Human hair. Corpse tattoos. Celebrity genital castings.
After being in the auction business for 15 years, there are few things people sell or buy that truly shock me. But even I raise my eyebrows at some strange items.
The following seven collectibles certainly bring the ick factor. In fact, I predict they would shock the average collector and possibly horrify most readers of this column. They also make great topics of conversation, if you’re trying to avoid politics and COVID discussions at Christmas dinner.
Some Strange Items we see at Auction:
- Human skulls. We’ve sold two human skulls in the past five years. Prior to hitting the auction block, the skulls were used legally as teaching devices at a medical school.
- Human hair. According to the Smithsonian, the human hair trade is a billion-dollar industry, dating back to the 1800s. Since then, human hair has been used for art, jewelry and to create wigs.
- Animal penises and testicle sacks. Who knew there were many uses for these items? A quick Google search shows bull penis walking sticks are fairly common and quite the conversation starter. Bull testicle sacks are frequently used as bags to hold or store small items like dice. Most recently, we sold a 22.5-inch carved walrus penis bone for $225.
- Corpse tattoos. Yes, this is what it sounds like. Tattooed skin is removed from a corpse and specially treated to preserve the tattoo. We haven’t had one of these come through our auction house, but I know auctioneers who have sold these in the past.
- Celebrity genital castings. Cynthia Albritton, more commonly known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, seems have been the first to make plaster casts of genitalia. Her first celebrity cast was Jimi Hendrix, followed by many more rock musicians and eventually filmmakers and other artists. She’s inspired many other artists to make genital castings, many of which you can now buy at auction.
- Murderabilia. These are collectables related to high profile murders or serial killers and can include anything owned or created by the killer. In 2011, the federal government auctioned off items from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to help pay the restitution he owed to his victims. The infamous hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses depicted in police sketches sold together for more than $20,000.
- War memorabilia. Items from our enemies in previous wars can be especially controversial. Some people collect these items to remove them from the market. Others collect them to make sure the items are not forgotten or destroyed, attempting to ensure history won’t repeat itself.
Some might find these strange items weird, creepy or even offensive. Others might recognize their scientific or historic value. Whatever the case, as an auctioneer, I have a fiduciary responsibility to my clients to represent their estates regardless of my personal feelings about the items.
That doesn’t mean I would represent something illegal, nor does it mean I would sacrifice my morals. In rare instances, I have declined to sell items. But selling controversial or downright weird items is part of the territory for many of us in the auction world.
Erik Hoyer owns EJ’s Auction & Appraisal in Glendale. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ejsauction.com or 623-878-2003.