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11 Historical Artifacts You Can Own...For A Price

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For history buffs who won't settle for a trip to the museum or a good book, the Internet offers a treasure trove of artifacts you can own—if you've got significant money to spend.

1. Piece of a Titanic Door — $25,000

How much would you pay for a piece of wood, 3 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and 0.5 inches thick? What if it was a remnant from an RMS Titanic door? This particular fragment was recovered shortly after the April 15, 1912 sinking among the floating wreckage and includes a painted inscription that reads:

Part of Door Picked up by cable Str. Minia from wreckage of Str Titanic Lost Apl 15, 1912. Lat 41° 42’ 49 Long. 49° 20’ 1635 perished.

Curiously available for sale from the New York Times gift store—where you can also pick up an adorable crossword-printed cookie jar for $19.99—the piece of wood comes "with complete report from a top forensic expert who authenticated the item more than a decade ago and who theorized that this piece of Titanic door was to one of the fabled staterooms in the epic floating palace."

2. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson Signed Check — $110,000

The Times gift store also stocks a number of collectors' items for sports fan with cash to burn. The highest ticket item they have—beating out other autographed artifacts by big names like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle by significant margin—is this mortgage voucher for a home Jackson bought in 1916 in Savannah, GA. Shoeless Joe—banned from baseball after the 1919 Black Sox scandal, despite debatable innocence—was illiterate and, painstakingly, signed just a few items in his lifetime. This is one of three known vouchers that passed from Jackson's widow to her sister in the 1950s and comes framed with an iconic photo of Jackson.

3. Signed Letter from George Washington — $15,000

In 2013, this letter sold for $8663.75 to the Ukrainian Institute of America at The Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, but now it's back on the market. The contents of the October 21, 1778, letter to General William Smallwood concern routine Revolutionary War business: Washington is writing to urge Smallwood to "inlist" more troops in Maryland. Although much of the text is lost to damage, Washington's signature remains bold and bright.

4. Bloodstained Half of Abraham Lincoln's Shirt Collar — $200,000

For those with a slightly more gruesome, bodily interest in the presidents—or perhaps a desire to test out cloning techniques in a spectacular fashion—there is a fragment of the shirt Abraham Lincoln was wearing at the time of his assassination. It is "considerably soiled and bloodstained, with one particularly sizeable brownish-red bloodstain at one side." The collar was recovered by Lt. Newton Ferree of the 157th Ohio, who rushed into the President's theater box immediately following the gunshot, and comes with his diary entry from that night. In it he writes:

I...jumped on the stage and then learned that President Lincoln had been assassinated. I then started to go in the box where the President was but met five or six men carrying him out. I then went in... and found it one pool of blood. I picked up the collar which had been torn from the President's neck...

For $200,000, you also get a framed ensemble of copy photos of Ferree at various ages; a file of miscellaneous related material; and a detailed, notarized affidavit signed by his daughter-in-law, Erna C. Ferree.

5. Gene Cernan's own Astronaut Preference Kit from Apollo 17 — $30,000

If you'd prefer something sullied only by moon dust, perhaps you'll be interested in this small drawstring bag. According to the 1972 NASA Management Instruction:

Each flight astronaut shall be permitted to carry certain items of a personal nature in his APK [Astronaut Preference Kit] on each manned space flight mission for use by him as personal gifts for his immediate family and relatives (wives, children, parents, in-laws, brothers and sisters) or close friends. No more than one article may be given to one individual.

This particular Lunar Module Astronaut Preference Kit was carried by Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, during Apollo 17. He took it to the moon in December 1972. Cernan has handwritten on the front, "Flown Lunar Surface Gene Cernan" and "A-17/To Lunar Surface EAC."

6. “Norma Jeane Dougherty” Model Release — current bid $7139

According to this signed release, on July 29, 1946, model Norma Jeane Dougherty was paid $15 for a session with Earl Moran. It was one of her earlier modeling gigs; shortly thereafter she would start going by the name Marilyn Monroe. In addition to her name, Dougherty writes her West Los Angeles address.

7. Martin Luther King, Jr. Manuscript — current bid $1183

This comparative bargain features a portion of the handwritten draft of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s book Stride Toward Freedom. The excerpt from Chapter XI, titled "Where Do We Go From Here?", is written in pencil on a piece of paper with Montgomery Improvement Association, Inc. letterhead, where King was president at the time.

