And she and Ronald knew how to party.
In an all-but-forgotten B-movie The Next Voice You Hear... (1950), a pregnant housewife—played by Nancy Davis shortly before she became Nancy Reagan—finds her suburban life disrupted when God's voice interrupts a normally-scheduled radio program. Amusingly, Nancy's character asks whether God was perhaps an on-air sponsor.
By the looks of an upcoming auction at Christie's, that voice continued to speak to Nancy and insisted that she acquire as much tableware as possible. "The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan," which runs September 19 to 20 (with an online extension through the 28th), features a mind-boggling array of dinner services, glassware, side plates, flatware and serving trays. In the virtual component alone, you'll find nine lots devoted to table linens—four of them embroidered, one appliqued, one monogrammed.
Indeed, according to Anne Edwards' biography The Reagans: Portrait of a Marriage, one of the first things Nancy did upon becoming First Lady was reach out to Lenox about replacing the White House china with a new set of 4,324 pieces, and a price tag upward of $200,000. (And that's the discounted price!) To her credit, the bill didn't fall to the Reagans or the public. Instead, an organization called the Friends of Reagan picked up the tab.
Clearly at some point, Nancy became so well equipped with crockery and cutlery that she could dress each table in a manner befitting that night's special guest. Expecting Mikhail Gorbachev for tea? Time to break out the Russian Silver Samovar (estimated value: $5,000-$8,000). Last minute drop-in from Frank Sinatra? Impress him with that exquisite set of Italian Silver Staghead Stirrup Cups (est. value: $1,500-$2,500).
Whether the First Lady ever got around to using her two Victorian claret jugs in cut-glass (est. value: $800-$1,200) is anyone's guess. The same can be said about the various snuff boxes/bottles that may leave you wondering if the Reagans were secretly in the habit of snorting a pinch of tobacco after a meal once their guests had departed.
Whatever the case may be, what's clear is that Nancy and Ronald liked to entertain. And since the Reagans came out of Hollywood, they knew how to do it with flair. Would another First Lady have sang a Barbara Streisand hit at one of Washington, D.C.'s longest-running press events, the Gridiron Club Dinner? And be asked to do an encore? And then gamely do so? No one comes to mind. In fact, the Reagans may have cultivated more celeb pals than any other Republican POTUS and FLOTUS in U.S. history. Who else would have oil paintings by tap-dancing Oscar-winner James Cagney ("Porch Door": est. value: $500-$600) and screenwriter-turned-ambassador Clare Booth Luce ("Let Sleeping Dogs Lie: est. value: $500-$1,000) among their artier collectibles? Certainly not Nixon or Eisenhower.
More seriously, you do sense that Nancy Reagan took her hosting duties seriously. Alongside her autographed editions of Cooking with Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck's Modern Kitchen and Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah (by Dinah Shore) is Nancy's own personal edition of The Congressional Club Cook Book – with her name embossed in gold on the cover and four of her recipes inside. (This is the perfect season to test out her recipe for Pumpkin Pecan Pie.)
The Reagans also had a nice if small collection of wine books, which may have led to their acquiring a 1983 magnum of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (est. value: $1,000-$1,500) and another comparably priced magnum of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild circa 1979 – both up for sale. If that's way out of your price range, you can always bid on the collection of "Reagan's Bar" napkins (est. value: $200-$400). According to the embroidered message there, "The drinks are on the house at The Reagans."
Admittedly, the Reagans' tastes will not mesh with everyone's. In many ways, they exemplified '80s excess. Contemporary minimalism just wasn't their thing. But the Christie's auction also features a gold Fisher Space Pen engraved with Ronald Reagan's name. At an estimated value ranging from $500 to $1,000, this pen allows you to sign receipts for whatever tableware/glassware/flatware you want. It's certainly better than getting Reagan's jar of signature jellybeans (and yes, those are up for auction, too).
Note: The live and online auctions for the Reagan estate also includes furniture, books, memorabilia and, perhaps most notably, jewelry—including a diamond and pendant-brooch necklace from Van Cleef & Arpels valued between $30,000 and $50,000. For more information on some of the less pricey items in "The Private Collection of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, head on over to the Christie's website." Viewings begin Saturday, September 17.