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Copper heiress' art, items to be auctioned in NYC

NEW YORK -- Art, musical instruments, Gilded Age furniture and rare books from a reclusive copper heiress' private trove will be sold this spring, Christie's auction house said, after a feud over her estate was settled this past fall.

The approximately 400 pieces from the collection of Huguette Clark, who owned a home in New Canaan, include a number of items never before on view to the general public, Christie's said on Friday. Some were acquired by her father, a Montana copper king, railroad baron and senator who founded Las Vegas.

The total collection is expected to fetch more than $50 million at two New York sales in May and June, after a public tour brings some highlights to Christie's London in late January, then to locales in Asia and then to Christie's home base in Rockefeller Center in April. The full collection also will be on public view at Rockefeller Center just before the sales. Details are to be announced later.

The Clark family put together "one of the finest estate collections we have ever had the privilege of offering at Christie's," Christie's Americas President Doug Woodham said in a statement.

Clark was the last surviving child of U.S. Sen. William A. Clark, who was born in a log cabin in Pennsylvania, became one of the wealthiest men of his day, and is the namesake of Nevada's Clark County, where a town he established -- Las Vegas -- is the county seat.

Yet "despite their prominence among the wealthiest families in our nation's history, the story of the Clark family remains something of a mystery for most Americans, especially in comparison to their contemporaries -- the Rockefellers, the Carnegies and the Vanderbilts," Woodham said.

A onetime socialite who became a social shadow, Huguette Clark died at 104 in 2011. She had a penthouse and two other apartments on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue and exquisite homes in Santa Barbara, Calif., and New Canaan, but she elected to spend her last 20 years in a hospital.

With no close relatives, she left a roughly $300 million estate and a swirl of questions about the input she'd gotten from a close circle of caregivers and advisers and about the extensive gifts and bequests she'd given them in return. She'd signed two wills within six weeks at age 98, the first bequeathing her riches mostly to about 20 distant relatives and the second cutting them out.

The auction proceeds will go to the estate to be distributed. The September settlement mainly benefited arts institutions and the distant relations.

Some of Clark's real estate and possessions have already been sold.

A 2012 Christie's auction of 17 pieces of her jewelry, including a ring with a rare pink 9-carat diamond, brought in about $21 million, nearly twice the amount auctioneers estimated.

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