Mourning jewelry, Obama's scribbles, and a "short snorter"

Curious objects at auction.

Lot 1: Bling for Día de Los Muertos  

Courtesy of Freeman’s

Jewelry that honors the dead is a creepy/cool tradition that’s been around for ages. Less garish than the sugar skulls associated with the Mexican holiday that begins on October 31, these pieces also feature skulls and skeletons, and sometimes angels, hourglasses, and hair from the dearly departed.

A bone-chilling collection of bereavement bling, once owned by collectors Irvin and Anita Schorsch, is headed to auction in Philadelphia. Among the highlights is a late seventeenth-century gold and enamel “slide” set in seed pearls that portrays, at its center, an angel flanked by two skulls. Refashioned, it would make a perfect engagement ring for “Portlandia’s” Goth couple (and a steal at $1,000-2,000). Perhaps an enameled skeleton brandishing an arrow in one hand and an hourglass in the other, against a braided hairwork backdrop, is more your (spooky) style? That one will cost about the same. 

Courtesy of Freeman’s

It’ll be too late to buy these macabre charms for this year’s Halloween or Día, but the winning bidders on November 15 can save them for next year’s ghoulish celebrations.

Lot 2: Deep Thoughts with Barack Obama

Courtesy of University Archives

Another timely offering comes to auction on November 7 in Westport, Connecticut, one day shy of our nation’s woeful anniversary. And it couldn’t be more appropriate: words of handwritten inspiration by Barack Obama: “Do your homework.” “Diplomacy.” “True to values; knowing what we do is right.”

The notes appear on the backside of a ragged sheet of notebook paper, the front of which lays out the former president’s workout routine (not in his handwriting), including “Incline bench press (10 reps),” “Hammer curls (10 reps),” and “Toe Touch Abs (15 reps).” Which side makes us feel more despondent? His thoughtful brainstorming on American character or his kick-ass exercise regimen?

Somebody please buy this for the estimated $3,000-4,000 and mail it to: Current Occupant, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20500.

Lot 3: Roll ’Em If You Got ’Em

Courtesy of Swann Galleries

It’s hard to believe that something called a “short snorter,” and which involves tightly rolled currency, has nothing to do with cocaine. Still, Swann Galleries insists it is a legit historical relic—a bank note, or a scroll of them joined end to end, on which autographs are collected. According to the auctioneer, “The tradition began in the 1920s when some pilots began commemorating a meeting by signing each other’s bank notes. If two such pilots met again, one of them might be challenged to produce the signed note; if he could not, he would be obligated to buy a drink—not a tall drink, but rather a ‘short snort,’ as too much alcohol is deadly for a pilot.”

This particular example, for sale on November 7 in New York, belonged to Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich. It contains nearly a thousand signatures, mostly of military and entertainment celebrities from the 1940s, and spans 83 bills from around the world. Seems like quite a wad to carry around just to avoid buying a drink for someone. Bidding is expected to reach $3,500-5,000.


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