Inside ‘The Crown’ Mega Auction
‘Everything is really familiar and really spectacular.’
How do you know Peter Morgan is really done with The Crown? The series is auctioning off more than 450 of the most recognizable costumes, furniture, and props this week, from the recreation of Diana’s Revenge Dress to a reproduction of the Gold State Coach.
The London-based international auction house Bonhams has been charged with pulling this off. For weeks now, many of the items have been on public display to generate excitement. On Wednesday, the fun really begins with the live auction of more than 150 of the biggest pieces (proceeds of which will be used to form a new scholarship in association with the National Film and Television School). The following day, the on-going online auction will wrap up.
When I tell you this assortment is a sight to behold! A quick flip-through of the auction catalog — you can find it here — and the imagination runs wild. What would you do with a sofa from the set of the queen’s audience room or the recreated gates of Buckingham Palace? Some of the lots I find most delightful are pieces grouped together. There is a vintage picnic basket with a flask and two steel sandwich boxes as well as Prince Philip’s fictional pedestal desk with all its trinkets, including a magnifying glass, an ink well, and sword-shaped letter opener.
But it is the costumes up for grabs that make me really swoon. From a replica of Princess Margaret’s wedding dress, tiara, and veil to a recreation of Princess Diana’s engagement photo call suit, the clothing and accessories being sold are simply beyond.
To find out more, I talked with Meg Randell, head of designer handbags and fashion for Bonhams. She has been working on this sale for over a year now, selecting and preparing more than 200 of the items to be auctioned off. It was such fun to hear from Randell on what it was like to dive into The Crown’s archives, why the series went to such great lengths create this world, and what she expects the winning bidders to do with their pieces (hint: she hopes they will wear them!).
👑 ICYMI: You can find all of my coverage of the final season of The Crown here, including my watch-with-me podcast. Have a listen if you haven’t already!
Inside ’The Crown’ Mega Auction with Bonhams’ Meg Randell
I would love to first understand whether this sort of auction, selling off pieces from a beloved television show, is a common occurrence?
Meg Randell: It is really unusual. I don’t think Bonhams has done a sale quite like this before. The Crown is this really important part of British history, but also global history. It is so beloved worldwide. There aren’t many shows that you could dedicate an entire auction to and get a response like we have.
A lot of the time, a series ends and then all the things that you’ve created will just disappear. They will get broken up, they will be sold, or they are thrown away. To actually keep all the highlights from it together, to create an exhibition, and give it a second life has been really special.
What feels so unique about The Crown is how they went to such lengths to recreate these pieces of history exactly.
When you watch the series, it’s so good that you forget that it’s created. It just feels like it exists and you are watching it. And that’s why I think it’s so nice to have this opportunity to have this public exhibition, to show that actually everything is created — every scene that you see, the chairs, the table, the photo frames, all the outfits. People can’t believe how much detail and how beautiful the clothes are in real life.
A lot of it doesn’t have to be as good as it is. It would look okay on the screen if it was only half embroidered or all printed to look like something. But actually lots of it is hand embroidered. It’s mostly haute couture clothes inspired by what the royals actually wore.
In the exhibition, you recognize it from the screen, but then you’re like, “I also remember the real Diana wearing this, and I remember the real Margaret wearing it.” Everything is really familiar and really spectacular.
When, and how, did you start selecting the pieces that are in the auction?
I started working on this project almost a year ago — it’s been in discussions for much longer than that. Me and the other group of specialists went to Elstree Studios, which is north of London, and we were just shown everything. It took a week to look at! Warehouses full of stuff, including rails and rails and rails of clothes. There were warehouses of furniture that had been bought or made. There was a room that was pretty much entirely lamp covers! It was the most bonkers thing I’ve ever seen.