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

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?

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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