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Marie Antoinette’s Silk Shoe Sold for $51,000 in Versailles

Ian Harvey
Credit: AP

Marie Antoinette was famous for many things – her self indulgence and dismissal of French citizens’ plight, for example. While the masses starved, she is said to have uttered these famous words: “let them eat cake.”

Historians quibble about the accuracy of the attribution, but nonetheless it speaks volumes about her moral character – or, more precisely, her lack of it.

Marie Antoinette dressed in voluminous gowns made of silk and brocade, and had shoes made to match by the best cobblers in France.

Marie took good care of her shoes, it would seem, and after her beheading in 1793 – the people were clearly fed up with her spoiled nature and selfish ways – a pair of her shoes were given to one of her maids. The maid’s family kept them, wisely, and recently put one of them up for auction.

Marie Antoinette. Credit: AP

Marie Antoinette. Credit: AP

The auction house, Osenat of France, expected it would fetch about 10,000 euros, but an anonymous buyer ponied up almost 44,000 euros instead, more than four times the amount the auctioneer imagined it would bring.

There are several auction houses and sites that handle weird and wacky historical objects that have come done through the centuries and whose owners are anxious to make some extra cash on their macabre and creepy notoriety.

Other items are just everyday objects made famous because of the person who owned them. Perhaps one of the strangest items sold in the last 20 years with a huge “gross!” factor is a disposable pregnancy test used by pop singer Britney Spears, found in an L.A. hotel room garbage can.

Although the individual who stole it got in hot water on e-Bay for contravening the site’s regulations about DNA tests, ultimately a little rewording of their listing circumvented the rules and the test was sold.

Photo by Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDigital.com – CC BY-SA 4.0

Photo by Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDigital.com – CC BY-SA 4.0

At least it was for a good cause; the Canadian radio station that bought it subsequently donated all the funds to two different charities.

Traditional auction houses usually avoid such yucky ephemera, as they have reputations to uphold, and so they stick to fine art, historical items and books and documents. Osenat in France is just such an auction house.

The one thing odd sales often have in common is that buyers prefer to stay anonymous, imagining – quite rightly – that most people would find it eccentric, to say the least, that they’ve shelled out thousands of dollars for a small, personal object.

Churchill

Churchill

Like, for example, the set of dentures once belonging to Winston Churchill that sold in 2010 for almost $24,000 (USD). That sale was handled by Keys Auction House in the U.K.

Another macabre historical item sold at auction was the coffin of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

He was exhumed in 1981 so his body could be positively identified, and somehow his coffin wound up on the open market. Someone paid almost $88,000 (USD) for that morbid curiosity.

A rabid music fan paid 1.8 million (USD) for the jacket Michael Jackson wore when he filmed “Thriller,” the album and accompanying videos that put the singer into the stratosphere of music idols.

The jacket is no doubt safely ensconced behind glass somewhere, perhaps in the buyer’s music library. There are plenty of examples of other things sold to collectors who seem to have scads of money and not enough ways to spend it.

Oenophiles spend dizzying amounts of money on fine wine, but even collectors gasped when a buyer – again, an anonymous one – spent almost $44,000 (USD) on a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne about 10 years ago.

It was, admittedly, almost 200 years old, one of more than 120 bottles retrieved from the bottom of the ocean when the wreck of an old schooner was discovered. But one cannot help but wonder if the bottle will ever be opened, even on the most special of occasions.

These examples make the sale of the white silk shoe belonging to Antoinette seem almost tame by comparison.

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But as long as there are those people who hanker to own something, anything, that once belonged to their idols, these sales will continue to attract staggering sums. For those of us who merely watch from the sidelines, the antics of these collectors are positively priceless.