If you have deep enough pockets, you can buy almost anything your heart desires at auction. And we do mean anything. From the eggs of extinct birds to a note from Einstein, here’s an assortment of one-of-a-kind items purchased by collectors at auctions held by respected institutions like Christie’s and Sotheby’s.
Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Dress,” $4.8 Million
Apparently JFK wasn’t the only one who enjoyed Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” performance in 1962. The bespangled Jean Louis dress (actually designed by a young Bob Mackie) was purchased in 2016 by Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The dress was part of a three-day sale from Julien’s Auctions, which sold a number of Monroe’s possessions, including her personal kitchenware and handwritten notes. The dress, which originally cost around $1,440, currently holds the record for the most expensive dress ever sold at auction.
The Lady Blunt Stradivarius, $15.9 Million
Even the non-musically inclined know that Stradivarius violins are worth a pretty penny. But in 2011, the violin known as the “Lady Blunt” fetched an astronomical price at auction — four times the previous record for a Stradivarius. Named for its early owner Lady Anne Blunt, granddaughter of Lord Byron, the violin was made in 1721 and attracted various owners over the centuries. The instrument was sold by the Nippon Music Foundation to benefit its Northeastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund. A decade later, the new owner of the instrument has yet to be revealed.
An Elephant Bird Egg, $101,813
The elephant bird, which once lived on the island of Madagascar, has been extinct for several centuries, but its massive, foot-long eggs can still be found if you know where to look (and don’t mind shelling out). A private bidder paid over $100,000 for one in a 2013 Christie’s auction, after 10 minutes of competitive bidding. Only about 40 elephant bird eggs exist in public collections throughout the world. It’s not clear how many are held in private collections, although David Attenborough has one.
Elvis Presley's Hair, $115,000
From Beethoven to Bieber, locks of hair have long been coveted mementos for fans willing to pay big bucks for a “brush” with their favorite celebrity, so to speak. But of all the luscious locks for sale over the years, Elvis’s still reigns as the priciest: In 2002, an anonymous fan paid $115,000 for a jar of the King’s dyed black hair. It had been clipped and saved by the musician’s longtime barber, Homer “Gill” Gilleland, decades earlier.
The Illustrator Pokémon Card, $233,578
Pokémon cards can pay big dividends if you have the right card — and boy, is “The Illustrator” the right one. The card features an image by one of Pokemon’s chief graphic designers, Atsuko Nishida, and was given to just 39 people as a prize for an illustration contest in 1998. It’s believed that there are only 10 of the cards in circulation now, which would explain why one sold for $233,578 in 2020. The previous record for “The Illustrator” was $54,970, set in 2016.
Albert Einstein’s Theory on Happiness, $1.56 Million
Everyone’s looking for the secret to happiness. And everyone knows that Albert Einstein was one of the most brilliant minds humankind has ever seen. So how much would you be willing to pay for Einstein’s Theory of Happiness? To one deep-pocketed bidder, it was worth $1.56 million.
In 1922, Einstein was staying at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and had recently won a Nobel Prize when a bellboy brought him a message. Realizing he had no change to tip the boy in cash, Einstein decided he could tip in wisdom instead. He grabbed the hotel stationery and wrote (in German), “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.” On a second sheet, he added, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” According to the auction house, he told the bellboy that if he was lucky, the scribblings might be worth more than a tip one day. He was right: In 2017, the first sheet sold for $1.56 million, and the second for $250,000.
The Original Hundred Acre Wood Map From Winnie-the-Pooh, $570,000
A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable without E.H. Shepard’s perfectly whimsical illustrations, purported to have been drawn by Christopher Robin himself. Shepard’s original sketch of Hundred Acre Wood, which was reproduced on the inside cover of the 1926 book, hit the auction block in 2018. One lucky children’s lit fan scooped up the “100 Aker Wood” map for $570,000, a record for any book illustration at the time.
Queen Victoria’s Bloomers, $16,300
Victoria’s original secret: She wore the same pair of bloomers for decades. When a number of the queen’s personal items went on the auction block in 2015, it was revealed that her undies had been altered several times over the years to accommodate her changing size. The alterations certainly didn’t bother the English collector who purchased the monarch’s undergarments for $16,300. "As far as we can tell, it's the highest price ever paid for Victoria's knickers, and we are delighted,” said auctioneer Richard Edmonds.