Odd Historical Items Sold at Auction
July 18, 2011
- Want to buy an unconventional piece of history? It turns out auction houses are the place to go for everything from famous dentures to used coffins. And while the items up for sale might surprise you, the real shock is the price the objects sold for. Take a look at some of the oddest historic items to hit the auction block recently, from least expensive to most expensive.
The First Playboy in Space: $17,511
How much would you pay for a piece of space history? What if that piece of history was, *ahem* half-naked? In January 2011, an unnamed buyer paid more than $17,000 for this 1967 Playboy photo of Playmate DeDe Lind (Miss August that year). Needless to say, the photo was not in pristine condition. The auction website described it as having "normal wear as one would expect from an object that made the approximately 475,000 mile round-trip journey to the moon and back…" -- but it did still come the original Velcro that held it in place. So why was there a Playboy Playmate in space? It was all part of a practical joke, according to astronaut Richard Gordon, who described it in accompanying paper work as "…one of the all-time greatest Apollo era astronaut 'Gotcha's!" While his fellow Apollo 12 astronauts explored the lunar surface, Gordon found the photo affixed to the inside of his locker. The rest has gone down in space -- and perhaps even auction -- history.
SEE ALSO: Apollo 12 Playboy Stowaway to be Auctioned
PHOTOS: Strange Objects in Space
Churchill's Chompers: $23,700
"The teeth that saved the world," also known to history as Britain's famous war-time Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s dentures, sold at auction for $23,700. Originally expected to bring in $7,800, the dentures sold for three times their value at Keys Auction House in Aylsham, U.K., on July 29, 2010, to an unnamed bidder -- who is rumored to also own the microphone from which Churchill announced the start of WWII, according to auction officials. The gold-plated chompers, contradictorily reported by the press to both preserve and prevent the Prime Minister’s famous lisp, are said to be one of four pairs used throughout his lifetime. A second pair is on display at the Royal College of Surgeons. A third set of dentures sold in January 2011 for $25,592. The final pair is said to have been buried with Churchill. And how does one come by even having Churchill's dentures to put up for auction? It turns out the prime minister's dentist's son had been holding on to them for all these years.
BIG PIC: Churchill's Chompers Go on the Auction Block
'World's Oldest' Champagne: $43,630
What's more expensive than the most expensive bottle of Dom Perignon ever sold? The answer: a nearly 200-year-old bottle of champagne that spent the last two centuries at the bottom of the ocean. The bottle of Veuve Clicquot sold for a record-setting $43,630 on June 3, 2011 to an anonymous bidder in Singapore, according to auction house Acker Merall, which oversaw the sale. In July 2010, divers off the Aaland archipelago on the Finnish coast discovered 145 bottles of wine and champagne that had gone down with the ship, a two-masted schooner which ran aground sometime between 1825 and 1830. The name of the ship and its intended destination are still unknown, although it's speculated that they were en route to the court of the Russian tsar in St. Petersburg. A second bottle from the wreck, of the no-longer existent house of Juglar, sold for $34,900. The profits from the sale will go to the Aland government. So what exactly does a 200-year-old bubbly taste like? Notable wine experts were allowed to open bottles of the bounty in November of 2010. One critic described the Juglar as "mushroomy" and the Veuve Clicquot as having notes of linden blossoms and lime peels. Perhaps the only disappointment was the price at which the bottles sold. An initial article announcing the find and the auction speculated the bidding would be as high as 100,000 euros, the equivalent of $144,925.
SEE ALSO: 'World's Oldest Champagne' to be Sold at Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Lee Harvey Oswald's Coffin: $87,468
This decomposing, water-damaged and -- perhaps most importantly -- used coffin sold for a whopping $87,468. It was made famous (or perhaps infamous) by its occupant: Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy. After being captured by police, Oswald himself was shot and killed by Jack Ruby while being transferred from police headquarters to the county jail. Needless to say, there are a lot of questions and conspiracies surrounding Oswald -- and that's exactly how his coffin and corpse ended up above ground again on Oct. 4, 1981, nearly 18 years after his initial burial in 1967. An allegation that a look-alike Russian spy had been buried in Oswald's place led to a legal battle between Oswald's widow and his brother. Oswald's body was exhumed and definitively identified through dental records, according to the auction house. Oswald's remains were put in a fresh coffin and reinterred. But his original coffin continued above ground to auction. How, you ask? Well, it just so happens that Allen Baumgardner, one of the funeral directors who participated in the 1981 autopsy, kept the coffin all these years at his Fort Worth, Texas funeral home. One question still remains though: Who bought the coffin? The Nate D. Sanders auction house refused to identify the buyer, besides to say that it was purchased by a private collector and not a museum. And so, the mystery continues… …And another lawsuit as well. Robert Edward Lee Oswald is suing over the sale of his brother's coffin, for its sale price and unspecified damages, according to the American Bar Association.
