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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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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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