Odd Lots: Curious Objects Up At Auction

Shrunken heads, ‘Enchanted Tiki’ apparel, and a Shakespearean goblet

Lot 1: A Handful of Skulls

To cast your thoughts toward something more cheerful than last week’s election, try seven tiny reminders of your mortality. Carved from ivory, porcelain, fruitwood, and metal, these miniature memento mori, dating from the seventeenth through the nineteenth century, are slated for auction in London later this month. The phrase memento mori, often symbolized by skulls or skeletons, translates as “remember you must die.” They were all the rage among Puritans, and pretty on-trend for 2016 too.

Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2016

This grouping is one of several eclectic auction lots within the delightfully named sale, Seward Kennedy’s Cabinet of Curiosities and the Tony Robinson Collection of Treen Drinking Vessels (not tween; treen, which means wooden in ye olde English). Kennedy, who met his end last year at the age of 89, had amassed, according to the auction catalogue, “Thousands upon thousands of idiosyncratic objects layered as thick as impasto on tabletops, shelves and in tumbled piles throughout his two residences on Park Avenue in New York City and Norland Square in London’s Notting Hill.”

As they say, you can’t take it with you. Soon this collection of craniums, despite their empty eye sockets, will peer out onto someone else’s life — whomever is willing to bid about £1,000 ($1,250).

Courtesy of Van Eaton Galleries

Lot 2: The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Dress

At a ‘Souvenirs of Disneyland’ auction in California next weekend, a gloriously kitschy vintage dress from 1963, the year the Enchanted Tiki Room debuted, will be on offer. Female cast members wore this get-up to welcome visitors to the South Seas-inspired show, with its squawking animatronic birds and talking Tiki statues. Bidding for this original starts at $400.

The garish uniforms, designed by Imagineer Rolly Crump, “were so popular that they were later made available for sale in Adventureland retail outlets,” according to the auctioneer. Speaking of which, this one is a women’s size small — can we get ModCloth on a replica stat?

Gentlemen, do not despair: two vintage ‘Enchanted Tiki’ men’s shirts are also available. True ‘Tiki’ enthusiasts might also be interested a “park-used animatronic sparrow prop” for $30,000.

Courtesy of PBA Galleries

Lot 3: The Holy Grail

William Shakespeare spent the last nineteen years of his life in Stratford-upon-Avon, where, it is said, he planted a mulberry tree in his garden in 1609. A subsequent property owner demolished the house, but the tree remained, and when the souvenir hunters began arriving, hopeful to snag a literary relic … timber! Whittlers turned Shakespeare’s mulberry into many different kinds of commemorative trinkets — some would say too many to believe.

This elaborately carved goblet, which goes under the hammer on November 17th, was made by one John Marshall in 1864 on the occasion of Shakespeare’s 300th birthday, with wood sourced from another carver of Shakespeare keepsakes. Decorative acorns, vines, and a bust of the Bard adorn the chalice, as does the line from Hamlet, “We shall not look upon his like again.”

“Realistically speaking, objects carved from Shakespeare’s mulberry tree are the closest one can get to owning an item directly associated with The Immortal Bard,” declares the San Francisco-based auctioneer, who estimates the cup’s worth at $10,000-$15,000.

Rebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places.