Two pairs of rather ordinary spectacles offered at auction, nine months apart. One sold for £137,000, the other for almost twice as much at £260,000. What is the difference?
The first pair, green-tinted and missing a screw, had been left in the back of Ringo Starr’s Mercedes in the summer of 1968. Of course they belonged to John Lennon, outspoken self-appointed leader of The Beatles and one of the nation’s foremost cultural icons of the 20th century.
It was not just that they were Lennon’s that made them so expensive, however; it was really because the specs themselves were the defining feature of his physical persona – the accessory from which he was instantly identifiable and so, really, considered a part of his personality itself.
The same, too, can be said for the second pair of spectacles; also small, round and a defining part of their owner’s persona. Of course, I am talking here about the pair belonging to Gandhi that sold at auction in Bristol in August.
Like Lennon, Gandhi was a cultural icon, and while Lennon was to a degree an anti-establishment political figure, Gandhi was the global personification of this phenomenon.
In both cases, what we are talking about here are ‘religious’ relics, items representing ideals that resonate so much with our contemporary consciousness that they are imbued with an almost magical ability to provide a direct link to the extraordinary figures whose faces they once graced.