas, director of its house sale and private collections department. “It is Lady Lucan’s estate, but the pieces belonged to her husband. Of course, in private auctions the story behind the objects is always as important as the objects themselves –and this is quite a story.”
It is also a poignant one, given that Lady Lucan lived as a recluse, estranged from her children and yet surrounded by mementos of those terrible events. She held on to the undisputed highlight of the auction, Portrait of John Bingham, 7thEarl of Lucan by Dominick Elwes, for over 40 years, and the piece is expected to exceed its estimate of £2,000-£3,000. Elwes was not only a distinguished artist but also a fellow member of the Clermont gaming set, which included Lord Lucan and such notable figures as James Goldsmith and John Aspinall. After Lucan’s disappearance, there was much speculation that he had talked about the affair a little too freely and he felt he was ostracised. He committed suicide a year later. “The story ended in total tragedy for everyone,” says Thomas, “but I can imagine the piece in a prominent place in Mayfair somewhere.”
A total of 47 lots will go under the hammer, including several gambling trophies (awarded for second rather than first prize –as Thomas points out, Lucan’s nickname “Lucky” was deliberately ironic). Of particular note is a Victorian silver trophy cup won in a backgammon game and engraved “Clermont Club Open Backgammon Tournament October 1969”. It is estimated at £200-£300. “Imagine keeping your bon bons in one of Lucan’s gambling trophies,” says Thomas.
Other highlights include an exceptional pair of Empire patinated and gilt-bronze candlesticks, each with a figure of the god Osiris on one side and the bull Apis on the other, estimated at £1,500-£2,500. A George III silver tray by Hannam & Crouch, London 1805, meanwhile, is engraved with the Bingham family’s coat of arms (the estimate is £1,500-£2,500). There is also a Victorian silver cigar box by Frederick Edmonds, engraved with the letter “B” for Bingham (estimated at £700-£1,000).
Provenance is key to the importance of the pieces in the collection, and a George VI limed-oak coronation chair –embroidered with the crowned monogram “GR” and stamped on the underside GR VI Coronation –marks another momentous episode in history. The chair (estimated at £200-£300) comes with the 5th Countess of Lucan’s admittance card to the event and a hardback copy of the order of service. The coronation of His Majesty King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon took place on May 12 1937 in Westminster Abbey and each member of the congregation was invited to take their chair home as a memento of the occasion. All proceeds from the auction will go to the charity Shelter.