The New York Times profiles a former Sotheby’s business-getter, Peter Hathaway, who has turned a failed antiques business into a upscale rehab facility. Deep inside the story is Hathaway’s bittersweet description of what his work life was like:
Mr. Hathaway, born Phillips Hathaway, a scion of an old Maryland family, was also emblematic of a time and place in Manhattan’s cultural history, a gatekeeper, as William Norwich, a contributing editor at Vogue, described him, to New York’s halls of power. “ ‘Everything discreetly for sale’ was how Pete operated when he became a big star at Sotheby’s,” said Mr. Norwich, who covered society news for The Daily News in the 1980s.
Back then, he said: “New York was a much smaller town, and social life really revolved around the connoisseurs. There were the patrons of the arts, the patrons of fashion, and their activities drove social life. It’s also the time when the big auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both of which had newly exciting headquarters, were like the new discos, the driving social centers. Experts like Pete were the gatekeepers.”
It was exhausting work, and relentless. “As I was pushing a lady around a dance floor, I was checking out her diamond necklace and thinking about getting it on consignment,” Mr. Hathaway said. “All the good specialists did that.”
Mr. Hathaway’s department at Sotheby’s was responsible for four or five huge sales each year, bringing in at least $20 million annually, he said, from blockbusters like the Versace sale in 2001 (which brought $10 million for the contents of the murdered designer’s South Beach mansion) to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor sale in 1998 (which brought over $23 million for the contents of their Paris villa, which had been bought by Mohamed al-Fayed in 1986).
In a downstairs bathroom here, you can see a relic: a framed scarf printed with the Duke’s letter of abdication, a Sotheby’s give-away. “Typical Sotheby’s,” Mr. Hathaway said. “We bring in the sale of the century, and all we got was a scarf!”
By 2002, he’d had it. “It’s very draining to never get away from society, and society’s chatter,” he said. In any case, Sotheby’s had come to pieces in the wake of the price-fixing scandal. That was the year Mr. Hathaway, then 47, bought this house, a derelict former inn, with the idea of turning it into a high-end antiques store that looked like a private home — and, indeed, would be his home — but, as before, everything would be “discreetly for sale.”
It was also the turning point, Mr. Hathaway said, when he went from being a hardy social drinker to an epic one, when “the tsunami of alcoholism,” as he put it, “finally caught up with me. It had been following me all my life, but it hit me here.”
Because Sobriety is Denial Enough (New York Times)