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American Pays $157,500 for Wine Jefferson Ordered But Didn’t Get

December 5, 1985

LONDON (AP) _ A bottle of French wine which should have graced the table of Thomas Jefferson but was never delivered was sold Thursday to Forbes magazine for a world record auction price of $157,500.

Christopher Forbes, a member of the American magazine family, made the successful bid, equivlent to about $795 for each year of the life of the 1787 vintage.

The family plans to put the bottle of bordeaux in a museum, a fate which probably would never have occurred to the wine-loving third president of the United States.

The bottle, from the Chateau Lafite in Bordeaux, France, fetched almost four times the previous wine auction record of $38,000 paid for an 1870 Mouton-Rothschild in October 1984 in Dallas, Texas.

Jefferson’s bottle was found with a dozen others in a Paris cellar this year and is inscribed ″1787 Lafitte Th. J.″ The chateau’s name has undergone at least six spelling changes.

The other bottles, also destined for Jefferson, are being kept by the owner, music publisher Hardy Rodenstock of Wiesbaden, West Germany.

There is enough wine in the bottle to fill six to eight glasses. When Forbes was asked whether anyone would drink it, he said: ″The current owners certainly won’t.

″I like red wine, but I’ve never drunk an 18th century bottle or even a 19th century bottle,″ he said.

″We bought it for our collection of American presidential relics, and we are putting it on display in our galleries in New York,″ said Forbes, 35, third son of the business magazine’s founder, Malcolm Forbes.

Applause rippled through Christie’s sale room when auctioneer Malcolm Broadbent brought down his gavel. Forbes was handed the dark green glass bottle when he left the room, and he put it into a green canvas bag bearing the words, ″Forbes Capitalist Toolbag.″

The auction catalogue gave no estimated price. It said simply: ″Inestimable. ″

Forbes said he was taking it to New York in the family jet Thursday night.

Christie’s spokesman Peter Rose, said: ″If anyone does drink the wine, they can return the bottle to us and get something back. Old wine bottles are prized by collectors and this one would be the world’s most valuable empty bottle.″

Jefferson took over from the ailing Benjamin Franklin as ambassador to France in May 1784 and held the post until October 1789. He toured the Bordeaux vineyards, ordered many wines for George Washington and himself and became the first great American wine connoisseur.

Christie’s said there was no known record of why the auctioned bottle did not reach Jefferson.

One side of the bottle retained its patina of heavy cellar dust, but the other was cleaned to reveal the inscription. A protective seal had been put over the wax seal that covered the original cork.

″We own two letters by Jefferson about wine,″ Forbes said, ″one saying he was sending a bottle to settle someone’s stomach and the other to the chief of the Seneca tribe saying how bad spirits were for Indians.″

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