A red sweater worn by a young Princess Diana featuring a single black sheep among rows of woolly white sheep has sold at auction for more than $1.1m, following a frenetic bout of final online bidding, the Sotheby’s auction house has announced.
Worn by 19-year-old Diana shortly after her engagement to then-Prince Charles at a June 1981 polo match in which the prince participated, the whimsically themed “Black Sheep” sweater became one of the most emblematic articles of clothing worn by the princess-to-be.
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In hindsight, the garment appeared to hint at Diana’s troubled journey ahead as a member of the United Kingdom’s royal family.
The sweater was sold by Sotheby’s for $1.1m – including fees and commission – after a fierce battle by internet bidders – 10 times more than the initial selling estimate of between $50,000 to $80,000, the auction house said on Thursday.
Due to an avalanche of bids, Sotheby’s extended the sale by several minutes, with the price leaping from $190,000 to $1.1m in the final 15 minutes.
The auctioneers did not disclose the identity of the winning bidder.
According to Sotheby’s, it is the highest price ever paid at auction for a garment belonging to Princess Diana – eclipsing her Infanta-style ball gown sold in January for $604,000.
It is also the most valuable sweater ever sold at auction.
“Unlike most of the items we’ve seen pass through the hands of lucky collectors and museums in the 25-plus years since her death, the sweater came before so much of the turmoil that ultimately defined Diana’s life,” Sotheby’s said on its website introducing the auction.
Created by then-little-known designers Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne and their knitting company Warm and Wonderful, the company was subsequently catapulted to fame after Diana wore their garment.
Weeks after Diana was photographed in the top, the designers received a letter explaining that one of the sweater’s sleeves had suffered damage, and asking if it could be repaired or replaced.
The designers sent Diana a new sweater. They assumed the original had been repaired and sent to another customer, but in March 2023 Osborne found the “Black Sheep” in a small box in her attic.
The auction included the letter requesting repair, as well as a thank you note from Diana’s private secretary, Oliver Everett.
The Sotheby’s catalogue note stated, “worn by Diana Spencer in 1981 to a polo match of Prince Charles”.
“This lot includes two official letters, written in 1981, from Buckingham Palace to Warm and Wonderful politely explaining the jumper had been damaged and requested either a repair or replacement,” it said.
“Warm and Wonderful sent her a replacement sweater that she wore in 1983 to another polo match,” it added.
“In conjunction with a photo-matched authentication by Sotheby’s, this lost sheep jumper found in an attic is confirmed to be the original sheep jumper worn by Princess Diana over 40 years ago.”
Online bidding opened on August 31, the 26th anniversary of Diana’s death in a Paris car crash.