N.J. woman uncovers award to Grace Kelly in cluttered garage

Francesca Polli found an award given to actress Grace Kelly in 1955.
Francesca Polli found an award given to actress Grace Kelly in 1955. (DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 29, 2011

IT'S THE REASON your attic is stuffed with your grandparents' old boxes. It's why you pay Public Storage 90 bucks a month to store your parents' old stuff, and why you brake for yard sales. Somewhere in all that mess, a treasure lurks - maybe.

For Francesca Polli, 43, of North Jersey, a bunch of junk contained a jewel. Ten years ago Polli was the new owner of an old fixer-upper in quaint Campbell Hall, N.Y. The home, an old Cape cottage, once belonged to John Taylor, a retired super of a highfalutin Manhattan apartment building. Taylor was a pack rat. When he left the house, he left his stuff, too. Especially in the house's attached garage.

"When I say I had 12, maybe more truckloads of garbage hauled out of that garage . . . " said Polli, adding, "Most people would not have gone through it."

Polli is not most people. "For me, it was personal. I just wanted to look through everything."

Among ash-covered photos and jars of nuts, bolts and knickknackery, the first-time homeowner unearthed a scroll. "It was rolled up, just lying there," said the stay-at-home mom. "It looked like a poster to me."

It wasn't a poster. Wasn't a print. It was a large, ornately calligraphed award presented to a pre-Princess, Hollywood-era Grace Kelly by the Philadelphia Junior Chamber of Commerce, the "Jaycees," on June 6, 1955, at the Drake Hotel at 15th and Spruce.

In case you're not up on your Grace Kelly trivia, 1955 was the year the Philly-born-and-bred actress played alongside Cary Grant in the Hitchcock thriller "To Catch a Thief." The year before, the starlet had splashed spectacularly in "Rear Window," "The Country Girl" and "Dial M for Murder." The year after, the actress shined in "The Swan" and "High Society." That same year, the blond beauty met and became engaged to Ranier III, Prince of Monaco. In 1956, Kelly became a princess.

At first, the old piece of paper didn't seem very important to Polli. "I thought the Junior Chamber of Commerce was something to do with kids," she admitted. But she hung onto it, and it got her to thinking.

"I've always loved Grace Kelly," she said. "My parents, my aunts and uncles - they all loved Grace Kelly. She's an icon who inspires other icons." Madonna, Polli points out, sings about the star in "Vogue." Kelly's fashions, even preroyalty, still inspire designers. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress paid homage to the Philly princess'.

Polli realized that this find was something special, and that it could mean big bucks.

So, Polli removed it from her house and placed it under lock and key. She did research, finding mentions of the award in Philly papers. She even brought it to town, took it to the Drake (now condos), where she searched the building's log for a mention from 1955. No dice. Back at home, she solicited a professional appraisal. The estimate was disappointing. "$2,000!" exclaimed Polli. "Less than the value of an old beater car! That's like saying it's worth nothing; it's garbage."

Unfortunately, David Bloom, who helms Freeman's Auctioneers' books and ephemera department, doesn't think the award would fetch even that much. Christmas and New Year's cards from Princess Grace go for $400 or $500 at auction, he said. A personal letter, one that revealed new information about the princess, could go for a couple of thousand. Kelly's signed film contract with Paramount could fetch four, maybe five thousand. "You want material that's in the hand of the person you were collecting," Bloom explained. He puts the value of the award from the Jaycees at less than $1,000.

Still, Polli believes differently. To her, somewhere out there is "a person who loves Grace Kelly" enough to pay generously for it.

Polli said she's hoping the sale of the award will help her with her plans for a new business. She said she'd also like to donate a portion of the earnings to the Princess Grace Foundation, which supports emerging talents in the arts, and to Best Buddies, a nonprofit that helps children with intellectual disabilities.

The award she found valuable, Polli said, because she believes "people leave energy on the things that they touch in their lives, the things that they own. . . . It reminds me of that expression 'touched by Grace.' "

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