Odd Lots: Curious Objects Up At Auction

An anatomical model, haute couture newsprint, and a ticket to America’s first impeachment

Lot 1: Nightmare in Wax

Coming up in Hong Kong on April 4 is an auction devoted to “Curiosity,” a trendy catch-all for fossils and ancient figurines, and, in this case, mammoth tusk snow goggles and an eighteenth-century steel corset. It is lot 3008 that really turns heads, though.

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

This wax anatomical model divides the human head into two halves: the left showing an empty eye socket, teeth, and a network of cranial nerves; the flayed right half revealing the facial muscles. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists produced realistic wax models such as this for medical students, based on available drawings or under the direction of the rare surgeon who had actually practiced on a real cadaver. (Dissectible wax women were the basis of a major exhibit and a fascinating book, The Anatomical Venus by Joanna Ebenstein, in 2016.)

According to Sotheby’s, this objet d’art (and science) was possibly crafted by a follower of Clemente Susini, an Italian sculptor known for his vivid anatomical models. It is estimated to sell for about $30,000.

Lot 2: All the News that’s Fit to Wear

Courtesy of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers

While Sex and the City fans may bolt upright at the phrase “newspaper dress,” this haute couture newsprint slip dress varies slightly from the much beloved one (see #8 or #15) worn by Carrie Bradshaw in the now-classic HBO series. Carrie’s flouncy version was a Dior designed by John Galliano. This one, for sale in Chicago on April 5, also designed by Galliano under his own label, is more of a hip-hugger, with mesh straps and black lace trim. And while the style may have been different, the message was the same: newspapers are chic. (Right?!)

The listed size is 30, but that’s European sizing. In America, it’s a size 0, fit for mannequins and tweens with $500 to spare.

Lot 3: The Hottest Ticket in Town

Want to re-enact a presidential impeachment? Grab your ticket and get in line.

Courtesy of The Written Word Autographs

In 1868, gaining admittance to the year’s best spectacle meant securing a ticket to one of President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trials. What did the seventeenth president do to deserve such unfair treatment? In short, he appeared too lenient with the Confederate states in the aftermath of the Civil War and removed from office Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, with whom he disagreed. Apparently Johnson did not have the power to make that decision solo, so the House of Representatives took the opportunity to impeach him in February. Then the case went to the Senate for a series of trials spanning March to May; the ticket and detached stub seen here admitted the bearer to the May 11 proceedings. In the end, one vote acquitted Johnson.

This political tidbit goes under the hammer in the battleground state of New Hampshire during an April 8–9 autographs auction. Bidding starts at $240.

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