Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley


 Even after her death, the Queen of Mean was the talk of the town, as she willed $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble.

Leona Helmsley may have had a cultivated reputation of toughness when she was alive, but the “Queen of Mean” certainly had a taste and passion for all things opulent. As renowned real estate moguls, Helmsley and her husband’s portfolio boasted a rich array of trophy properties including the Empire State Building, The Park Lane Hotel, The New York Helmsley Hotel, 140 Broadway, The Helmsley Building, and several other lavish buildings. Before her passing in 2007, Forbes named Helmsley the 369th richest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $2.5 billion. Overall, Helmsley’s impact on New York was extraordinarily broad, deep, and indelible. Known for her demand for perfection and knowledge of all things extravagant, Helmsley stood behind all of her properties saying they were “the only palace[s] where the queen stands guard.”

While her unrivaled success in real estate made her famous, it was her harsh demeanor and attitude that were of legendary proportions. The high-standards to which she held her employees resulted in much fear within the workforce. She made her own staff cower because even the slightest mistake-such as spilling a drop of tea onto the saucer-would threaten their jobs. Her legendary poor treatment of employees was retaliated in 1989 when her housekeeper testified at Helmsley’s trial for tax evasion in 1989 as having overheard Helmsley state: “We don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.” Helmsley was convicted, and sent to jail for 19 months.

Even after her death, the Queen of Mean was the talk of the town, as she willed $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. Despite her eclectic life choices, Helmsley demanded the best in her hotels and properties and as no surprise, she also expected the best when it came to her personal life. With homes in New York; Greenwich, Connecticut; and Sarasota, Florida, Helmsley lived a life of luxury worthy of a queen. With an eye for beauty and high quality, Helmsley collected an impressive array of artwork, masterfully created furniture, intricately woven carpets, and a variety of silver that many only dream of owning. In light of her recent passing, Christie’s has announced that they will be auctioning a select collection of Helmsley’s personal possessions.

The sale will feature approximately 500 lots with collections from each of Helmsley’s three homes. The lots will be sold over a series of 15 auctions at Christie’s New York in Rockefeller Center and will include categories such as Impressionist and Modern Art, Old Master Pictures, American Paintings, 19th Century Furniture, Russian Works of Art, Silver, 20th Century Chinese Art, Sporting Art, European and English Furniture and Carpets, Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Interiors, and a variety of other prized possessions. The stunning collection is expected to receive between $4-6 million in sales, with all proceeds benefiting the Leona M. & Henry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The first sale of the auction took place Thursday, January 17, 2008. Christie’s auctioned off an impressive 220 lots of important American silver, with five of the lots coming directly from the Helmsley estate. The most surprising piece of the day was an extensive silver and silver-gilt flatware service from Tiffany & Co., circa 1943. The compilation of flatware was estimated to receive between $20,000-$30,000, but actually received $133,000. It was the third most expensive lot sold that day. All together, the five lots from Helmsley realized $206,225 and the entire auction raised $2.6 million.

The next auction is expected to take place Friday, March 7, and will feature fine American paintings, drawings, and sculpture. After that, sales will continue through May. The final auction will take place Tuesday, November 25, and it will feature Helmsley’s sporting art. The jade figure of a buffalo is expected to be one of the top lots of the entire auction. Christie’s expects it to fetch approximately half a million dollars.

Collectors and connoisseurs alike look upon the remaining 14 auctions with much anticipation. Despite Leona Helmsley’s reputation, she knew how to revel in the finest things in life. The Helmsley collection is diverse enough for everyone to find something of interest with every piece sharing a common theme of first-class luxury. Christie’s is inviting everyone to have a little taste of royalty.