Auction house Sotheby’s announced Sept. 9 that it will sell a rare John James Audubon tome, Birds of America, and expect it to fetch between $6.2 million and $9.2 million – making it the world’s most expensive book. Only 119 copies of the bird book – most of which exist in museums and libraries – remain. Here’s a look at some other pricey auction items
Most Expensive Painting
Item: Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust
Winning Bid: $106.5 million
All it took was a little over 8 minutes to set the record price for a piece of art sold at auction. On May 4, Christie’s sold Pablo Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, a painting created in the span of a single day in 1932, for $106.5 million dollars. The painting, which is of Picasso’s lover Marie-Therese Walter, was previously owned by a California philanthropist. The price beats the previous record for a piece of art, set this past February, of $104.3 million, for Giacometti’s sculpture “Walking Man I.” This is not nearly the first time a Picasso has sold for a record price, however. In 2004, the painting Boy with a Pipe (The Young Apprentice), sold for a then astounding $104.1 million.
Most Expensive Piece of Clothing
Item: Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President” Dress
Winning Bid: $1,267,500
When Marilyn Monroe delivered a sultry “Happy Birthday” serenade to President John F. Kennedy on May 19, 1962, the blonde bombshell wore a flesh-colored, curve-hugging, jewel-encrusted dress so tight and sheer that, according to legend, Monroe was sewn into the gown and wore nothing under it. The one-of-a-kind sheath was purchased in 1999 by the aptly named Manhattan-based collectible company Gotta Have It! after the dress was put up for auction by the widow of Monroe’s acting coach, Lee Strasberg. When asked by reporters why he would spend a fortune on a piece of fabric that originally cost $12,000, company president Robert Schargen proclaimed that he would have paid twice that: “We stole it,” he boasted.
Most Expensive Manuscript
Item: Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Hammer
Winning Bid: $30,802,500
As the ultimate Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci meticulously recorded his thoughts, musings and sketches in journals throughout his life. Of the 30 that remain, his most famous is the Codex Hammer, named for the British nobleman who acquired the 72-page journal in 1717. Three years after Bill Gates bought the historic diary, he released a digitally scanned version for all the world to enjoy.
Most Expensive Musical Instrument
Item: Guarneri del Gesù violin
Winning Bid: $3.9 million
Even if you don’t play the violin, you’ve probably heard of Antonio Stradivari, the famous Italian craftsman of stringed instruments (or luthier, as such a person is known). But it was Bartolomeo Giuseppe Antonio Guarnieri, the grandson of one of Stradivari’s apprentices, whose instrument broke the world record for the highest-priced auction item. The 250-year-old violin – one of only 250 Guarnieri instruments that survive – was purchased by a Russian lawyer. It was subsequently played for the first time in 70 years by Israeli maestro Pinchas Zukerman during a private concert in Moscow.
Most Expensive Lock of Hair
Item: Tresses from Elvis Presley
Winning Bid: $115,000
Apart from his soulful voice and swinging hips, Elvis Presley was known for his hair. So it’s perhaps no surprise that a strand from the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s pompadour – surreptitiously hoarded by his personal barber – would bring in more dough than hair from John Lennon ($48,000), John F. Kennedy ($3,000) and Beethoven ($7,300) combined. MastroNet Inc, the Oak Brook, Ill., company behind the Internet auction of such macabre memorabilia, has made a small fortune selling the tresses of celebrities, dead (Mickey Mantle, $6,900) or alive (Neil Armstrong, $3,000). Even former government officials are cashing in. In 2007, an ex-CIA employee sold a tuft of Che Guevara’s hair, along with fingerprints and death photographs, for $119,500.
Most Expensive Antiquity
Item: Roman-era statue, Artemis and the Stag
Winning Bid: $28.6 million
When construction workers first unearthed this 2,000-year-old bronze sculpture in Rome in the 1920s, they never could have guessed it would fetch the highest price for any relic – indeed, for any sculpture, period – ever sold at auction. “I’d say it’s probably the best antiquity I’ve sold in my 37 years at Sotheby’s,” a director at the famous auction house said of the 36-inch statue of the Goddess of the Hunt. And to think, some curators predicted it would only sell for $7 million.
Most Expensive Car
Item: 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa
Winning Bid: $12.2 million
There are only 21 other cars like it, but none of them are quite so expensive. While the 1957 Testa Rossas won 10 of the 19 international races that they entered from 1958 and 1961, this particular vehicle never finished better than fourth. No matter; the car’s finest quality is not its speed but its beauty. With a body made by famed Italian automobile designer Sergio Scaglietti, the Testa Rossa boasts pontoon fenders and is said to have been one of Scaglietti’s favorites. The record-breaking Ferrari auction, organized by RM Auctions and Sotheby’s, in May 2009 proved that at least one luxury item has survived the recession.
Most Expensive Furniture
Item: Badminton Cabinet
Winning Bid: $36 million
An item like this really ties the room together – with money. When the 18th century Florentine ebony chest inlaid with amethyst quartz, agate, lapis lazuli and other stones sold for $36 million at a 2004 Christie’s auction, it broke its own record as the most expensive piece of furniture sold at auction. The Badminton Cabinet, so named because it remained in Badminton, England, for over two centuries, had set the previous record in 1990 when Christie’s sold it to billionaire Barbara Piasecka Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson fortune) for $16.59 million. Johnson put it up for sale in 2004, when it was bought by Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein, who donated it to the Liechtenstein Museum in Austria.
Most Expensive Diamond
Item: Wittelsbach diamond
Winning Bid: $23.4 million
If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, the Wittelsbach would make one heck of a BFF. The 35.56-carat blue diamond dates back to the 17th century, when King Philip IV of Spain selected the jewel to be part of his daughter’s dowry. The diamond passed among Austrian and Bavarian royalty for centuries, but after World War I Bavaria became a republic and the jewel was repossessed by the state. Christie’s auction house tried to sell it in 1931 but apparently found no buyers. The diamond disappeared for a few decades only to resurface in 1962. A private collector purchased it in 1964, but sold it in 2008 for $23.4 million.
Most Expensive Sports Memorabilia
Item: Mark McGwire’s 70th-home-run baseball
Winning Bid: $3 million
You knew you were in for something special when Mark McGwire came to bat. With the best at-bats-per-home-run ratio in the history of baseball (10.61 compared to Babe Ruth’s 11.80), the St. Louis Cardinal was destined for Major League Baseball history. But McGwire’s real claim to fame came in 1998, when he beat the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa for the record of the most home runs in a single season. Comic-book creator and music producer Todd McFarlane bought the record-breaking 70th-home-run baseball for $3 million and added it to his collection of nine other Sosa and McGwire baseballs from the 1998 season. In 2003, McFarlane also purchased Barry Bonds’ 73rd-home-run baseball, for which he paid $450,000. Apparently steroid scandals decrease the value of sports memorabilia.