BBC Capital

Treasure or Trinket

How much would you pay for a lock of The King’s hair?

About the author

Alina Dizik is a freelance journalist who covers consumer trends, careers, lifestyle and small business for national publications. Her work appears in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Men's Journal and BBC.

  • Most-coveted collectibles

    As the global economy has picked up, so too has interest from collectors who are indulging their passions by snapping up the world’s rarest objects. Last year, four of the five most expensive cars were sold at auction, according to Haggerty Insurance, the largest insurer of collectible cars.

    In 2013, global art sales climbed to $65.9b, almost touching pre-2008 economic crisis levels. And 2014 is predicted to be the best year on record for auctions of art and other antiques based on the TEFAF Art Market report, an annual report that tracks the global art market.

    So what are those millionaires and billionaires buying? Click on the arrow in the images above to see some of the world’s most-coveted treasures, from fine art vases to pop-culture treasures.

    (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

  • Holding a piece of a pop culture icon

    Selling price: $115,000

    Locks of hair have long been a way for history buffs to hold a piece of the past. George Washington’s hair sold for $5,581, Beethoven’s sold for $7,300, John Lennon’s for $48,000 but locks from legendary Elvis Presley sold for a whopping $115,000 in 2002. The King of Rock ‘n Roll was well-known for his voluminous quiff. The locks, which originally came from his hairdresser, were auctioned by online auction company MastroNet Inc.

    (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • This auto races into the record books

    Selling price: £19,601,500 ($32,483,434)

    The most expensive car ever sold at auction isn’t a make historically associated with the super-affluent such as a Maybach, Bentley or Rolls Royce — it’s a Mercedes-Benz. This one-seater Mercedes-Benz W196 from 1954 scooped not only the Formula 1 but two Grand Prix and was driven by racing legend Juan Manuel Fangio. Donated by Mercedes-Benz to the National Motor Museum Beaulieu in Hampshire, UK, it was sold to a private donor in order to fund the museum library and other buildings. The $32 million selling price is enough to purchase 54 Rolls Royce Phantoms.


  • One-of-a-kind treasure for a philatelist

    Selling price: $12,000,000 (expected)

    Stamp collectors dream about encountering a treasure such as the “one cent magenta,” an1856 stamp from the country now called Guyana. Set for auction in the US in June, 2014, it’s expected to be the most expensive stamp ever sold and the most expensive object based on weight, say collectors. The octagon seal was one of three stamps printed by a Georgetown publisher when a shipment to the former British colony didn’t arrive. The one-cent stamp was used to deliver newspapers around the South American country.


  • Don’t shake or stir this mobster cocktail maker

    Selling price: £50,000

    There’s nothing like receiving a cocktail shaker as a gift from a mobster as infamous as Al Capone. It’s the ultimate keepsake for 1920s Prohibition Era enthusiasts and sold for almost £49,000 ($59,368) over its estimated price of £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,211 to 1,817) in 2014. Though the original owner isn’t known, an engraving on the silver-plated shaker says it best:

    To a REGULAR GUY From THE BOYS 1932


  • The most expensive puppy litter ever?

    Selling price: $58,000,000

    This Balloon Dog (orange), one in a litter of five by American artist Jeff Koons, is the most expensive work ever sold by a living artist. The other four balloon dog sculptures are blue, red, magenta and yellow. The weightless look of the balloons is deceptive; the 10-foot structure is actually made of stainless steel that weighs one tonne. The piece is the 59-year-old artist’s ode to childhood — something that a clown might make out of balloons at a birthday party — but there’s nothing childlike about the eye-popping $58 million price tag.


  • A journey from a garage into the history books

    Selling price: $387,750

    No one needs an old computer — especially without a monitor — unless it’s the original Apple computer built by Steve Wozniak in the garage owned by Steve Jobs’ parents. While this hand-built machine doesn’t have the sleek look of today’s Apple products, the 1976 computer is still fully operational, according to Christie’s auction house. The piece of tech history had belonged to a retired psychologist from California and was bought by Baloffi, a collectors’ club in Italy, in 2013. Original price of the first computer? About $660.


  • Snuggle up with a good book…and a dragon

    Selling price: 21,905,000 euro ($28,300,000)

    Iconic designer Eileen Gray’s Dragons armchair isn’t your typical living room accent piece. The 20th century leather and wood chair — once owned by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent — sold for seven times more than its estimated price in 2009, making it the costliest piece of 20th century furniture ever sold. In 1971, the armchair, which portrays the intertwined bodies of two dragons, which symbolise power in Chinese culture, went for just $2,700.


  • Fine art inspired by trips to use the toilet

    Selling price: $14,675,904

    A moving work by Zeng Fanzhi, one of China’s best-known living artists, is a sure sign the Asian contemporary art market is heating up. Painted as a series of three canvases, Fanzhi conveys his own experiences from a provincial hospital. “I lived next to the hospital and because my house didn't have any toilets, I had to use those of the hospital every day. What I saw there left a strong imprint on me,” the 50-year-old artist has said.


  • Handle this vase with care

    Selling price: $35,000,000 (approximately)

    You certainly won’t find this kind of porcelain in a charity shop. The 18th century Qianlong porcelain vase once belonged to Chinese royalty but was taken to Europe during the Second Opium war. The vase was originally displayed on a London bookcase and insured for just £800. Antiques made for Chinese emperors have hit record highs at auction in the last few years.

    (Bainbridges Auctions)