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

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Christies.com

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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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0
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Get Your GIFs Ready for This International Public Domain GIF-Making Competition
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“Dissension” by Tobias Rothe. Original image courtesy Fondazione Federico Zeri/Università di Bologna // CC-BY 3.0

Excellent GIF-making skills can serve you beyond material for your clever tweets. Each year, a group of four digital libraries from across the world hosts GIF IT UP, a competition to find the best animated image sourced from public domain images from their archives.

The competition is sponsored by Europeana, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New Zealand’s DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia’s Trove, all of which host millions of public domain works. The requirements are that the source material must be in the public domain, have a 'no known copyright restrictions' statement, or have a Creative Commons license that allows its reuse. The material must also come from one of the sponsored sources. Oh, and judging by the past winners, it helps if it’s a little whimsical.

The image above won the grand prize in 2015. And this was a runner-up in 2016:

via GIPHY

This year’s prizes haven’t been announced yet (although Europeana says there will be a new one for first-time GIF makers), but last year’s grand prize winner got their own Giphoscope, and runners-up got $20 gift cards. (Turns out, there’s not a lot of money in public domain art.)

Not an expert GIFer yet? You can always revisit the audio version of DPLA’s advanced GIF-making tutorial from last year.

The fourth-annual GIF IT UP contest opens to submissions October 1.

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