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For her love of opera

Jessica Gresko

WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s silver tea set is going to a family with a five-year-old daughter who once was Ginsburg for Halloween. A medal Ginsburg was awarded when inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame is going to a family that demonstrated recently for reproductive rights. And a drawing of her that hung in her office was a Utah-based scientist’s Mother’s Day gift to his wife.

All told, an online auction of 150 of items owned by the late justice raised USD803,650 for Washington National Opera, one of the late justice’s passions. The auction ended in late April, and buyers are now picking up items or arranging to have them shipped to their homes in 38 states, the District of Columbia, Canada and Germany. Winning bids ranged from USD850 to USD55,000.

The owner of The Potomack Company auction house in Virginia Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein said they were “just really blown away by the interest”.

A pre-sale estimate was that the auction could raise USD50,000 to USD80,000.

Ginsburg died of cancer at age 87 in September 2020. In her later years, the court’s second female justice and liberal icon also become a pop culture figure known as the “Notorious RBG”. In January, an online auction of her books brought in USD2.3 million, almost 30 times the pre-sale estimate, according to Bonhams, the company that conducted the auction.

Washington National Opera artistic director Francesca Zambello, a friend of Ginsburg’s, said the auction’s proceeds will be “a huge help this year as we try to cultivate the return of our audience” amid the lingering coronavirus pandemic.

The auction’s biggest ticket item was the drawing of Ginsburg, which sold for USD55,000.

ABOVE & BELOW: A silver coffee and tea set, a signed photo of an opera singer, a signed opera poster and a black mink fur coat belonging to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. PHOTOS: AP

Modern art depicting Native Americans belonging to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, inside Potomack Company Auctions in Alexandria, Viginia

The image had accompanied a 2015 article about her in The New York Times. Ginsburg liked it so much she got a copy for her Supreme Court office signed by the artist, Eleanor Davis.

The buyer asked that his name not be made public.

Other high-dollar sales included modern art that Ginsburg had collected. A terracotta Pablo Picasso jug she displayed in her living room sold for USD25,000 while an earthenware Picasso plate that hung in her dining room sold for USD22,500. A print of Josef Albers’ Red Orange Wall, which hung in Ginsburg’s bedroom, sold for USD27,500. Albers was among Ginsburg’s favourite artists, and an original work of his on loan from the Smithsonian was prominently displayed in her office at the court.

Even much less valuable Ginsburg pieces went for large sums. A drawing that one of Ginsburg’s grandchildren, Paul Spera, made as a child showing his grandmother as the Statue of Liberty sold for USD12,000. At the top, Spera had written ‘Bubbie of Liberty’.

Other sales included USD5,000 for a glass souvenier vase given to attendees of a luncheon at the Capitol following US President Barack Obama’s first inauguration, USD16,000 for a black mink coat with Ginsburg’s name sewn in a pocket, and USD30,000 for her 2002 National Women’s Hall of Fame medal. Buyers paid another 27 per cent in auction fees on top of their winning bid.

Before her death, Ginsburg displayed a number of the items that were auctioned in her apartment at the Watergate complex in Washington. The auction’s online catalogue included images of how Ginsburg had displayed those items.

A California-based educator Jennifer DiBrienza was the medal’s winning bidder, spending nearly twice what she had planned to. When bidding near the end of the auction pushed up the price, she thought to herself: “I’ve been winning this for days. I can’t give it up now,” she said.

DiBrienza, who along with her three children demonstrated last week following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn a nationwide right to abortion the court recognised in 1973, said she hopes having Ginsburg’s medal will be “a reason to talk about her”.

Krishan Paramesvaran was the winning bidder on two items: a wood sculpture for USD3,500 and a silver tea set for USD5,000. The tech executive and father of three said his family plans to put the sculpture in their living room and the tea set alongside china in their dining room.

The tea set will be mostly for display, he said, though he imagines it will get used once or twice. Paramesvaran said his five-year-old daughter, the one who dressed as Ginsburg for Halloween, knows it’s coming and they had in the past talked with her about “powerful women” and “the impact that RBG has had”.

Right now, he said, the family is “super, super excited” as they wait for the items to be shipped to them in Washington state.