Collector Philip Baty defends Wallis Simpson — the Duchess of Windsor, whose 1937 marriage to the British King Edward VIII created a crisis in Britain — as though she were part of his family.
“People said that she was a gold-digger. It’s not true,” said Baty. Like any woman of her time, he insists, she simply wanted to marry well.
Born Bessie Wallis Warfield to a wealthy American family, Simpson grew up in Baltimore. She met Edward VIII in 1931, when she was still married to Ernest Simpson, her second husband. She eventually divorced Simpson and married Edward, a union that forced him to abdicate the throne.
For 20 years, Baty and his husband have collected rhinestone brooches, browning newspaper clippings and other memorabilia related to the Baltimore woman who stole the heart of a British monarch — and who happened to have lived three houses down from their house on Biddle Street. For more than a decade, they’ve displayed much of the collection in their basement.
They call it the Duchess of Windsor Museum.
Now, they’re selling off all of it in preparation for a move to Florida.
“Maybe someone else can have fun with it for a while,” Baty said.
Baty has multiple paintings of Simpson — or "that woman!" as the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, reportedly called her for marrying Edward VIII.
Items also include commemorative mugs, newspaper clippings and replica jewelry designed by Kenneth Jay Lane. There’s even a pair of gloves once owned by Wallis, which Baty swears still smell just like her perfume.
They will sell the entire collection as one parcel on eBay in May. Visitors may preview the collection any Sunday for $40 — which will include brunch and a tour of the neighborhood.
Baty hasn’t had the collection appraised and hasn’t a clue what the starting bid will be. “Askin ain’t gettin,’ Miss Scarlett,” he said. But a preliminary estimate of the goods had run up to $3,000.
The timing of the sale will coincide with the May 19 royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, an American actress who’s drawn many Simpson comparisons. Baty approves of the bride-to-be.
“I haven’t heard anything bad about her except from her older sister,” he said. “I think she’s charming and she’s beautiful.”
Conversely, Simpson wasn’t known for her looks. “She wasn’t a beauty,” Baty said. He gestured to the brunette’s portrait on the wall.
“She reportedly said, ‘I’m not much to look at so I just have to dress better than everyone.’ And she did! She wouldn’t show up anywhere unless she was perfectly coiffed and perfectly dressed,” he said.
Many of the items in the collection reflect the seismic impact the duchess and her husband had on fashion. Baty modeled a feline-shaped brooch that he wears on his left shoulder, just like one worn by Simpson.
“Everybody should have a panther crawling up their arm,” he said.
Despite his affection for the duchess, Baty is pragmatic about selling the objects.
“It’s just stuff,” he said. “When you’re dead you can’t take it with you.”
Simpson was reviled by the masses for her role in bringing about a crisis in the British monarchy, but to Baty, she’s a hero. Edward, he says, would have been a terrible king.
Oh, and by the way, referring to her as Wallis Simpson “is just rude,” says Baty. After all, he asks, what married woman wants to be called by her former husband’s last name?
He calls her “Wallis Warfield, Duchess of Windsor.”
And if historical accounts are correct, so what if she and King Edward VIII didn’t always get along?
“I sit with my husband and sometimes I don’t have anything to say,” he said. “Who cares?”