Odd Lots: Curious Objects Up At Auction

A pharmacy diorama, a Parisian Morris Column, and a taxidermied peacock

Lot 1: Where to Go for Old ℞

Courtesy of Doyle

This painted faux marble and gilt diorama appears to depict the interior of a pharmacist’s shop, with books, bottles, and albarelli (apothecary jars) showcased prominently. A closer peek inside reveals that the pharmacist supplements his income with part-time dentistry — he is admiring a tooth gripped in pincers that he has just yanked out of the seated man’s mouth. (Déjà vu.) Note also the mortar and pestle, and the two curtained doors labeled Medicamenta and Farmacopea.

Open Up and Say AAH!

The auction house offering this colorful model for sale on May 24 believes it to date from the nineteenth century, although the men inside look to be dressed for an earlier century. Maybe that was meant to be part of its peculiar charm when it was crafted to honor a doctor who seems to have had superior skills, even as he lacked an aseptic examining room.

“We come across all manner of objects, but this could be the first pharmacy!” said Todd Sell, vice president at Doyle auction house in New York. If rarity is a prescription for success at auction, this one should surpass its $2,000–3,000 estimate.

Lot 2: Plastered Paris


Advertising columns took root in European cities in the mid-nineteenth century. These totally tubular structures were designed to display posters and announcements for theater, music, and film— a public service, with the added benefit of dissuading folks from plastering their promotional handbills elsewhere. In Paris, they are known as Morris Columns, after printer Gabriel Morris. The hunter green colonnes, built by a group called La Société Fermière des Colonnes Morris, became part of the city’s landscape.

In 1986, an advertising company purchased La Société, and a year later it deaccessioned one of the columns and gave it to an anonymous collector. That collector is now offering his prized column at auction on May 23 for an estimated $33,000–44,000. Shipping not included; this thing stands nearly twenty feet high and is constructed of cast iron and steel.

In the twenty-first century, 223 Morris columns still populate Paris, although upgrades have been made — they light up! and rotate! — over the years.

Lot 3: Let Me See Your Peacock

Paging Katy Perry… here’s a peacock sure to please, and one you’d be proud to show anyone. Stuffed and mounted to a tree branch, the specimen is ready for display in your Beverly Hills home. Coincidentally, it will be auctioned in Los Angeles.

Courtesy of Bonhams

This fluffy white peacock is a genetic variant of the Indian blue peafowl — not an albino, as the auction catalog explains in exhaustive detail. A similar bird sold at auction in New York five years ago for $2,750, the low end of what this one is expected to fetch on May 24.

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