Sunday, April 28, 1996
People here understand Jackie prices

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A million dollars for a set of golf clubs? An $8,000 ring sold for 50 times that? A $65 strand of fake pearls that somebody buys for $211,500? A half million dollars for a cigar box?

Two words, my fellow Americans: Jackie Kennedy.

Now, here are two more, my fellow Cincinnatians: Ruth Lyons.

Historic items, even presidential items, have been auctioned off before at outrageous prices. Lord knows what people will pay someday for Gerald Ford's ice pack. Or a Dunkin' Donuts box autographed by Bill Clinton. We've all witnessed people who seemed to have more money than brains. But the bidding frenzy last week at Sotheby's was something special. Some would say crazy.

The last time anything like that happened around here was in August 1990 when Main Auction Galleries, our Sotheby's, auctioned the possessions of Cincinnati's most celebrated TV personality. ''Knickknacks of little dogs, worth about $20, were going for $400,'' says Jay Karp, the fourth-generation manager of Main Auction.

Wanting to know them

We called her the First Lady of Broadcasting, and when The Enquirer's John Kiesewetter proposed that Ruth Lyons be named a Great Living Cincinnatian shortly before her death, the Chamber of Commerce received something like 5,000 letters in support of his plan.

The thing is, we knew them - Ruth and Jackie - but not as well as we wanted to. We wanted to know what was in their closets and their cupboards. We wanted to know how they lived. How they really lived. The people who bought items from the estate of Jackie Kennedy can tell themselves that they paid those outrageous prices for a piece of history.

But they're kidding themselves.

It was Jackie they wanted.

Just as the women of Cincinnati flocked down to Fourth Street to get a little piece of Ruth. ''They loved her. It was that simple,'' says Phyllis Karp, Jay's mother and president of Main Auction Galleries.

''People came down in droves. And wanted personal things.'' A 5-inch, black-and-white picture of Ruth with her husband, Herman Newman, and their daughter, Candy, in a $25 frame sold for $160.

''We sold a ring she always wore on her show,'' Mrs. Karp says. ''And the woman who bought it gets stopped on the street by people who recognize it.''

Ruth's whopper

''True,'' says the owner of the ring, who wouldn't let me use her name despite eloquent pleas. ''Security,'' she says. But she told me that the diamond ring, about 2 carats, is a whopper. ''My kids call it my Super Bowl ring. I'm not a dealer or anything. I'm just a person. And I like the ring because it belonged to her.''

Well, yes.

Ruth Lyons, who died Nov. 7, 1988, at the age of 81, was not a collector of fine paintings or antique furniture or jewelry. She collected people. Fans.

''If you wanted the best provenance of two women in the world, it would be Marie Antoinette and Jackie Kennedy,'' said a Sotheby auctioneer after a tiny leather traveling box sold for, as usual, several times its estimated worth. Jackie Kennedy bought the historic trunk at auction in 1981. Valued at $25,000 to $35,000, it sold for $118,000.

I can think of a better provenance in Cincinnati. A pair of white gloves, once owned by the first lady and worn by Ruth Lyons.

Priceless.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.