YEAR IN REVIEW: The Craziest Auction Sales of 2018
December 18, 2018
The year is coming to a close, and we’re trying our very best to fill you in on our favorite stories from 2018. One that always caught the attention of our readers was crazy auctions news. We’ve compiled a list of the most expensive items sold at auction this year below. From a handwritten note from Albert Einstein to a self-destructing Banksy painting, these treasures amassed millions of dollars from collectors looking to own a part of history. We’ve also linked the original stories below if you’re interested in deeper reading. Scroll down to see the craziest auction sales of 2018…
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A Note by Albert Einstein
Back in May, a handwritten note by the famous German-born scientist to a bellboy in Japan became a sought-after item for collectors. The old parchment paper with a small note about happiness was sold at a Jerusalem auction house for a whopping $1.3 million! Staying at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in 1922, Einstein had just recently discovered that he had won the Nobel Prize for Physics. When the hotel bellboy delivered a package to his room, the scientist discovered he had no change, and instead handed him a note of thanks instead. It read, “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than successful pursuit combined with constant restlessness.” Wouldn’t you say that Einstein’s prescription to “ultimate happiness” is much more valuable than some spare change? Apparently it is!
A 1923 Leica Series 0
A rare 1923 Leica Series 0 was sold at the WestLicht Camera auction in this year for $2.97 million (2.4 million euros). The buyer was an undisclosed Asian bidder. It became the most expensive camera ever sold, beating out a record held in 2012 by another 1923 Leica sold at 2.16 million euros. The particular model was part of a rare 25-piece prototype line produced in the early 1920s, and is one of three that has remained in its original condition. The WestLicht Museum, who held the auction, reported that the camera was functioning excellently when shooting sharp images. It was suspected that this particular model was used during World War II by photojournalists.
The Farnese Blue Diamond
The Farnese Blue, a 6.16-carat blue diamond gifted by the Governor of the Philippines to Queen Elisabeth Farnese of Spain for her wedding to King Philip, sold at a Sotheby’s auction in Geneva for $6.7 million earlier this year. When the royals wed in 1714, Spain was in a poor state. The King asked his different colonies around the world to send wedding presents to them instead of purchasing them in Spain. One of the most valuable was the Farnese Blue, a rare diamond mined at India’s Golconda mines (where Hope Diamond was also found), and later acquired by the Philippines for the new Queen.
For the last 300 years, the diamond has been passed down as an heirloom through different European royal families. After Queen Elisabeth of Spain, it made its way to France, to a descendant of Marie Antoinette. Its rich history and actual structural beauty made it a highly valuable item. Sotheby’s initial sale estimate of $3.5-$5 million was exceeded in only four minutes. The Farnese Blue sold for almost $7 million by an undisclosed, private bidder.
Picasso’s “Young Girl with Basket of Flowers”
Pablo Picasso’s Young Girl with Basket of Flowers (1905) sold at a Christie’s auction this year for $115 million. This became a new record for a Rockefeller family estate sale. The early oil on canvas work from the artist portrays a nude girl holding a basket filled blooms. Although the work lacks most of Picasso’s signature hallmarks, the piece is now the sixth most expensive painting every sold at auction. Before the Rockefeller family, it was owned by legendary cultural figures Leo and Gertrude Stein who purchased it directly from the artist. David Rockefeller acquired the work in 1968. The powerful New York City family has over 300 works by Picasso.
BONUS: Interrupted Auctions
Nelson Mandela’s Cell on Robben Island
Last July, a major auction controversy broke out when it was reported that The SleepOutMovement, an organization responsible for CEO SleepOut (a charity event for high-powered individuals), was planning to auction off a night to stay at Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. The group eventually pulled the plug on the auction, which was listed at a starting price of $250,000 with the write-up saying that it was “a once -in-a-lifetime opportunity to sleep in Mandela’s personal Cell Number 7.” The page was removed the following day. Mandela spent 27-years in his Robben Island concrete cell, sized at 2.4 by 2.1-meters.
Banksy’s “Girl with Balloon”
During an auction at Sotheby’s London last October, controversial artist Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2006, spray paint on canvas) self-destructed after fetching $1.4 million from a telephone bidder. Reports state that an alarm went off before the painting slowly moved down the frame and incinerated itself through a built in machine. Banksy posted a video of the shredding on his Instagram account after the event, with the caption, “‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge’ – Pablo Picasso”. It continued to show that he secretly built a shredder into the painting’s frame, “in case it was put up for auction.” The painting was expected to sell at three times more its final auction price, making this the most expensive Banksy painting sold at an auction.