Money & Banking

Quirky items that fetched millions at auction

Quirky items that fetched millions at auction

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that certainly rings true for people who have spent tonnes of cash on some really odd things. Here, we round up the weirdest, and a few of the coolest, things people have paid big money for. Have a look and see if you would have done the same!

A banana duct-taped to a wall

  1. A banana duct-taped to a wall
It’s hard to say what is art anymore. One may think of the Mona Lisa, while another might value, say, a banana duct-taped to a wall. We’re not being cute. That is literally what someone bought at the Art Basel art fair in Miami recently.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s controversial piece, titled Comedian, sold for a whopping $120,000. The point of the piece, said the gallerist who sold the pricey fruit, was to question what “art” is. Looks like someone found the piece rather a-peeling, after all.

The last violin played on the Titanic

  1. The last violin played on the Titanic
One of the most memorable tales from the tragic sinking of the Titanic is the eight-piece band that played until the end. Led by English musician Wallace Hartley, the band played their instruments as the ship sank into the frozen waters of the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to help soothe scared passengers.

According to CNN, “Hartley’s body was reportedly pulled from the water days after the April 1912 sinking with his violin case still strapped to his back.”

More than a century later, in 2013, Hartley’s damaged violin was sold at an auction for $1.7 million in less than 10 minutes. It is the most expensive artefact linked to the doomed ship.

John Lennon’s toilet

  1. John Lennon’s toilet
Imagine all the ways you can spend your money…and then think about this. One Beatles fan spent nearly $15,000 on a flowered porcelain toilet once owned by John Lennon.

The luxe loo came from an English estate owned by Lennon and Yoko Ono. When Lennon had the toilet replaced, he told the builders “to put some flowers in it or something,” according to the auction catalogue.

The estate, Tittenhurst Park, was where Lennon recorded his legendary Imagine album and film. Hopefully, the toilet was as inspiring to its new owner!

Queen Victoria’s undies

  1. Queen Victoria’s undies
And speaking of bathroom inspiration, cotton knickers owned by Queen Victoria (Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother) sold in 2015 for $16,300.

Embroidered with her royal initials, “VR” for Victoria Regina, the undies were in pristine shape, having been wrapped in tissue and kept in a temperature-controlled room.

There was something unique about these roomy drawers, which boasted a 114cm drawstring waist.

“On these particular knickers, there is a chevron section, which is where they were taken up slightly as Queen Victoria got older and essentially she shrunk in stature,” auctioneer Richard Edmonds told People.com.

“That element got the collectors really excited, because you can then date them quite specifically to the last 10 years of her life.”

A lock of Elvis Presley’s hair

  1. A lock of Elvis Presley’s hair
A hunka, chunka hair from the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, sold for $115,000 to an eager fan back in 2002.

Saved from his barber, who also used to dye his sandy-blonde hair jet black, the trimmings had been kept in a plastic bag since the singer’s death in 1977, until they were sold for a king’s ransom.

Other big-ticket Elvis items that sold at auction include his 24-carat gold-leaf grand piano; his peacock jumpsuit; and one of his very first recordings of a song called “My Happiness,” which was bought by White Stripes musician Jack White.

Marilyn Monroe’s white dress

  1. Marilyn Monroe’s white dress
It was the dress that launched a thousand gasps. Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white halter dress, which she wore in The Seven Year Itch, sold in 2011 for a whopping $4.6 million.

The dress – which was famously blown up while she stood over a subway grate – made Monroe a certified sex symbol. It also made actress Debbie Reynolds some major bucks when she sold it.

Reynolds, the iconic star of Singing in the Rain (and also Carrie Fisher’s mum), was a huge collector of vintage Hollywood gowns, and Marilyn’s made her a pretty penny.

Justin Timberlake’s leftover French toast

  1. Justin Timberlake’s leftover French toast
Twenty years ago, a young band member from NSYNC, Justin Timberlake, was interviewed by the Z100 morning show in New York City when he left some of his uneaten French toast behind. The station’s DJ jokingly put two slices of it for sale on eBay, where it was sold to a teenage girl named Kathy Summers for $1,025.

When asked what she would do with the leftover and slightly burned toast, the teen fan said, “I’ll probably freeze-dry it, then seal it…then put it on my dresser.”

Mmmm… a wise investment, indeed.

A dead shark in formaldehyde

  1. A dead shark in formaldehyde
Weird art always seems to sell well and big. (See item one on this list.) But a piece by British contemporary artist Damien Hirst really takes the shark.

Hirst is known for his obsession with death, seen in his high-priced and macabre styles of art. In 2004, he sold a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, for a reported $8 million.

The 22-tonne shark, which is obviously dead but kept scarily preserved, embodies life, death and just what its title aptly describes.

 Albert Einstein’s theory on happiness

  1. Albert Einstein’s theory on happiness
A Japanese bellboy received the tip of a lifetime when he made a delivery to physicist Albert Einstein in 1922.

Einstein was in Tokyo on a book tour when he found out he’d won the Nobel Prize. Overwhelmed by the honour and attention, Einstein put some of his thoughts to paper, which he gave the bellboy when he couldn’t find change for a tip.

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness,” Einstein wrote in German on a piece of hotel stationery, according to the New York Times.

On the second paper, he wrote, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The two papers, his take on happiness, sold at a 2017 auction in Israel for $1.56 million and $250,000, respectively.

A giant steel rabbit

  1. A giant steel rabbit
And we’re back with some really expensive art. A 90cm stainless steel rabbit created by the artist Jeff Koons in 1986 sold at auction in 2019 for the breathtaking price of $91 million.

It went to Robert E. Mnuchin, an art dealer and the father of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and it set the world-record price for a work by a living artist.

The rabbit is considered one of the most iconic works of art of the 20th century, and a blow-up version of it appeared in the Macy’s Day parade in 2007.

The work has influenced generations of artists, even the aforementioned Damien Hirst. And on a funny side note, when Koons was deciding on what animal to sculpt a likeness of, he almost chose a pig. It seems like the bunny paid off.

Truman Capote’s ashes

  1. Truman Capote’s ashes
The author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood certainly did love an adventure, and so maybe it’s not that big of a surprise that his ashes continue to have a life of their own.

Housed in a Japanese wooden box, the writer’s remains belonged to Capote’s longtime friend Joanne Carson – ex-wife of the famed late-night talk-show host Johnny Carson – until her death in 2015. (Capote died in 1984.)

The ashes have had quite a ride, having been stolen once before and luckily returned, until they were finally sold for $45,000 in 2016, to an anonymous buyer who promised: “that Truman will continue his adventures.”

Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester

  1. Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester
While most people associate Leonardo da Vinci with his paintings, like The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, da Vinci was also a scientist and engineer whose notes about inventions and thoughts on the planet (its origin and end) were captured in a journal titled the “Codex Leicester.”

In 1994, Bill Gates purchased the journal for $30.8 million at auction, a price that made it one of the most expensive books ever sold.

Da Vinci’s ideas and musings in the Codex are written in his famous mirrored cursive writing, and it’s currently on loan to museums and schools across the United States.

Images: Shutterstock / Getty Images

Written by Robyn Moreno. This article first appeared on Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription.