Another collection of the most expensive items in the world.
Most Expensive Piece of (Grounded) Scientific Equipment: ITER International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
Most Expensive Private Boat/Yacht: Eclipse
Though official costs have never been announced for the majority of “superyachts”, one of the frontrunners is Eclipse, a 533 foot motor yacht built by Blohm and Voss for Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, and completed in 2010, and an estimated construction cost between $375,000,000 and $1,200,000,000 (that’s quite a lot of room, I know, but details regarding construction tend to me nonspecific, particularly financial details). Requiring a crew of 70, this floating palace can reportedly accommodate 36 guests, and retains two helipads as well as its own submarine.
Most Expensive Piece of Paper Currency: 1890 United States Small Seal $1000 Treasury Note
This piece, the only copy in private hands, is referred to as the “Grand Watermelon” design due to the unusual resemblance of the zeroes on the reverse of the note to watermelons. The piece was such an unusual issue when printed, numbering less than 200 original pieces, that the selection of historical figures to put on the front of the bill was limited from Presidents and Founding Fathers to U.S. Civil War general George Meade, commanding officer of the victorious Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg, but a figure that was constantly overshadowed by the General in Chief, and future President, Ulysses S. Grant. The note’s rarity, high denomination, and condition grade led to the record-setting sale by Heritage Auctions in early 2014.
Most Expensive Movie Prop: Aston Martin DB5, “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball”
The most iconic car in the history of spy films, making a reappearance in 2012’s “Skyfall”, the DB5 is the quintessential Bond car. This particular model, chassis number DB5/1486/R, was the car primarily used for driving shots and was as a result referred to as the “Road Car” , making appearances as the preferred method of transport for Sean Connery in both “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball.” Sold in a 2010 auction by Sotheby’s, the vehicle made its way from London to the Ohio home of collector Harry Yeaggy. While this car was fitted with all the gadgets, including the dual machine guns, revolving license plates and ejector seat, it was not originally. The car that had all these modifications used during filming was another DB5, chassis number DP216/1, was called, quite sensibly, the “Effects Car”, and was stolen from an airport hangar in Boca Raton, Florida in 1997, and has not been seen since. The car had a $4,000,000 insurance policy, but, given the performance of its fellow “Goldfinger” veteran, would likely be worth substantially more today.
Most Expensive Book/Manuscript: Codex Leicester (Codex Hammer), Leonardo Da Vinci
Codex Leicester was written around 1508, and is one of 30 or so similar books produced by Da Vinci across his lifetime. Within the Codex Leicester’s 72 loose pages are around 300 notes and detailed drawings rendered in chalk and brown ink, alongside Leonardo’s famed ‘mirror writing’. All of these sketches are based around a common theme: water and how it moved. Codex Leicester’s historical importance is further bolstered by the fact that Da Vinci is thought to have used its contents as research to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. Bought by billionaire Bill Gates in 1994, its pages were scanned into digital image files, some of which were later distributed as screen saver and wallpaper files on a CD-ROM as Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95. The Codex is put on public display once a year in a different city around the world, and is currently on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for the exhibition “Leonardo Da Vinci, the Codex Leicester, and the Creative Mind” and will remain on display there until August 30, 2015.
Most Expensive Letter: 1953 Letter from Francis Crick Detailing the Discovery of DNA
Written by Francis Crick in 1953 to his son Michael Crick, outlining the revolutionary discovery of the structure and function of DNA, this record-setting piece of paper was knocked down to an anonymous bidder in 2013. In the seven-page handwritten letter ‘Secret Of Life to his 12-year-old son, Francis Crick describes his discovery of the structure of DNA as something “beautiful”. It includes a simple sketch of DNA’s double helix structure. The letter began: “My dear Michael, Jim Watson and I have probably made a most important discovery. “We have built a model for des-oxy-ribose-nucleic-acid (read carefully) called DNA for short” and concludes “Read this carefully so that you will understand it. When you come home we will show you the model. Lots of love, Daddy.” Crick, along with James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, was given the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for “discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.
Most Expensive Piece of Furniture: The Badminton Cabinet
This piece is not actually used for the sport of Badminton in any way, but draws its name from the home of the Dukes of Beaufort, for whom it was made. Executed in ebony, gilt-bronze and pietra dura (essentially mosaics used in furniture), The Badminton Cabinet was made for Henry Somerset, 3rd Duke of Beaufort (who was 19 at the time of his order), by the Grand Ducal workshops in Florence, from 1720-1732, under the supervision of the Foggini family. Standing 386 cm high and 232.5 cm wide (151 ½ inches by 91 ¼ inches, more than 12.5 feet tall), this monumental Cabinet is considered the greatest Florentine work of art of its time, and possibly the most important work of the decorative arts to have been commissioned by a British patron in three hundred years. The Cabinet incorporates an amazing wealth of materials, from lapis lazuli, agate and Sicilian red and green jasper, to chalcedony and amethyst quartz. It was purchased at a Christie’s auction in 2004 by Dr. Johan Kraeftner, Director of the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, on behalf of Prinz Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein for the same museum.