BIG PIC: Lee Harvey Oswald's Coffin For Sale
Michael Jackson's Jacket: $1.8 million
What's worth more than a used coffin but less than an old flag? Perhaps one of the King of Pop's most famous accessories (besides his signature glove, that is) this black and red leather jacket sold on June 26, 2011 for $1.8 million. The jacket is one of two Michael Jackson wore in his "Thriller" music video. The second jacket is on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. The garment was put up for auction by Jackson's long-time costume designers and purchased by a Milton Verret, a commodities trader from Austin, Texas. Verret says he plans to raise money for various children's charities by displaying the jacket at children's hospitals. Proceeds from the sale went to fund the preserve where the deceased pop star's Bengal tigers are kept.
SE ALSO: Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' Jacket Sells at Auction
Custer's Last Flag: $2,210,500
If you ever wanted to own a tattered, blood-stained, bullet hole-ridden piece of history, you missed your chance on Dec. 10, 2010, when this historic flag went up for auction at Sotheby’s in New York. So how did this flag end up so battered and yet still so valuable? When Custer made his famous last stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn in June of 1876, this flag was flying -- and it was the only one ever recovered from that fatal day. Catalogued at auction as "Custer’s Last Flag: The Culbertson Guidon from the Battle of the Little Bighorn," the flag was discovered by Sergeant Ferdinand Culbertson, one of the burial party after the bloody battle. Legend has it that Culbertson found the swallow-tailed 35-starred flag beneath the body of a dead soldier, three days after the battle. The flag had been part of the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art but had not been on display since 1928. The museum planned to use the profits from the sale to acquire Native American artwork. The flag sold for $2,210,500 million to an anonymous bidder -- fetching the lower end of the estimated $2 million to $5 million it was estimated to sell for. But perhaps you could call it the bargain of the day. The two other pieces up for sale that day at Sotheby's set auction record sales. A copy of "The Emancipation Proclamation" owned by John F. Kennedy sold for $3.8 million, setting a new record for any Presidential document at auction; and Naismith’s Founding Rules of Basketball sold for $4.4 million, setting a new record for sports memorabilia at auction.
BIG PIC: Custer's Last Flag Hits Auction Block
Billy the Kid Photo: $2.3 million
Sometimes referred to as "the Holy Grail of photography" and the "most recognized photo of the American West" by collectors, this 130-year-old tintype of infamous outlaw Billy the Kid sold for $2.3 million on June 25, 2011. The photo shows Billy the Kid -- also known as William Bonney, Henry Antrim, Henry McCarty or just "the Kid"-- standing with his gun near the saloon where he would later be killed in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. No one knows who the photographer is, but it's believed that this image is one of four printed at the time. It was also the photo that sparked the common misconception that "the Kid" was left-handed and inspired the 1958 film, "The Left-Handed Gun." As a tintype plate, the image is shown as a mirrored reflection. The photograph was only expected to bring in between $300,000 and $400,000, but within 30 seconds, bidding had reached $1 million. The piece sold in just under 3 minutes to Florida billionaire William Koch. Source and Photo: Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction
BIG PIC: Rare Billy the Kid Photo to go on Auction
"Sue": $8.4 million
An auction story 67 million years in the making, the price tag for this bag of bones doesn't seem quite so gargantuan if you look at it as a paying about 13 cents for each year the bones have been around. Chicago's Field Museum paid $8.4 million for the largest, best-preserved T. rex skeleton ever found -- and that's not including the cost of the 30,000 man-hours it took to preserve and reconstruct the 250 bones. Sue now stands as the centerpiece of the museum, but only after a tumultuous legal battle. Sue Hendrickson, for whom the T. rex is named, discovered the bones in 1990 during a commercial fossil hunt with the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota. The owner of the land, Maurice Williams later disputed the breadth of permissions he had given the institute as to who owned what found on his land. In the end, Williams won the legal battle. He contracted Sotheby's to auction "Sue" off on Oct. 4, 1997. It took just 8 minutes on the auction block for Sue to sell. The Field Museum, with funding from McDonald's Corporation; the Walt Disney World Resort; and private individuals; was the winning bidder at a record-setting $7.6 million, before commission. It took several more years of restoration before Sue finally went on display before 10,000 visitors on May 17, 2000. A decade later, more than 16 million people have visited the most expensive fossil ever to be auctioned off. So it's probably safe to say the Field Museum is making its money back.
SEE ALSO: Tyrannosaurus Rex Sold at Las Vegas Auction: Watch the Sale