10 of the most intriguing auction items

Nabeelah Jaffer
richard III 300x225 10 of the most intriguing auction items

(Getty Images)

A rare letter signed by Richard III was sold this week at a U.S. auction to a private collector for £34,516 – much less than its valued price of £80,000. Signed ‘R. Gloucestre’, the letter was found 12 miles from Bosworth last August.

Although the Earl of Westmorland’s land troubles, featured in the letter, may have failed to capture the punters’ imaginations, plenty of other historical finds have brought exciting tales to the auction table.

Here are our top 10 most intriguing auction items:

1. Jane Austen’s turquoise and gold ring

Bequeathed to Austen’s niece Caroline in 1863, the ring had been in the Austen family for generations when it sold at Sotheby’s for £152,450 last July. It is not known who gave Jane the ring, although suggestions include Austen’s brother Henry and Tom Lefroy, an Irish man of whom she wrote to her sister Cassandra: “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.”

2. Marie Antoinette’s green silk slippers

Auctioned in 2012 on the anniversary of her execution on 16 October 1793, the slippers hint at the extravagant spending habits of the queen nicknamed ‘Madame Deficit’ during her lifetime. They sold for around £42,000 – five times their asking price – in Paris. Patterned with green and pink stripes of fabric and containing a white leather lining, the slippers were eventually given as a gift to the queen’s manservant Alexandre-Bernard Ju-Des-Retz and passed on to his descendants. Other items auctioned off included a white jersey muff worn whilst imprisoned in the months before her death and a scrap of silk from a dress.

3. Hitler’s desk, cutlery and swastika-engraved drinking glasses

Though there is no conclusive evidence that Hitler drank from these eagle and swastika engraved drinking glasses during late evenings, they sold for £3,000 in 2011. A set of monogrammed cutlery used by himself and Eva Braun at a mountain retreat went for around £10,500 at the same time, after being taken by two housekeepers as the American’s advanced. The chilling eagle-embossed desk on which Hitler signed the Munich Agreement of 1938 was also sold for around £276,000 in the same year.

4. A pair of Queen Victoria’s bloomers

This pair of royal underwear sold last November for £360 to a clothing collector. Bidders from around the world vied for the linen bloomers, which have a 38” waist and are embroidered with the initials VR. As auctioneer James Grinter told the BBC at the time: “you can’t get more personal than royal pants.” We imagine her highness would not, ahem, have been amused.

5. Abraham Lincoln’s blood stained suit

The Brooks Brothers’ suit in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated was sold at a public auction in 1924 for the sum of around £4,200. The wrinkled suit included a Prince Albert coat, vest, trousers and overcoat, which was lined with quilted black silk, and two figures of an American Eagle. The bloodstains are barely visible on the knees and frock coat and knees of the trousers. A mysterious blood stained detachable collar, torn off Lincoln’s neck as doctors searched for his wounds and allegedly picked up by Lieutenant Newton Ferree, is supposed to have been sold with the suit at the time, but its current whereabouts seem to be unknown.

6. Annotated Apollo 13 burn notes

The typed sheet containing the procedures that allowed the astronauts to return to Earth with their lives, sold at Bonham’s in New York for approximately £55,000 a few weeks ago. The sheet contains red-ink annotations written by commander James Lovell during the mission, after the service module was crippled by an oxygen tank explosion. Once Apollo 13 was back in its free-return trajectory, they used the engine burn notes to correct its course, ensuring they would survive atmospheric re-entry. Hot stuff.

7. Edgar Allan Poe’s fiancée’s engagement ring

Dreamily engraved inside with the word ‘Edgar’, this ring has a sad story to tell. It belonged to Poe’s childhood sweetheart, Sarah Elmira Royster, whose romance was terminated by her father upon discovering their letters whilst Poe was at the University of Virginia. Many years later, after both had lost their partners – they met again and resumed their relationship, and he gave her this ring. But he died later that year before they could marry. It sold to a Poe collector for around £63,000 in December.

8. Winston Churchill’s dentures

Ever wanted to stand in the shoes of a great man? Some lucky collector might have been able to go one further and try out the teeth that produced “we shall fight them on the beaches”. Churchill’s upper dentures were sold for £15,200 in 2010 by the son of the dental surgeon who made them. They were designed not to connect properly with the top of his mouth, in order to preserve his famous lisp. The dentures are part of a set of several that were made for Churchill at the very start of the war.

9. Custer’s bullet hole-ridden flag

Civil war general George Armstrong Custer died in the Battle of Little Bighorn, his forces annihilated by the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. This flag was flying in June 1876 and auctioned in 2010 as – wait for it – ‘Custer’s Last Flag’. Initially one of five carried, it was the only one discovered on the battlefield three days later, under the body of a dead soldier. The Detroit Institute of Art, which sold the flag, planned to put the profits towards acquiring Native American artwork.

10. George Washington’s hair

Although wigs were all the rage at the time, George Washington reportedly refused to take up the popular fashion, and retained his own (powdered) hair in public. In 2007 the first of three Allen & Ginter Relic Cards, each said to contain a strand of Washington’s hair, sold on eBay for nearly £20,000. A few strands pressed under glass in a locket sold for around £11,000 in 2008, although their origin has not been verified. A few strands donated by the Curtis-Powell family sold for £3,907 in 2012. DNA verification has proven impossible in many (if not all) cases, but there are plenty more strands for sale online…

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