WASHINGTON – A gold judicial collar made of glass beads that belonged to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being auctioned to benefit a charity, the first time any of the her signature neckwear will be available for purchase.
The piece is part of a collection of about 100 items being sold in an online auction that begins Wednesday. It concludes Sept. 16, just days before the two-year anniversary of the liberal icon's death at 87.
In addition to the collar, the items being auctioned include a pair of Ginsburg's opera glasses, a wooden gavel and artwork that hung in her Washington apartment.
There are quirky items too. Her son, James, said in an interview that in talking about the collection “it's hard not to mention about the cake topper. ” The fondant sculpture was commissioned by friends for one of the justice's birthdays and depicts her standing in a judicial robe with her arms outstretched on the bow of a battleship dubbed "The Notorious RBG," the justice's nickname. Ginsburg said it reminds him a little bit of a scene from the movie “Titanic.”
The auction also includes other Ginsburg fashion pieces: a white handbag, a shawl, scarves and two sets of fishnet lace gloves. She began wearing gloves in the the late 1990s after undergoing colon cancer treatment. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Supreme Court's first female justice, suggested them as a way to prevent illness while shaking hands, but Ginsburg liked gloves so much she just kept wearing them.
But it was Ginsburg's collars — which she wore on the bench as an accessory to her black robe — that were her most notable fashion item. She had dozens, her son and daughter-in-law said. The family donated several to the Smithsonian, including a sparkly black one she wore on the bench when she dissented in a case. Speaking at an event in 2020, Ginsburg — who became a pop culture figure in later years — said that at the time she was getting a collar “at least once a week” from fans worldwide.
The auction had initially been planned to include two of Ginsburg's collars. The other, made of fabric, was a gift from her law clerks. Stitched inside is a family motto: “It’s not sacrifice, it’s family.” But the family said in a statement Tuesday that they had decided to keep the collar and permanently loan it to "an appropriate institution where it can be displayed for all to see.” The family did not provide additional details.
The auction is the third this year of items owned by the justice, and her son said that it will be the last. In April, some 150 items — including art Ginsburg displayed in her home and office — raised more than $800,000 for Washington National Opera, one of the late justice’s passions.
Bonhams, which is conducting the latest auction, estimated the current group of objects as selling for a total of just under $50,000. In January, however, an online auction of her books also conducted by Bonhams brought in $2.3 million, almost 30 times the pre-sale estimate.
Bonhams said it expects the collar to sell for $3,000 to $5,000. In the earlier book auction, however, a copy of the Harvard Law Review from 1957-58 with Ginsburg's annotations sold for more than $100,000, shattering Bonhams' estimate of $2,500 to $3,500.
Proceeds from the current sale will fund an endowment in Ginsburg's honor benefitting SOS Children’s Villages, a organization that supports vulnerable children around the world. Ginsburg’s daughter-in-law, Patrice Michaels, is on the organization's advisory board. Michaels, a composer and singer, said the gavel being auctioned is one Ginsburg gave her to use while performing a composition she had written about Ginsburg's dissents. The gold beaded collar was also one she chose from Ginsburg's collection.
“I thought it was just literally so beautiful," Michaels said. “The aesthetic of it and the feel of it being as elegant as my mother-in-law was appealed to me very much.”