The other day someone asked me what, among today’s consumer disposables, I thought would make serious money as collectables in the future. Having read about the $100,000 just taken at auction for an original Super Mario Bros game (no, I didn’t know what that was either) I would say the most iconic of computer games must be among them.
Apparently the original game came out in 1985 and was played on a Nintendo NES console (no, still no idea). The one that made a fortune at auction was a tester copy sent out to trial the game, and that is what makes it particularly desirable because the game itself was not rare at all.
What especially interests me, though, is that even when it comes to the most modern collectables, the old rules still determine value: rarity, condition etc. In this case, what added hugely to the price – as it does with toys in general – is that the game remained unopened and so in its original and undamaged packaging.
If you really want to see how far people will go to secure the ultimate rarity, consider the $87,000 paid for a Black Lotus Card from the 1993 card trading game Magic The Gathering. Only 1100 of the original version were made.
What did you buy your loved one for Valentine’s Day? Flowers? Chocolates? Perfume? Perhaps even a bit of jewellery?
In recent years, the most generous of gifts ever bought at auction or at art fairs for a loved one must surely be those endowed by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich – once a part-time resident just up the road above Rake – on his now ex-wife Dasha Zhukova, one of the world’s foremost art collectors.
Starting with Femme de Venise I, a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti at £7.5 million, which he bought in 2008, he worked his way up through a group of 40 paintings by the Russian artist Ilya Kabakov – at around £20 million plus each – to works by Francis Bacon (£45 million) and Lucian Freud (£20 million).
Beyond the world of art and auctions, I think that it will be hard for anyone to top the greatest expression of love through a gift that is the Taj Mahal. The 17th century wonder was commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in tribute to his much mourned favourite wife, Mumtaz. Taking over 20,000 workmen and craftsmen more than 20 years to, build, it cost the equivalent of around £500 million in today’s money.
I once found an ancient flint arrowhead just sitting on a chalk path on the South Downs. I’ve no idea what its value would be, or how rare they are, although I expect quite a few have survived down the centuries.
I thought of it when I read the news of a meteorite coming up for sale on Valentine’s Day – the meteorite in question, which crash-landed in Siberia in 1947, is heart-shaped. It came from a huge mass of iron that broke free of the asteroid belt 320 million years ago and, luckily, disintegrated as it entered Earth’s atmosphere, nevertheless wreaking considerable damage even in its dispersed state. The heart-shaped fragment – more desirable than the rest – has a high estimate of $500,000.
That’s somewhat less than the $1m expected for three tiny moon rocks collected by a Soviet space mission in 1970 – reputedly the only documented lunar rocks in private hands.
How much, then, for what has been revealed as Earth’s oldest rock, discovered among the samples brought back from the Moon by Apollo 14? Its composition identified it as having been formed beneath the Earth’s surface, ending up on the Moon after a collision with an asteroid four billion years ago.
One of the best bits of news of the past week is that the antiques trade now has its own museum exhibition, which has opened in the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle in the Peak District.
SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story, has been developed by Dr Mark Westgarth of the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at Leeds and will run until May 5.
While the exhibition focuses on the history of dealing rather than auctions, it does so in a way that demonstrates the contribution made by the trade in general to our cultural landscape. The method is to tell the story through a series of objects loaned by museums across the land, exploring the relationship between the art market and museums, which can be the subject of much controversy and discussion these days.
This is incredibly important because the symbiotic relationship between auction house specialists, dealers and museum curators has been central to the development of the best collections now in public institutional hands. For it is the dealers and specialists who often know more about objects, partially because so many pass through their hands, while the curators are often faced with largely static collections and don’t have access to such variety.
Long may this constructive set of relationships continue!