Odd Lots: Curious Objects Up At Auction

Civil War-era medical instruments, a canine skeleton, and a famous club’s neon marquee

Lot 1: Amputation Tools

Courtesy of Case Antiques

On offer in Knoxville, Tennessee, on January 21 is this “nineteenth-century American surgeon’s field amputation kit in fitted, brass mounted, mahogany and satinwood veneered case with velvet lining,” and ugh, it’s that murky red velvet that really delivers the gut punch, considering the splatters it could be concealing. Nestled inside are 35 grisly-looking medical instruments, including a bone saw, scalpels, probes, and a tourniquet.

The auctioneers date this set to “circa 1870s,” i.e., post-anesthesia, but pre-Germ Theory, which means the patient would be knocked out while the doctor sawed off his leg, but he’d still have a decent chance of dying from infection soon after. As Dr. Stanley Burns, historical advisor to PBS’s medical-historical drama, Mercy Street, has written, “Of the approximately 30,000 amputations performed in the Civil War there was a 26.3-percent mortality rate.”

A twentieth-century Nashville doctor previously owned this kit, and although it bears signs of use — “some blades retain dark stains” — we imagine he wasn’t actively operating with it. Bidding starts at $1,200.

Lot 2: Dog Bones

Courtesy of Bonhams

This is pretty much exactly what it looks like: a dog’s skeleton mounted on a wooden base. To be slightly more specific, it’s an Irish wolfhound’s skeleton mounted on a wooden base.

If you’re thinking WTF, here’s the thing: large auction houses, in this case, Bonhams in London, occasionally hold sales under the rubric, “A Gentleman’s Library” or “Gentleman Collector,” where you’ll find an assortment of model ships, antique microscopes, and silver toast racks. Also, a dog skeleton. Was it a beloved pet? There is no mention. What we do know is that Wolfie stands 42” x 35” x 18” and is estimated to bring in the equivalent of $2,000 at auction on January 19.

If you happen to be in the possession of the Golden Tablet of Pharaoh Akhmenrah — which is totally the kind of object that would turn up at a “Gentleman’s” sale by the way — you might even get this carcass to play fetch à la “Rexy.”

Lot 3: Jim Morrison Played Here

Just last month, Sotheby’s sold the original hand-painted CBGB awning for $30,000, and in that light, neither the forthcoming sale on January 25 of this neon pink marquee for another legendary music club, nor its estimated price of $35,000–40,000, elicits much surprise.

Courtesy of Saco River Auction Co.

‘The Whisky,’ as it was known in the 1980s and 90s when this sign topped its entrance, is a Los Angeles rock club that has been open since 1964. So says the Maine-based auctioneer offering it: “Performing on its infamous stage is one of the true rites of passage in the world of rock ’n’ roll and it is credited with having launched the careers of countless bands including The Doors, Frank Zappa, Buffalo Springfield, Van Halen, Motley Crue, and Guns N’ Roses.” Now known as The Whisky a Go Go (its original name), the club remains a Sunset Strip attraction.

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