8. Early Snow White Production Celluloid — estimate: $10,000 - 20,000


This far more whimsical artifact—which depicts the first ever Disney princess—is thought to be the earliest extant animated Snow White cel. It is distinguished from simply a color sketch by peg holes and a cel number at the bottom right. Created in 1935, two years before the movie was released, the Snow White shown differs slightly from the final product. Her round face and resemblance to Betty Boop were deemed too "cartoonish" by Walt Disney and later changed.

9. Prince of Wales Officer Sword and Record of Service — estimate: $16,830 - $25,245

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Great Britain entered the war on August 4, 1914, and 10 days later Edward VIII, then the 20-year-old Prince of Wales, joined the Grenadier Guards (but he wasn't allowed to serve on the front lines out of concern that he might be taken hostage). Featured here are artifacts from the the Prince's service. The sword is by Henry Wilkinson, with a steel blade, nickel-plated hilt bearing the regimental insignia, wire-bound rayskin-covered grip and original brown leather scabbard. The "Army Form B. 199. / RECORD OF SERVICES" is filled out by hand and under "Name and Address of next of kin" the Prince wrote "His Majesty, The King, Buckingham Palace, London."

10. Medieval Broadsword — estimate: $134,640 - $201,960

If your taste in weaponry runs a little older and lot more expensive, perhaps this medieval broadsword will strike your fancy. Although it cannot be proven conclusively, it is possible that this sword, which features a re-shaped Viking blade, was taken as a trophy by Humphrey De Bohun at the Battle of Hastings in October 1066. With its gold and enameled coat of arms on the pommel, this was not a war sword, but was handed down through the generations of the de Bohun family, Earls of Hereford and Essex.

11. Ornitholestes Skeleton — estimate: $475,948 - $611,933

The only question is, what would you do with a small carnivorous dinosaur from the late Jurassic period?

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Scientists Reveal Long-Hidden Text in Alexander Hamilton Letter
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iStock

Age, deterioration, and water damage are just a few of the reasons historians can be short on information that was once readily available on paper. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of missing pages. Other times, researchers can see “lost” text right under their noses.

One example: a letter written by Alexander Hamilton to his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on September 6, 1780. On the surface, it looked very much like a rant about a Revolutionary War skirmish in Camden, South Carolina. But Hamilton scholars were excited by the 14 lines of writing in the first paragraph that had been crossed out. If they could be read, they might reveal some new dimension to one of the better-known Founding Fathers.

Using the practice of multispectral imaging—sometimes called hyperspectral imaging—conservationists at the Library of Congress were recently able to shine a new light on what someone had attempted to scrub out. In multispectral imaging, different wavelengths of light are “bounced” off the paper to reveal (or hide) different ink pigments. By examining a document through these different wavelengths, investigators can tune in to faded or obscured handwriting and make it visible to the naked eye.

A hyperspectral image of Alexander Hamilton's handwriting
Hyperspectral imaging of Hamilton's handwriting, from being obscured (top) to isolated and revealed (bottom).
Library of Congress

The text revealed a more emotional and romantic side to Hamilton, who had used the lines to woo Elizabeth. Technicians uncovered most of what he had written, with words in brackets still obscured and inferred:

Do you know my sensations when I see the
sweet characters from your hand? Yes you do,
by comparing [them] with your [own]
for my Betsey [loves] me and is [acquainted]
with all the joys of fondness. [Would] you
[exchange] them my dear for any other worthy
blessings? Is there any thing you would put
in competition[,] with one glowing [kiss] of
[unreadable], anticipate the delights we [unreadable]
in the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love,
and bet your heart joins mine in [fervent]
[wishes] to heaven that [all obstacles] and [interruptions]
May [be] speedily [removed].

Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler married on December 14, 1780. So why did Hamilton try and hide such romantic words during or after their courtship? He probably didn’t. Historians believe that his son, John Church Hamilton, crossed them out before publishing the letter as a part of a book of his father’s correspondence. He may have considered the passage a little too sexy for mass consumption.

[h/t Library of Congress]

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7 of History’s Most Unusual Riots
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Some sociologists theorize that most rioters only join a crowd because the crowd is big enough to justify joining. But there’s always that one person who sparks the violence, and sometimes the reason for doing so can seem pretty baffling. Maybe a work of art scandalizes its audience, like the famous premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Or maybe it’s simply a notable act of disrespect, like history’s first recorded mooning (in Jerusalem in the first century CE). From balloonists to brown dogs to daylight saving time, here are seven weird reasons things just got out of hand.

