by Harry Pope
A small article in today’s paper concerned an unusual item up for sale at auction. The keys to Adolf Hitler’s personal toilet.
It was appropriated in May 1945 when Berlin was liberated by the Allies. The story goes that Flt. Lt. A.A. Williams decided to have the souvenir when he discovered it was in Hitler’s desk, and the serviceman signed a letter of provenance which went with the key when it was sold to a private collector ten years ago. I can only surmise the conversation in the bunker when the men divided their spoils
‘okay lads, we’ve taken all the medals, the maps, the cyanide pills, all’s left is the keys to his personal privy. Anyone want them?’ Silence. ‘Now come on, someone must want them, How about you Williams, you haven’t got anything yet.’ They are coming up for auction soon in Ashford, Kent, with an estimate of £300.
It has made me think about other unusual items that have been sold at auction. In the 1950s a copy painting by da Vinci called ‘Salvator Mundi’ (Saviour of the World) was bought by a private buyer for E50. This has recently been sold as an authentic painting for E382m in New York, and is now the most expensive artwork in the world, as well as being the last remaining da Vinci in private hands. Some experts have doubts, obviously the buyer doesn’t care.
Bibles are always popular, the world’s smallest has gone for £2,000. Printed in 1727, it is just legible. I remember when I was dealing in ephemera I had a very small bible, a military one. It came from WWl, was a pocket one to fit in a tunic, and in quite good condition was able to sell it for close on £100. However large leather-bound family bibles from the Victorian era very rarely reach more than £100, as there are still so many. They would have been produced by an individual church to gather funds, the family paying weekly until the debt was cleared. Some even had a musical box in the bottom, if that’s working then maybe worth a little more, but still not much. The soldier’s bible is still quite rare, very few charity shops are aware of their value and put them on the shelf for £1.
A Chinese bowl over 1,000 years old sold for £26m at auction. Some years ago I thought I had a couple of rare vases. They were in a charity shop for £1 each, so a few weeks later was in London, they were in the car boot, so I popped into a famous auction house. They directed me to an expert who I recognised from the Antiques Road Show. He was very polite, tactful, telling me ‘keep them for a few years, they might be worth something one day’. My local auction house had a lady bring in a box of old ceramics, they estimated £80 – £120 for the whole lot. They didn’t spot a very rare Chinese vase, but the internet did. The rest went for very little, but this one item sold for £87,000. If you have something valuable, you can always negotiate a lower commission rate.
Hair cut from the head of deceased celebrities can have great value. The barber who toured for 20 years with Elvis Presley kept some of his discarded locks. You can hear the conversation. ‘Er, Elvis, do you think I can keep the hair from the floor.’ ‘Course you can, but don’t expect a tip.’ A certified example in pristine condition sold for over £1,000. A collection from each of the Beatles sold for £6,000. Hope they were washed first. Ugg. Those from the heads of Marilyn Monroe and Napoleon have also sold for good money. The French dictator died from lead poisoning 200 years ago, I am sure it is not transmissible posthumously.
Car boot sales are very popular in the UK, and in the 1980s a buyer at one in West London bought a piece of costume jewellery for £10. It was a ring with a huge stone, which transpired to be a diamond. It sold for over £700,000. When selling, you have to have eyes everywhere. It’s no good arriving on your own, because when you open your boot and start unloading people are everywhere, trying to get the best pieces first. I have known one lady who is notorious for actually getting inside the car as it is being emptied, rummaging around in the boxes. She has been known to be physically ejected in a forceful way.
Titanic memorabilia was always popular when I was dealing. I had a copy of the eight-page Daily Sketch special edition in very poor condition sell on an auction site for £15, even a model from the 1920s went for good money. A letter not owned by me written the day before the Titanic sunk went for auction for over £130,000. The three page note was hand-written by a first class passenger who didn’t survive. The Titanic exhibition in Belfast is well worth a visit. Fascinating to see and hear the exhibits as the display comes to animated life.
The deal I am most proud of wasn’t owned by me. I gave a talk to a group of ladies, afterwards one told me that her brother had recently passed away. He had collected militaria in the 1950s from WW2, he had uniforms, helmets, flags, daggers, rings, a vast collection. I was able to put her in touch with a specialist military auction house, who catalogued and sold everything for just under £6,000. Without my advice she would have received a lot less if she had approached a general dealer. She also negotiated an extra 5% from the auction house commission, which she kindly passed on to me as a special thank you.
Harry Pope is a professional author, find his books on Amazon, such as Hotel Secrets, when he bought a £1m hotel in partnership with a Californian businessman who came from a family of bank robbers.
Harry’s latest writing successes: Buried Secrets, sold over 5,000 copies on Amazon, £2.99 e-version, or £6.99 printed.
Hotel Secrets (don’t buy that hotel) £3.99 e-version, £5.99 Amazon
Six long ghost stories all about Ballygobackwards Castle. A series of ghost stories also audio. Find on Amazon, very reasonable 99p each.