The Collection of Philanthropist Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans

The Collection of Philanthropist Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans


Asheville, NC – Brunk Auctions announces their selection by the family of Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans for the sale by auction of the antiques, fine art, and decorative arts collections from the estate at an historic event scheduled for August 24-25, 2013, at The Washington Duke Inn on the campus of Duke University, in Durham, NC.

Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans’s accomplishments were wide-ranging and varied, and included achievements ranging from having been the first woman to serve as mayor pro-tem for the City of Durham in the 1960s, to her lifetime of service in trustee and board positions at numerous foundations as well as Duke University and the Duke Endowment. Foremost however was her focus on her family, especially her beloved grandparents Mr. Benjamin N. Duke and Mrs. Sarah Pearson Duke, her mother Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle, and her own seven children and fourteen grandchildren.

As was so succinctly noted by Duke University President Doctor Richard Brodhead at Mrs. Semans’s memorial service in 2012, “She was more than the sum of her accomplishments, … she transformed the great wealth she was born with into a lasting force of compassion.”

All who knew her were inspired by her love of music and for the fine arts. She was instrumental in launching and sustaining the North Carolina School of the Arts as well as in the creation of one of the earliest fine art galleries for the blind at the N.C. Museum of Art.

The auction of the estate’s antiques, fine art and decorative arts —culled from five generations of the Duke family, and from the five well-known homes they lived in over the course of more than 100 years — will be held on Sunday, August 25th. The day before, an open-to-the-public preview will be held in the afternoon followed by a private reception preview in the early evening hours.

Reservations for the private Saturday reception may be made by contacting Brunk Auctions, and the proceeds from the $50 per person donation will benefit the North Carolina School of the Arts. The Sunday auction will be open to the public and will feature online bidding in addition to telephone and absentee bidding; all of which will be available through

This historic event represents the first offering of these objects, which have decorated the daily lives of North Carolina’s first family of philanthropy for over a century. The collection will be presented via a state-of-the-art online catalogue which will both showcase the objects and tell their stories in the context of the homes they once occupied, from the circa 1852 Duke Homestead in then-rural Durham to the renown 1901-built 1009 Fifth Avenue, New York, townhouse, the former Durham mansion remembered as Four Acres on West Chapel Hill Street, and the remaining stately residences known as Pinecrest and Les Terrasses in Forest Hills, Durham.

Notable within this offering of over 500 fine and fascinating objects are exquisitely wrought examples of American silver, paintings by important artists such as Thomas Anshutz, fine 18th and 19th century Chinese porcelains and jades, elegant French antique furnishings, and an elaborately inlaid art case Steinway grand piano.

Andrew Brunk, President of Brunk Auctions said, “Mrs. Semans was one of North Carolina’s most ardent patrons of the arts and education, and we are truly honored to host this historic event on behalf of her family, and to present to discerning collectors some of the fine objects that enriched her life, and the lives of her distinguished family, by their beauty and artistry.”


Please be respectful of the family’s privacy and refer all questions to Brunk Auctions, official representatives of the family regarding the sale of the collections of Mrs. Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans.

For more information, contact:

Aaron Edwards
Public Relations Director
Brunk Auctions
(828) 254-6846