From Churchill’s dentures to Kanye West concert air - these are the weirdest items that have gone under the hammer

Joff van Reenen has seen some strange items come under the hammer at auctions. Picture: Supplied

Joff van Reenen has seen some strange items come under the hammer at auctions. Picture: Supplied

Published May 5, 2023


Durban - When it comes to items that celebrities once owned or used, buyers at auctions generally go all out, but there are times when it doesn’t involve a famous person and is just downright weird.

Founder and CEO of Chant Laboratory, an online auction platform, Joff van Reenen has been in the auction industry for around three decades, and has seen it all.

From auctioning off a set of pre-owned false teeth, through to the charred remains of someone, Van Reenen shares insight into the sometimes quirky side of the auction business.

The online auctioneer recalls the day he was auctioning off the estate of a deceased person. The executors handling the estate compiled an inventory list and marked one item as a “wooden box”.

“Imagine my horror when I opened it and found the recently deceased owner’s late husband’s ‘cremains’ (cremated remains) inside! I naturally tried to withdraw the box from the auction, but the executors were adamant that if it was on the inventory, it had to go,” Van Reenen said.

After contemplating his next move with the sale of the “wooden box”, Van Reenen said he opted to invite a local priest to the auction.

The priest ended up buying the “wooden box” for R25 and performed a last rites ceremony to make sure the soul the ashes was once connected to, made it safely to the other side.

Although South Africa experienced some peculiar auctions, it does not take the cake when it comes to bizarre items.

Joff van Reenen has seen some strange items come under the hammer at auctions. Picture: Supplied

These are some of Van Reenen’s favourite weird global auctioned items that fetched high prices:

Winston Churchill’s dentures – In 2010, a set of the former British Prime Minister’s teeth sold for a $23 700 (approximately R438 000).

One of the World’s Smallest Books – In 2021, a leather-bound book measuring 5mm by 5mm – smaller than the end of a pencil – containing versions of the Lord’s Prayer in Dutch, English, American English, French, German, Spanish and Swedish, was auctioned in Brussels for £3 500 (approximately R85 500).

Unusual Wheels – A red motorised wheelchair used by the late, great Stephen Hawking in the 1980s and 90s sold for $393 000 (approximately R7.2 million) in 2018, with proceeds going to one of his foundations and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

A slice of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake was sold for $7 500 (approximately R137 000) by Julien’s Auctions in Beverley Hills.

Vampire Killing Kit – In 2022, a vampire killing kit was auctioned in England for $15 736 (approximately R287 000). The kit included stakes and a gun with silver bullets.

Virgin Mary on Toast – In 2004, a partially-eaten grilled cheese sandwich that reportedly bore the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay for $28 000 (approximately R517 000).

Guinea Pig Armour – In 2013, a suit of armour specially made for a guinea pig sold for $24 300 (approximately R443 000).

The guinea pig armour. Picture: Ebay

Scrimshawed Whale Tooth – In 2017, a 19th century whale tooth engraved with whaling scenes was auctioned in the US for $456 000 (approximately R8.3m).

The Scrimshawed Whale Tooth. Picture: Pinterest

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Hair – In 2010, a lock of the French Emperor’s hair was auctioned in New Zealand for $13 000 (approximately R240 000).

Russell Crowe’s Jockstrap – Bought for $6 500 (approximately R118 000) in 2018, the item from Crowe’s role in Cinderella Man was part of his post-divorce auction aptly named “The Art of Divorce”.

Russel Crowe’s jockstrap. Picture: Wikipedia

Arguably, one of the strangest items was Kanye West’s concert air. In 2015, a jar of air supposedly captured at a Kanye West concert sold for $60 100 (approximately R1.1m) on eBay.