John Foster | Accidental Mysteries

Touching the Authentic

If I told you that I owned an authentic dinner plate from the Titantic, would you be impressed? I don't. What about a lock of Elvis Presley’s hair? Might that make you gasp? I don’t own that either. What would you love to own, simply to be closer to someone or something that is meaningful to you? Is it The Beatles you love or Babe Ruth? Rare baseball cards and comic books can go for princely sums. Jim Morrison fans have always chipped away fragments of his tombstone in Paris, and there are people today who are still looking for the crashed remains of the Porsche Spyder James Dean was driving the night he was killed. The vehicle has been missing for fifty years.

If you are a Civil War enthusiast, it is quite possible to own a minié-ball from a famous battle for just a couple of dollars. The Catholic church has its holy relics, and on Antiques Roadshow it’s not uncommon to see someone show up with the rarest of things, like a flag from a famous battle.

For most of us, a guitar pick by a favorite singer will do, or maybe a first edition of a much-admired book.

The desire by many people to possess the rare and remarkable is legendary, and always has been. People commit crimes for rare things—just research the New York Times or read an Agatha Christie novel. If you have the money and the initiative, you could have recently purchased Elvis Presley’s very first record, the legendary one he made for his mother at Sun Studios in Memphis, in 1953. It just sold for $300,000 at a recent Graceland auction. Just imagine owning that. I think the buyer got a steal. 

In today’s world of digital imagery, where treasures of the world are being showcased online by museums across the world, what is it about owning a rare treasure that can be so alluring? Scholars can be happy to just read and learn, but others want to possess. I found this dealer on eBay selling some remarkable things, and for reasonable starting bids or “Buy it Now” offerings. 

As a collector, I admit that I am mesmerized by authentic things.  

What “thing” excites you? Does owning a rare object even interest you? I’d like to know. Leave a comment or tweet @designobserver with the hashtag #holygrail

Signed letter reporting cholera deaths during the Second Cholera Pandemic, 1834

Jim Henson, handwritten Muppet character description
Early Muppet characterization in Jim Henson’s hand. Characterization presents original Muppet character Brewster, here called “The Guru.” Henson handwrites: '“THE GURU / life sized – speaks with slight Indian accent –  known to fall asleep while talking.”

Dick Clark’s 1964 “Caravan of Stars”' program, featuring The Supremes

Garth Williams sketch for E.B White’s Charlotte's Web

White House telegram about William McKinley assassination, 1901

$10 Federal Reserve note, illustrating face-to-face engraving error, 1950 (Dallas)

Dwight Eisenhower china plate from his presidential airplane “Columbine.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., family Christmas card

Press Badge for JFK’s Texas welcome dinner, November 22, 1963

Marlene Dietrich's leather compact

Bell Street Baptist Church bombing debris, January 10, 1957

Envelopes signed by George Custer, made out to his wife “Mrs. Genl Custer,” 1864

Original illustration by comic book artist Bill Edwards


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