Most Expensive Flag: Ernest Shackleton’s Royal Standard
The most expensive flag sold at auction is the Royal Standard rescued by Sir Ernest Shackleton from his doomed ship, the Endurance, which went to an anonymous buyer in 26 September 2002 for £116,000 ($180,600) at Christie’s, London, UK. The flag was presented to Shackleton in 1914 by the dowager Queen Alexandra before he set off on his historic voyage to the Antarctic. The painted silk standard was one of only two things that Shackleton saved from his ship before it was crushed in the winter ice. The explorer then carried the flag inside his coat as he and his men set out on their heroic journey to Elephant Island. Shackleton eventually found help in South Georgia after making a 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) journey across treacherous seas in a small open boat. The National Maritime Museum of the United Kingdom has attempted to purchase the flag several times, but it still remains in private (anonymous) hands.
Most Expensive Bottle of Wine: Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992
(Cont.) Cheval Blanc, 1947
Sold in 2000, a six-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet currently holds the unofficial title of most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction. It went under the hammer at a charity wine auction in Napa for the staggering sum of $500,000, and was reported to have been purchased by Chase Bailey, a former Cisco Systems executive. However, this record is considered invalid in the wine collecting world, due to its sale as a part of a fundraiser. The “official” holder of the title is an imperial bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc that was sold at auction for the sum of $304,375 in November 2010, setting a world record for the most expensive single bottle of wine ever sold at auction (and the highest of which public record is available). The now 68-year-old bottle, the only known bottle in the Imperial format from this particular Saint-Emilion vintage, was sold to a private collector at Christies, smashing the auction house’s estimated price of between $150,000 and $200,000. By glass, the most expensive wine ever sold is a bottle of Château Lafite, 1787 that was thought to be from the personal cellar of Thomas Jefferson. At $26,075 per glass, it should probably be saved for a special occasion.
Most Expensive Bottle of Champagne: Goût de Diamants (Taste of Diamonds) Limited Edition
Most Expensive Beanie Baby: Royal Blue Peanut the Elephant
This particular Beanie, Peanut the Elephant, was issued on June 3, 1995 and retired on May 1, 1998. However, the royal blue version was only produced (accidentally) from June 3, 1995 to October 1995, and was only made with a 3rd generation heart tag. It is believed that only 2,000 of the royal blue version were produced making it one of the rarest Beanie Babies ever made; this particular example, the most expensive Beanie sold (that I could find a record of), was sold for just over $3000 on an internet auction in 2000. Figures fly about the rare 1997 “Employee version”, of which only 300 were made, and were given to Ty employees and Reps on September 13, 1997 at the Second Annual Appreciation Night, or the “Princess Diana” Beanie, which has been listed on eBay for prices in the tens of thousands of dollars, but has never sold for anywhere near that range. The takeaway here is that you can most likely let your kids play with your old Beanie Babies.
Most Expensive Action Figure: 1964 G.I. Joe Prototype
This prototype, carefully constructed of hand-shaped and shaved plastic, hand-crafted metal, and hand-sewn fabric, was the brainchild of Don Levine, Creative Director at Hasbro in the mid-1960s, who developed an idea first proffered by licensing guru Stan Weston, that little boys would play with a doll as much as little girls would — it simply had to be the right doll, and it had to be called an “action figure.” The prototype is crafted and consists of a plastic body with wire-spring joints, a hand-painted plastic head that was created by pulling a temporary mold from a carved wooden original and a completely hand-sewn uniform of olive-drab fatigues and requisite four-pocketed field jacket with a set of hand-stitched, superbly-detailed three-tiered chevrons worn on each shoulder, reflecting the rank of E-5 [sergeant]. Sold in a private sale overseen by Heritage Auctions in 2003, this piece, which serves more as a piece of pop culture than an average collectible, brought $200,000.
Most Expensive Sports Card: 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner
At more than five times the price of the second-place card in this category (a rare Babe Ruth rookie card from his brief career with the Baltimore Orioles, which sold for $517,000), the coveted Holy Grail of baseball cards is the American Tobacco Company’s T206 card of Pittsburgh Pirates player Honus Wagner (sports cards were issued by tobacco companies for approximately half a century before they were used in packs of gum). This card was pulled from circulation after 200 had made it to market because Wagner didn’t want to support tobacco use for his young fans; 57 exist today. A PSA 8 version (highest surviving grade) of the card traded hands with hockey star Wayne Gretzky and others. The card was discovered to have trimmed edges, which would greatly reduce its value, but that didn’t stop Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendricks to purchase the card in a 2007 auction for $2.8 million. While Wagner himself is not a common name today when thinking about the early, great players of the sport, he is considered to be the greatest shortstop of all time, holds a record eight batting titles, and was one of the first five players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, with the same number of votes as Babe Ruth. The above image is a modern reproduction of the card.
