Throughout history, all manner of weird and wonderful items, big and small, have been sold at auction – though the auction format may have changed a little over the millennia.
Today, we’re looking back at the brilliant and bizarre world of auctions, and some of the rarest and craziest items ever to be sold (or almost sold) to the highest bidder.
Marilyn’s infamous dress
That unforgettable dress, which conjures vivid mental images of wind billowing out of a subway grate in the 1955 flick Seven-Year Itch, is without doubt among the most iconic imagery of the entire 20th century. Sold for a cool $4.6m (or £3.6m) in 2011 by Singing In the Rain star Debbie Reynolds, this invaluable piece of movie history – and, indeed, fashion history – is proof that the right garment can fetch a mind-blowing price.
Action Comics No. 1
First edition comic books are world-renowned for bringing in a very pretty penny at auction, especially those that contain pivotal plotlines, iconic origin stories or early versions of much-loved characters – and one such example is the coveted Action Comics No. 1, the first comic to ever feature none other than Superman himself. Originally released in June, 1938, the comic took a record-breaking $3.2m (or £2.3m) on eBay in 2011.
Bagged air from a Kanye West gig
Rare pieces of TV, film and music memorabilia are always hugely popular at auction, generally driven by the historical or present-day icon status of the artist in question. It’s no surprise, then, that a bag of air from a Kanye concert on his 2013-14 Yeezus tour demanded a colossal amount at auction. While the sellers were never quite able to complete these ambitious sales, it’s no understatement that these sealed bags of oxygen very nearly sold for an incredible $60k (£47k) apiece.
Picasso’s portrait of his golden muse
Marie-Therese Walter, perhaps better known as Pablo Picasso’s ‘golden muse’, was painted by the legendary Cubist in 1937 – immortalised in his Femme au beret et a la robe quadrillee. Just this year, the portrait sold at auction in London for a staggering £50m. Created in the same year as Picasso’s seminal Guernica, the painting raked in the highest price of any piece ever sold on the continent.
The Roman Empire
Way back in 193 AD, the Praetorian Guard took it upon themselves to assassinate the reigning emperor, Pertinax, before declaring the empire ‘for sale’ and proceeding to offer it to the highest bidder – for a grand sum of 6,250 drachmas. A fascinatingly far-fetched (and yet entirely accurate) tale from the history of the auction world, this is a story of opportunism taken to the nth degree, but still serves as a powerful example of the outlandish and incredible items that can be found when you choose to bid rather than simply buy.
If nothing else, take from this the lesson that auctions offer an unmatched opportunity to buy and sell everything from rare collectibles to one-of-a-kind antiques among a vibrant community of history and culture lovers. More important even than that, auctions guarantee that every item sold goes for a truly deserving price.
Visit our auction house in the North East to find out more or get involved in the action for yourself.