LONDON, United Kingdom – Senior Conservatives have intervened to prevent the largest collection of Margaret Thatcher's possessions from being broken up and sold piece by piece. The collection of clothing and personal items was due to be auctioned after the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) refused to display them.
Around 350 items were due to be sold by the auction house Christie's on 15th December, including Thatcher's dresses, personal gifts from President Reagan and a Prime Ministerial dispatch box. But following pressure the V&A has backed down and agreed to “research” how it might keep the collection in the UK and put it on display to the public.
The V&A had received heavy criticism for refusing the collection, which had been offered to them by the Thatcher family. Her former parliamentary researcher, John Whittingdale, who is now the minister responsible for museums said he would be “happy” to help ensure they were put on public display.
Mr Whittingdale told the Daily Telegraph: “Lady Thatcher took enormous care over what she wore and was always keen to promote British fashion. Her clothes and accessories were very much part of her image.
"I have no doubt that many people would still love to see them. If the family wish to have them put on display at a national institution, then of course I would be very happy to help achieve this.”
News of the sale prompted the trustees of the Margaret Thatcher Centre to launch an emergency appeal to get the collection. Donal Blaney, the center’s chief executive, said: “I believe that it’s absolutely crucial for the public, in Britain and around the world, to understand Lady Thatcher as a three-dimensional human being, rather than a caricature. We need to save the Margaret Thatcher collection for the nation, not to let it get broken up and sold piecemeal abroad."
Mr Blaney also announced that the center will be located at the University of Buckingham, a private institution opened when Thatcher was Prime Minister. Whilst the Margaret Thatcher Centre is not principally intended to be a museum Blaney said it would be the “natural location” for the collection. The University's Vice-Chancellor, Sir Anthony Seldon, said it would become a "huge attraction".
In a statement the V&A denied turning down the collection, a spokesman said: “We were asked a question yesterday about an informal discussion that happened several years ago and responded accordingly. No formal offer of this collection has yet been made to, or considered by, the museum, and so it has never been discussed at a senior level or with trustees.
"The V&A is a constantly evolving institution, and if we were approached today it is perfectly possible that discussions might develop in a different direction, and we welcome public interest and debate in how we collect and how we research and display our collections to the widest audience.”
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, suggested using the collection as a center piece of the new V&A site in East London, due to open in 2019. Christie's had valued the collection at $750k, but it was expected to sell for significantly more given the level of interest in it around the world.