Bargains galore as new era dawns for Paris's finest hotel

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The Independent Online
The entire contents of one of the world's most celebrated hotels, the George V in Paris, go up for auction this week and next. The 10,000 lots range from a bed used by the Rolling Stones to Marlene Dietrich's dressing-table. John Lichfield joined the throng bidding for a scrap of modern Parisian history.

Everything must go, down to the last commissionaire's peaked cap; down to the last crested champagne bucket.

If you want a hotel mini-bar with the George V insignia, there is still time: there are 200 of them on offer for about pounds 70 each. "They still work," an auctioneer's assistant whispered to one potential buyer, "but they are excessivement demode (hopelessly out-of-date)."

That was the problem with the George V. Only 72 years old, and an art nouveau temple for the fashionable and famous in its day, it had become excessivement demode. Its new owner, Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, nephew of King Fahd, decided last month to rip everything out and start again. He paid pounds 90m for the hotel, just off the Champs Elysees, and plans to spend pounds 30m on its restoration.

The entire contents of the old George V, except for a few celebrated tapestries, are on sale to the highest bidder. There are 10,000 lots and 25,000 individual items, scores of them associated with names who stayed at the hotel. There was a 300m queue over the weekend to view the most prestigious objects, and hundreds of people packed into the first evening of the sale on Monday night.

Anything with the George V crest, or a connection with a celebrity, however tenuous, was knocked down for an inflated price. A pair of snot-coloured Staffordshire porcelain dogs, which once stood in Greta Garbo's room? pounds 4,500. A pair of boring watercolours which had been on the wall of the suite where Jimmy Carter stayed? pounds 450. The dressing-table from the room Marlene Dietrich used to block-book for years at a time? pounds 1,200.

The double bed in which the Rolling Stones slept (all of them?) went for pounds 4,300, with the rest of the furniture of suite 315 thrown in. The small table on which (allegedly) "Paul Getty signed his cheques" fetched pounds 500. There was much excitement about a marble post-box which stood in the lobby and which, according to Jacques Tajan, the auctioneer, "was only ever used for love-letters". It went for pounds 1,200. A mobile cheese- table, capable of "warming the cheeses - a great curiosity", fetched pounds 1,600.

The only item which did not sell was a walk-in safe, installed in 1930. It would cost pounds 10,000 to remove from the hotel, Mr Tajan said. It failed to reach its guide price of pounds 2,000. Perhaps the saddest lot of all was the first item in the sale, the blue-and-gold flag which flew atop the George V for 70 years. It went to a French dealer for pounds 450. A new George V will open next autumn, with a gym, swimming-pool and bigger rooms, each equipped with a fax machine, personal computer and an Internet connection. The rooms will, doubtless, have mini-bars which are not excessivement demode.

The George V will take its place again in the front rank of Parisian hotels, able to charge pounds 300 a night for the cheapest rooms (instead of pounds 200 or less). But what price character? Watching the first night of the auction, it felt as if the Hotel George V was selling off its soul.