1. THE MELBOURNE DART RIOT

The Darts Invitational Challenge, an international tournament held in Melbourne, attracted international gawking in January 2015 during the finals match between Michael "Mighty Mike" van Gerwen and Simon "The Wizard" Whitlock. The dart players weren’t making a scene, though: Rather, hundreds of spectators, many of them drunk and in costume, began throwing plastic chairs as they watched (pictured above). The reasons for the fight remain unclear; footage and photos show police trying to control adults dressed as Oompa-Loompas, numerous superheroes, and, in one instance, in a ghillie suit (heavy camouflage meant to resemble foliage).

2. THE LEICESTER BALLOON RIOT

In 1864, balloonists were the great daredevils of their time, and a major draw for eager audiences. That summer, Henry Coxwell, a famous professional aeronaut, was set to make an appearance for 50,000 paying ticketholders in Leicester, England. Unfortunately, a rumor spread that he hadn’t brought his biggest and best balloon to the event. After heckling from the crowd, Coxwell deflated his balloon, and attendees rushed it, ripping it to shreds, setting it on fire, and threatening to visit the same fate on Coxwell. Rioters even paraded the remains of the balloon through the streets of town, which briefly brought residents a new nickname: Balloonatics.

3. THE TORONTO CLOWN AND FIREFIGHTER RIOT

Toronto was still a pretty rough place in the 1850s, but not so rough that the circus wouldn’t come to town. As it turns out, circus entertainers were also a tough lot back then, so when a group of off-duty clowns spent an evening at a brothel popular with the city’s firefighters on July 12, 1855, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ as to who started the fight, but after one firefighter knocked the hat off a clown things escalated into a full-on rabble intent on chasing the circus out of town. Only the mayor calling in the militia put an end to the uproar, an incident Torontonians credit with kicking off much-needed local police reforms.

4. THE BELGIAN NIGHT AT THE OPERA RIOT

A painting by Charles Soubre of the Belgian Revolution
Charles Soubre, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many nations can claim their independence started with an aria, but for 19th-century Belgians sick of living under Dutch rule, an opera was just the right fuse for a revolution. To honor the birthday of King William I of the Netherlands, a theater in Brussels put on La Muette de Portici, about an uprising in Naples against Spanish rule. One song, "Amour Sacre de la Patrie" ("Sacred Love of the Fatherland"), aroused nationalistic passions so much that after the opera ended, the crowd began destroying factories and occupying government buildings. That was August 25, 1830; Belgium declared independence on October 4.

5. THE NEW YORK DOCTORS' RIOT

Hamilton fans, take note: Everyone’s favorite Founding Father once tried to quiet a mob bent on burning corpses. For centuries, anatomists and medical students relied on gruesome means to learn about the human body. Cadavers for dissection class often came from grave robbers, since the corpses of executed criminals were the only legal source—and they were in limited supply. In New York in 1788, rumors abounded that medical students were digging up paupers’ graves and black cemeteries. When one mob came after the doctors responsible, Alexander Hamilton tried, and failed, to restore the peace. The crowd swelled to about 5000 before militiamen intervened, leading to up to about 20 deaths.

6. THE BROWN DOG RIOTS

Photo of an anti-vivisection demonstration in Trafalgar Square, London, to protest the removal from Battersea Park of the Brown Dog statue
The Anti-Vivisection Review, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Riots against the dissection of dead human bodies were not rare in the United States at one time. But on December 10, 1907, a thousand Britons marched in support of vivisection, or surgery on live animals. At the center of the controversy was a small terrier allegedly vivisected without anesthetic in 1903 during a class at London’s University College. Animal rights activists erected a statue to the dog in 1906, which enraged area medical students, and protesters tried to destroy the statue using crowbars and hammers. For the 1907 march, 400 mounted police were deployed to contain marchers. The statue became such a flashpoint (and an expense to local authorities) that in 1910, it was removed and melted down.

7. THE EEL-PULLING RIOT

Palingtrekken (eel-pulling) was once a popular contest in Amsterdam, in which a writhing eel was suspended over a canal and hopefuls on boats would leap to snatch it as they passed beneath (usually landing in the water instead). However, “eel-pulling” was also illegal—the government deemed it a “cruel popular entertainment”—and in July 1886, police intervened at a particularly large gathering in the city’s Jordaan district. Civilians threw stones and bricks at police, and when some nearby socialist protestors joined them, a riot broke out that lasted for several days. The army finally intervened and opened fire on the protestors. All in all, 26 people died and 136 were wounded, but somehow, the eel itself at the center of the riots was allegedly saved and auctioned off in 1913.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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