Curious Objects At Auction

Vivien Leigh’s “Streetcar” wig, a medieval purse, and an ad for NY’s Museum of Anatomy

Lot 1:  Bleached for Blanche

Courtesy of Sotheby’s

This hairpiece was always meant to look “untidy, unkempt, poor and tatty,” to reflect the character of Blanche DuBois, a Southern belle in rapid decline, as played by Vivien Leigh in the classic 1951 film, A Streetcar Named Desire. Most importantly, though, it had to be blonde. Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, whom she also famously portrayed, Leigh was a bold brunette.

The screen-worn wig with sewn-in label was made in London c. 1950 and comes to auction within the highly publicized Vivien Leigh Collection at Sotheby’s in London. The auctioneer estimates that it will bring about $500-750, which seems low considering the potential for a TCM fetish party. It is slated for sale on September 26 alongside loads of books, art, Hollywood memorabilia, and even one of Leigh’s homes, Manor Farm House in Wiltshire, England.

Leigh won the Oscar for best actress starring opposite Marlon Brando, who did not win best actor, his notorious belting of “Hey Stella!” notwithstanding.

Lot 2: Vintage Handbag

Courtesy of Bonhams

You might find a handmade drawstring satchel like this on Etsy, perhaps even at Ten Thousand Villages, but this is an original bespoke creation, almost medieval in origin—it was made during the reign of James I, likely in the 1620s. Shakespeare’s daughters might have carried a wool and silk bag just like the one, embroidered with fruits and flowers and decorated with black beads. (Ethically made with recycled fibers by local artisans, we’re assuming.)

To fund this purse, you’ll need deep pockets. Bonhams expects it to reach at least $5,000 when it goes to auction in London on September 20.


Lot 3: Not Your Everyday Broadway Freak Show

Courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions

Ah, the old New York, where popular entertainment once included embalmed bodies, conjoined twins, and a horned man. Between 1840-1940, these were common sights at “freak shows” and dime museums around the city, such as the Museum of Anatomy located at 618 Broadway between Houston and Bleecker Streets. According to the promotional broadside headed to auction in Cincinnati on September 8, this “palace of marvel, mystery and wonder,” established in 1848, also featured hermaphrodites, wax models of murderers, and “splendid dissections” of the lungs of a bullfrog. It’s even worse in the fine print.

But, for a few hundred dollars, this slightly chipped and stained ad measuring 5.5” x 18.5” could make for an excellent souvenir from the “good old bad old days” in New York.


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