Jackie O goes up for auction

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SOTHEBY'S in New York is gearing up for a one-day auction that may generate even more public excitement than its sale of the Duchess of Windsor's jewels back in 1987. It was the royal connection that caused the stir then. This time there is no royalty involved - or at least not strictly speaking.

But then the person who once owned this collection of artworks, period furniture and bric-a-brac might just as well have been royal, at least to most Americans. She was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and going under the hammer will be the goods and chattels that graced her Fifth Avenue apartment until her death in May last year.

Just when the auction will take place or what exactly will be on the sale list, we still do not know. Ask anybody at Sotheby's about it and they fall instantly silent, as if you were asking for the code of the nuclear bomb.

"There is no comment from Sotheby's. There is no announcement and no comment. I don't have a clue, that's all," spluttered a spokeswoman for the auctioneer last week.

Some of the mystery is lifted by a visit to the records room of the New York Surrogate Court, where a copy of Jackie O's will is available for anyone who cares to read it. It includes an itemised list of her belongings, ranging from a shovel and a cigarette case to furniture and paintings.

The former First Lady left her entire estate, said to be worth up to $200m (pounds 127m), to her two children, John Kennedy Jr and Caroline Schlossberg, and stipulated that any sale of her assets could be undertaken any time onwards from nine months after she had died.

Sotheby's was discreetly invited to her apartment shortly after her passing to carry out a "date-of-death appraisal" of its contents. The apartment itself, with 14 rooms and a view over Central Park, was sold this year to a Texan oil tycoon for $9.5m.

A few of the sale items will be special in their own right, including some Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery given to her by her other former husband, Aristotle Onassis, as well as some watercolours by John Marin. Much else, however, will be deemed valuable by virtue simply of the former owner. "It seems that she had some nice things, but not many great things. Collecting was not one of her great passions," commented Bonnie Stretch, editor of the ARTnewsletter in New York.

As to when it will happen, Vanity Fair, in its November issue, says that it has it from a confidential source that Kennedy devotees still have some time: it will not be until next April.