What turns you on? Are you vanilla or more extreme? Art and cars or sweaty shoes and broken bones? Because when it comes to collecting—and that’s what I’m talking about here, obviously—you’d be amazed at what’s hot right now.
Or maybe you wouldn’t. That’s the thing: These days almost anything can be a collectible, so long as its rarity, provenance, and condition are exemplary. I was chatting with a member of our RR1 community not long ago, and he told me about his “bunker,” where he displays a selection of artifacts from villains and scoundrels from centuries past (think outlaw cowboys and particularly infamous murderers). Weird? Possibly. Fascinating? Probably—certainly to him. And there’s the rub: Where there’s an audience, there’s a market, and the unusual sells.
That’s a long way of saying welcome to our second collecting issue, which includes a little something for everyone. To return to those shoes and bones I mentioned up top, what I was referring to were two trending sectors of connoisseurship: sports memorabilia and dinosaurs.
People have been collecting ephemera related to baseball, soccer, and various other sports since who knows when. But there seems to be no ceiling on what’s currently possible, in terms of prices realized at auction, in that realm. Those sweaty shoes? Michael Jordan’s flu-drenched Bulls kit from the fifth game of the NBA finals in ’97—Air Jordans and all—was handed to a ball boy who, it’s fair to say, couldn’t believe his luck. He thought himself doubly fortunate a decade and a half later when he netted more than $100,000 for the sneakers at auction. Let’s hope he was smart with his winnings: In June the same pair hammered at $1.38 million. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
We asked Christina Binkley, a Pulitzer Prize winner at The Wall Street Journal, to explore what’s fueling demand and driving these prices. She consulted dealers and buyers alike: Her account of the mayhem in the world of memorabilia starts in the story linked here.
To trinkets of a more ancient sort, as features director Julie Belcove dug deep into the antiquities market to ponder: Can you even admit to being a collector in this category anymore? Is it ethically permissible? And how can you ever know for sure exactly what you’re buying and who it might really belong to? As repatriation debates over the fates of prizes such as the Benin Bronzes and the Parthenon Marbles rage, Belcove spoke to lawyers, museum curators, collectors, and academics to establish some rules for the acquisition and continued ownership of these items of global heritage. Whether you have any such pieces in your collection or not, it makes for riveting reading.
As does the accompanying piece on an increasingly trendy collectible, dinosaur skeletons. We live in a world where the biggest lot—in every sense—at a Christie’s auction a few years ago was a 37-foot-tall T. rex, which outperformed the various Picassos, Renoirs, and Cézannes going under the hammer at the same time. But these bones can also have murky origins, with some countries such as Mongolia demanding the return of all fossils found on, or under, its soil. (Export laws differ widely from country to country.) Celebrity collectors have been burned to the tune of millions of dollars and unethical dealers jailed. Turns out dinos have lost none of their bite.
We also take a trip to Denmark to tour a fabulous car collection in a garage made from Lego (sort of), embark on a serious taste-testing of collectible Spanish wines you might not have heard of (really, the lengths we’re prepared to go to for you all), and compare Star Trek and Star Wars merch (no, they’re very much not all the same). Plus, we speak to maverick artist Daniel Arsham; drive Rolls-Royce’s first electric vehicle, Spectre; and inspect the new generation of loafers, living their best lives. Quite the collection.
Enjoy the issue.