For those obsessed by the mystique of one of the most admired women in American history, the $90, 584-page catalog was a must-have; for those merely curious about her, the book describing the auction of Jackie O's effects created intense interest, resulting in one of the most successful estate sales ever.
In fact, hopeful bidders on the estate's objects had to buy the catalog.
Strategically released to influential and style-conscious book reviewers in early 1996 and the public that March, the catalog was impossible to get by the time the four-day auction began on April 23.
The force behind the marketing and publicity for the catalog was Diana Brooks, president-CEO of Sotheby's Holdings, who orchestrated the auction house's deal to sell the items and even handled some of the auctioneering herself.
"It was very important that we reach out not only to our traditional buyers but to buyers around the world," Ms. Brooks says. "Our marketing campaign-the catalog, the publicity and the presale exhibition-would all reflect the taste and elegance of Mrs. Onassis."
When it was over, the auction netted sales of $34.4 million, more than seven times the $4.5 million estimate. Among the buyers: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who paid $772,500 for President Kennedy's MacGregor golf clubs. Buyers paid from $1,250 for a six-volume set of books on Asia to $2.58 million for the 40.42-carat diamond engagement ring Ms. Onassis received from second husband Aristotle Onassis.
Although Sotheby's year-end sales were less than those of archrival Christie's of London, the Onassis auction provided a much-needed boost in the ultra-competitive auction industry.
Sotheby's printed an unprecedented 105,000 copies of the catalog, and it continues to sell on the collector market at more than three times its cover price. The $2.5 million in proceeds from catalog sales went to the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.