Odd Lots: Curious Objects Up At Auction

The earthly remains of Alexander Hamilton, Oskar Schindler’s tchotchkes, and expired whiskey

Lot 1: Hamilton’s Hair

Alexander Hamilton may have been “young, scrappy and hungry” as described by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the Broadway musical, but he also had “hella good hair,” to quote another song completely out of context. A tiny, coiled lock of that hair, preserved in a blue velvet locket case, will be offered at auction in New York on January 18, for an estimated $15,000–25,000.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Obviously, the timing couldn’t be better for an auction devoted to the founding father, and this one boasts an “important family archive of letters and manuscripts,” many of which are unknown to curators and collectors. According to Sotheby’s: “The sale, the first of its kind, will tell the story of [Hamilton’s] brief but momentous life through hundreds of documents that have descended in the family for the last two centuries.”

There are legal papers and love letters, several of which are expected to land in the six figures once the auctioneer’s hammer falls. The hair is the only piece of Hamilton’s remains for sale (icky though it may sound, hair is hardly unique at auction), and it is accompanied by a letter written by Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, presenting it as a gift to her sister-in-law, to be used “for a ring.”

Lot 2: Schindler’s Jewelry and Ephemera

You hear the name Oskar Schindler and immediately think Liam Neeson. Fair enough. In the film Schindler’s List (1993), which won seven Academy Awards, Neeson portrayed the famous German industrialist who saved the lives of about 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. He thus became a household name.

Courtesy of Lyon & Turnbull

So it’s unsurprising that Schindler’s stuff would appear on the market. In 2013, documents related to his Krakow factory sold for $122,000, and one of his original typed “lists” surfaced on eBay, but the $3-million opening bid was too steep for any buyer. This upcoming lot, which goes to auction in Edinburgh on January 11, is a little different. It contains small, personal items that belonged to Schindler and his wife, as if someone dumped out the contents of their bric-a-brac drawer: a wooden business card bearing Schindler’s name and a Frankfurt address, a notebook of German-Spanish translations, a compass said to have been used by the couple while fleeing Russian troops in 1945; two pens; and miscellaneous jewelry, including a watch, four bracelets, four brooches, and a necklace.

The winning bidder — dear God let him/her be a decent human with good intentions — may secure this strangely intimate assemblage for about £2,000 ($2,500).

Courtesy of Morphy Auctions

Lot 3: The Wild, Wild West

Among the golden nuggets and antique poker chips to be sold at auction on January 19 in Las Vegas (natch), there are two items that simply must be paired for some real old-timey frontier fun. First up: A mostly full (lightly sipped?) bottle of Custer’s Reserve Whiskey. The back bar bottle depicts the handsome general on horseback, c. 1895. Custer was long dead by then; this “extremely rare” bottle of spirits memorializes the … cough … American hero. With a $10,000 buy-in though, will the winner drink it?

Hell, yes. How else would one prepare to pony up $100,000–200,000 for a Bowie knife later in the day? While there are several dozen knives on offer, one sticks out: a ten-inch blade given by Rezin Bowie, brother of the weapon’s designer, to his friend, Edwin Forrest, a Shakespearean actor from Philadelphia, sometime around 1835. That dramatic provenance “should be of great interest to historians, museums, and militaria enthusiasts worldwide,” according to the auction house.

Courtesy of Morphy Auctions

More whiskey?

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