Most Expensive Music Record: “Double Fantasy” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Signed for Mark David Chapman
The copy of Lennon’s iconic “Double Fantasy” album, released in 1980 and featuring the former Beatle and his wife, Yoko Ono, currently holds the title of the most expensive music record ever sold. This copy was signed by Lennon on December 8th, for Mark David Chapman, who returned five hours later and killed the former Beatle. Phillip Michael, a maintenance worker, found the album outside the Manhattan apartment building where Lennon’s killer murdered the legendary singer-songwriter just moments earlier. He submitted the album to police, who later returned it to him after an investigation into Lennon’s death on December 8, 1980. The record itself was released just three weeks prior to the end of Lennon’s life, and despite initial poor reviews and slow sales, the tragedy associated with the singer prompted a buying surge, and the album would go on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1981. An original 1958 recording of the Quarrymen, who would go on to become the Beatles, has been evaluated in excess of this price, but the unique acetate disk is owned by Paul McCartney with a very low likelihood of being sold in the near future.
Most Expensive Long Gun (Rifle/Shotgun): Fox Co. Double Barrel Shotgun Owned by Theodore Roosevelt
One common misconception about Theodore Roosevelt is that he was fond of hunting. In fact he was totally fanatical, to the point that he said hunting would be the first thing he’d do upon relinquishing his presidency. He wasn’t joking: Roosevelt embarked on a year-long Smithsonian African expedition in March 1909 — the very same month he left the White House. In about thirteen months, Teddy’s party killed and trapped an estimated 11,400 animals ranging from insects to elephants, including six rare white rhinos, for preservation in American Museums. Roosevelt’s epic excursion was all about killing rare species in the name of science and history – morally questionable as that may be – and the shotgun pictured above was part of this mission. The Fox Gun Company made the gun especially for Roosevelt’s safari as he ended his presidential term. That one of America’s most loved presidents remarked “it is the most beautiful gun I have ever seen” (and then got downright trigger-happy with it) certainly fueled its $862,500 selling price at a 2010 Julia Inc. gun auction. Those cleaning cloths — torn slivers of Roosevelt’s pajamas — also certainly added some value.
Most Expensive Bladed Weapon: Napoleon Bonaparte’s Marengo Cavalry Saber
The most expensive antique weapon to have ever sold at auction is a gold encrusted sword used by Napoleon Bonaparte in battle around 200 years ago. The 32-inch sword brought 4.8m ($6.5m) against a 1.2m pre-sale estimate at an Osenat auction in Fontainebleau, France in 2007. Napoleon used the sword at the Battle of Marengo in 1800 to take control of northern Italy from Austria. He had just taken power in a coup and used his victory at Marengo to consolidate his power in France — a history that makes the sword even more valuable. Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804. Napoleon was so impressed with the swords used by the Mamelukes in Egypt that he ordered this one made in the same shape upon his return to France, having noticed that the curvature of the blade made decapitations easier. Discord within the Bonaparte family was the reason the sword was on the auction block; part of the family did not want to sell it. The sword was declared a national treasure in 1978 and, while it may be sold to a foreign buyer, they must have a French address and keep it in France for six months a year.
Most Expensive Antiquity: The Guennol Lioness
Diminutive in size, but monumental in conception, The Guennol Lioness is of Elamite origin and is thought to have been made between 3000 and 2800 BCE—the same period in which writing systems were being developed, the wheel was being invented, and cities were beginning to rise in the region of ancient Mesopotamia. The figure depicts a standing lioness looking over her left shoulder, her paws clenched in front of her muscular chest. Experts believe that the Lioness would have been used to ward off evil, and that it was probably owned by a person of high social standing. It also must be noted that many Ancient Near Eastern deities were portrayed as figures of both animal and human attributes, encapsulating the Mesopotamian belief in the attainment of power through the combining of the physical attributes of different species. The sculpture was acquired in 1948 by Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife Edith, whose revered Guennol Collection of choice masterworks across countless periods and cultures has been celebrated by scholars and museums for decades. The Guennol Lioness had been on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art for nearly 60 years and extensively published prior to its sale.
Most Expensive Animal: Fusaichi Pegasus (Thoroughbred Racehorse)
Price: $60,000,000 – $70,000,000
Though rare animals sold illicitly may have brought more, the most expensive animal ever sold (that I have found evidence of) is Fusaichi Pegasus. The most expensive horse (and likely animal) ever sold, Fusaichi Pegasus was a considerable racer. He won the Kentucky Derby in 2000 and finished his racing career with nine starts, six wins and two losses. More impressively, Fusaichi Pegasus won $1,994,400 during his career. After being retired from racing, Fusaichi Pegasus became the most sought after horse for breeding since Shareef Dancer seventeen years prior. He also became the most expensive in 2000 when Irish breeder Coolmore Stud, the world’s largest thoroughbred breeding operation, bought him for a price estimated to be between $60,000,000 and $70,000,000. Initially his stud fee (the amount charged to have a given animal breed with another) was set at $150,000. After a disappointing career as a breeding horse, Fusaichi Pegasus now resides in Kentucky with a stud fee of $7,000, making him the most expensive (and quite possibly least worth the price) horse ever sold.