T.S. Eliot's Needlepoint, Sailors' Valentines, and Ronald McDonald

Curious objects up at auction.

 Lot 1: The Tale of Tom’s Kitten

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

If the musical Cats has a point of origin, it may be right here on this dainty square of linen bearing the embroidered image of a cat and his yarn ball, executed in yellow, green, and black thread. It was made by six-year-old Thomas Stearns Eliot, later known as T.S. Eliot, the austere English poet who published a book of verse in 1939 called Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which became the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning glam-cat success.

But this little scrap of needlepoint derives from Eliot’s deep dark past—before he wrote his most famous work, “The Waste Land,” before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, before he was even British. Say what? Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and he lived there for the first sixteen years of his life. (He renounced his American citizenship in 1927 at the age of 39.) As a child, he fashioned this kitty as a Christmas gift, and it is signed “Tom” in pencil on the back. The American Eliots have cherished it ever since, according to Heritage Auctions.

Next month, however, this piece of literary/Broadway ephemera goes to auction, conservatively valued at $1,000. If that’s not reason enough to revisit the musical’s Macavity scene, what is?

Lot 2: I Heart Shells 

If, while aboard the Pequod, Ishmael wanted to woo his lady back in Nantucket, he might have spent his days at sea crafting an elaborate seashell collage, known as a sailor’s valentine. Having collected hundreds of tiny exotic shells, he would paste them onto a board in a pattern, frequently floral in nature. Occasionally, a sentimental message was embedded in the design, e.g., “Think of Me,” as seen in the walnut-cased specimen headed to auction in Maine on August 17.

The auctioneer expects to bring in about $2,000 for this double-sided valentine in “very good” condition. A few other examples are also on offer if you’re in the market for a maritime valentine.

The tradition died out by century’s end, undeniably made redundant by the invention of those chalky Sweethearts candies with their more explicit messaging and (barely) edible delivery system.

Courtesy of James D. Julia Inc.


Lot 3: McMascot

Sure, the Hamburglar might be a cooler character, but just imagine the fun (and fright) that this 5’ 5” fiberglass statue of Ronald McDonald might conjure given some malevolent scheming. The iconic mascot for McDonald’s has been in decline for years—turns out people hate clowns, even when those clowns serve “Happy Meals.” So it’s hardly a surprise that this life-size advertising figurine was retired from a Northern Nevada drive-thru and consigned to auction on August 18. Bidding starts at $500.

Courtesy of Mid-Hudson Auction Galleries


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