3 Unexpected Sales at Auction

A visit to the auction can generate all sorts of reactions from other people when they learn of what you’ve bought. You could be happily showing off the great deal you won, where you couldn’t believe no one else had spotted the potential being waved around the room. Or, you might have got so caught up in the emotion of the bid that you instantly regretted the final wave of your paddle, the moment the hammer went down.

These contrasting emotions and reactions, from auctions, have thrown up many remarkable and unexpected stories. Here are a few of our favourites:

The Roman Empire – sold to the man in the purple robe

In 193AD, the Roman Empire was in turmoil. A new Emperor, Pertinax, had been appointed with the promise of great reforms – but his 3-month tenure ended abruptly when his own Pretorian Guard grew impatient with his unfulfilled promises and assassinated him. The Guards then took it on themselves to auction the entire Roman Empire to the highest bidder – they held all the swords after all.

Can you imagine Trump, Gates, Branson, Abramovich, Zuckerberg and Buffett all bidding for power today?

The bids started to come in, from various wealthy Senate members, before Didius Julianus finally made an offer of 25,000 sestertii per guardsman. This was the equivalent to two lifetime’s pay for most of the soldiers there, so they were more than happy to accept their new Emperor. I can only imagine the sleepless nights that Didius must have suffered in the days the followed, however, as 66-days later it emerged that he didn’t have that much money and the guard ended his reign (and life) in a similar fashion to his predecessor.

The art of the expensive sale

Art is one of those things that is always likely to fetch more at an auction than through a private sale. The main drivers tend to be collector’s obsession and the one-of-a-kind uniqueness of the piece; and the results are often way beyond the guide price or general expectation.

In November 2017, the record for a piece of art at auction was more than doubled with the sale of Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci for an incredible $450m. The previous most expensive was Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger at a mere snippet of just $185m (several other paintings have sold for amounts between these two values – but they were all private sales, not at auction).

The buyer was the Abu Dhabi, Department of Culture & Tourism: and I can’t help thinking what an interesting boardroom meeting that would have been before the purchase. “Any other business anyone?”, “Er, yes, I was going to pop down to Christie’s, New York, this afternoon – anyone want anything?“

eBay goes a little bit crazy

Here are some of the things that have been advertised on eBay over the last twenty years. One ten-year-old girl managed to get into her parents account and put her grandmother up for sale – this did, of course, raise more concerned enquiries than actual enquiries and eventually Nan was removed from the site. Another enterprising mind was offering ‘the meaning of life’ (not a DVD of the old Monty Python movie), and elsewhere a haunted rubber duck and an imaginary friend were put up for sale.

And, if those things don’t boggle your mind, imagine having to explain to your partner why you have just parted with $28k for a piece of toast with an image of the Virgin Mary on one side? It’s true – I read about it on the internet.

Building from the Roman Empire