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Huguette Clark - Heiress, Mystery, Doll Collector


Recently, the media has been having a field day with the mysteries surrounding the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, who died at age 104 on May 24, 2011. She was the heiress to a $400 million copper fortune left to her by her father United States Senator William A. Clark, who died when she was only 21. She was married only once, briefly, in 1928 (a marriage that lasted only 2 years, until August 11, 1930 ) and the last known photo of her was taken in 1930. Although having lavish mansions in Connecticut and California plus several appartments on Park Avenue in New York, she spent her last 20 years living in a hospital room (and by some reports, never even once set foot in her Connecticut properties). She seems to have two wills, and there seems there will be an intense estate fight between her relatives and some of her advisors.

Hugette Clark Had A Huge Doll Collection

I found all of this vaguely interesting....but I didn't really sit up and take notice until MSNBC wrote an article that detailed some of Ms. Clark's spending in her last years, and the information clearly showed that Ms. Clark was a major doll collector! According to the very first words of the MSNBC article, Ms. Clark spent "More than $3 million dollars on dolls." The article further goes on to detail her spending on dolls as follows: MS. Clark spent $2.5 million at Au Nain Bleu, a well-known and historic doll shop in Paris, in 110 separate payments from 1997 to 2006. The largest payment was for $82,513 in February 2004. She also spent $729,000 at doll auction house Theriault's (which holds the world record for most expensive doll ever sold at auction), in 21 payments from 1997 to 2009. The largest payment was $232,680 July 2007.

If Hugette Clark Spent That Money on Art or Cars, It Wouldn't Seem Eccentric or Strange

The entire tone of the MSNBC article was a bit snarky about how Hugette Clark spent her money--the title was "The 1 percent of the 1 percent: How Huguette Clark's millions were spent." They also called her $43 million checking account a "magical bottomless checking account." Well, if she had over $400 million, then that is about 1/10 of her wealth. How is that odd if you look at it that way? Sure, we'd all like a magical bottomless checking account with a few ten million in it, but hey, it was her money and her wealth, not ours.

As for the way her spending on dolls was portrayed--you know what? I'm sick of doll collectors being portrayed as strange and eccentric and culturally irrelevant. To me, perhaps Ms. Clark's doll collection was the only thing about her that wasn't eccentric. Ms Clark was a very wealthy woman, and if she collected dolls, the $3 million spent on dolls seems reasonable. Very wealthy people often spend many, many millions more on one impressionist painting for their collection. $3 million would not buy very many cars for a wealthy man's car collection like Jay Leno's. Remember, that $3 million was spent over a period of roughly 10 years, or $300.000 per year. If Ms. Clark's passion was dolls, given her wealth, how was that even of note? The only way that this would be of note is if Ms. Clark herself did not purchase the dolls, or did not get to enjoy them or see them. No information to that effect has yet come to light, in fact the MSNBC article quotes a friend of Ms. Clark's (um...how was she a recluse if she had a friend?)as saying that "dolls were "her closest companions."

Antique Dolls and Childhood Memories

Obviously, I didn't know Ms. Clark, but I can speculate a bit about her doll collection. At Theriault's, she was probably buying fine antique dolls of historical importance--dolls that can be several hundred years old, scarce and rare. I would love to see that collection! As for the dolls from Au Nain Bleu, it should be noted that Ms. Clark was born in Paris. Au Nain Bleu has been selling fine dolls and toys since 1836. It is not much of a leap to suppose that Ms. Clark's father bought her dolls from Au Nain Bleu when she was a child. If so, like many doll collectors, perhaps buying dolls from Au Nain Bleu was helping Ms. Clark remember her father and what it was like to receive dolls from Au Nain Bleu as a child, much in the way that my collecting vintage Barbie dolls brings me back to happy childhood times.

What Will Happen To Her Dolls Now?

It is unclear what will happen to Ms. Clark's beloved dolls now. I wish that she had made provisions for a doll museum in her will, much the way she made provisions (in at least one of her wills) for an art museum in her Santa Barbara home. One of her wills seems to have left her doll collection to her main private nurse, Hadassah Peri. I hope that Ms. Peri, if she does receive these dolls, can do something with them that would help the late Ms. Clark share her passion with the world.

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