The top 100 highlights of the 2020 science, sci-fi and technology auction year

The New Atlas annual auction round up of all things geeky is bigger than ever this year.

This year we’ve gone to much more effort, and indeed, you’ll get more out of this article if you allocate a bit of time to explore it because it is quite large and has all the links embedded so you can explore anything of interest, and no doubt there will be lots of things you missed during the year that are both interesting and relevant.

It’s an exhaustive look at the 2020 auction year, and includes all the scientific manuscripts, apparatus, natural history specimens, science-fiction, space memorabilia, technological killer apps across history from 2500 year-old bronze helmets to the Gatling gun, from cylindrical slide rules to Enigma machines to the very first computers … if we can find an excuse to relate it to the scientific method and technological excellence, and it sold at auction anywhere in the world during 2020, it’ll be in here.

2020 was a year where nature made its immense power felt on many different levels, not least on the auction block. Superior genetics was recognized with the world’s most expensive lamb and pigeon sold in 2020, with very expensive fish and horses not far behind. Mineral wonders from the natural world also fared well, with some huge gemstone sales, and the world’s most expensive dinosaur topping the listings for the first time in two decades.

Several of the most expensive gemstones in history sold in 2020, as did the most extraordinary array of movie memorabilia from science fiction movies, and some of the remarkably complex technological mash-ups used in creating special effects in movies.

Check out the highlights from another bumper year!

$100,000 | Duros Cantina Alien Mask from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977)

A Duros Alien Mask used in the spaceport cantina scene in “Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977) sold for $100,000 at Propstore on August 27, 2020.
A Duros Alien Mask used in the spaceport cantina scene in “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977) sold for $100,000 at Propstore on August 27, 2020.

Propstore

Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: August 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

The attention to detail of every aspect of the Star Wars franchise is beautifully illustrated by this lot. In the science fiction movie Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi visit the Mos Eisley spaceport on the planet Tatooine. The spaceport contained a cantina (bar) where many of the less savoury characters of the universe congregate while waiting passage off-world, and in the corner of the bar were two Duros (natives of Planet Duro). Duros have smooth blue-green skin, red eyes, lipless mouths, and long thin noseless faces with green blood. Though no more than minor players in a group scene, watch the Duros in animated discussion at the rear of the bar and you will delight in the realism of the scene with alien personas communicating so intimately. A mask used in the filming of this scene fetched $100,000 at Propstore on August 27.

$100,043 | Movie poster from Italian Premiere of “Frankenstein” (1935)

Italian Movie Poster for Frankenstein (1935) sells for $100,043 at Aste Bolaffi on February 18, 2020
Italian Movie Poster for Frankenstein (1935) sells for $100,043 at Aste Bolaffi on February 18, 2020

Aste Bolaffi

Auction House: Aste Bolaffi
Date Sold: February 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: Aste Bolaffi

Scary movies dominate the most expensive movie poster sales, with King Kong (RKO, 1933), Dracula (Universal, 1931), The Mummy (Universal, 1932), The Black Cat (Universal, 1934), London After Midnight (MGM, 1927), and Phantom of the Opera (Universal, 1925) all having multiple entries in the top 100 most valuable movie posters, though Frankenstein (Universal, 1931) is easily the most dominant movie poster comprising more than 10 percent of movie posters that have sold for more than $100,000.

In 2020, another Frankenstein poster joined that $100,000 listing, though it was from the film’s Italian release in 1935. The massive 78.74 x 55.12 inch poster captures the essence of Boris Karloff in his most famous role and was the work of famed Italian artist Raffaele Francisi.

While scary movies are dominant, science fiction movies do well too: Metropolis (UFA, 1927), The Invisible Man (Universal, 1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (Universal, 1935) and King Kong all feature prominently on the most sought-after listing.

Just as an aside, Frankenstein has certainly stood the test of time, as Mary Shelley’s novel was published anonymously on January 1, 1818 and some argue it is the first true science fiction story. When Frankenstein turned 200, The Guardian asked “why hasn’t Mary Shelley been given the respect she deserves?”, and Readers Digest didn’t even consider the book when listing the 13 Best-Selling Science Fiction Books of All Time.

$100,409 | “Gemma’s Rings” – an astronomical ring dial prior to 1600.

Astronomical Dial Ring from the Louvain School, prior to 1600 sold for $100,550 at Christie's on December 9, 2020
Astronomical Dial Ring from the Louvain School, prior to 1600 sold for $100,550 at Christie’s on December 9, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £75,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: December 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Often referred to as “Gemma’s Rings” (named after Dutch mathematician and instrument maker, Gemma Frisius who first published the design in 1534), Astronomical Rings are an astronomical instrument consisting of three rings, representing the celestial equator, declination, and the meridian. The rings can be used as a sun dial to tell the time of day (if the approximate latitude and season is known), or to tell latitude (if the time is known). The rings essentially constitute a simplified, portable armillary sphere. Though this instrument is unsigned, it is almost identical in design and construction to another unsigned piece in the British Museum (1888,1201.316) and both have been attributed to the Louvain school prior to 1600.

$100,550 | “Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison” by René Descartes, 1637

Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison (1637), published anonymously by René Descartes, sold for €92,250 ($106,034) at Galerie Bassenge on April 7, 2020
Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison (1637), published anonymously by René Descartes, sold for €92,250 ($106,034) at Galerie Bassenge on April 7, 2020

Galerie Bassenge

Price in sale currency: €75,000 plus buyers premium
Auction House: Galerie Bassenge
Date Sold: April 7, 2020
Official Auction Page: Galerie Bassenge

Published by René Descartes in 1637, Discours de la Méthode Pour bien conduire sa raison, et chercher la vérité dans les sciences (English: Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences) is one of the most influential works in the history of modern philosophy, and essentially codified the Scientific Method.

According to the industry standard reference, Printing and the Mind of Man, Descartes makes three essential points in the Discours: “the truth of thought, when thought is true to itself (cogito, ergo sum), the inevitable elevation of its partial state in our finite consciousness to its full state in the infinite existence of God and the ultimate reduction of the material universe to extension and local movement. From these central propositions in logic, metaphysics and physics came the subsequent enquiries of Locke, Leibniz and Newton; from them stem all modern scientific and philosophic thought.”

$102,400 | The in-flight toolkit flown into space on the Apollo 17 command module, 1972

The NASA inflight toolkit for Apollo 17, flown The original NASA in-flight toolkit flown into space on the Apollo 17 command module (1972) sold for $102,400 at Julien's Auctions on 17 July, 2020
The NASA inflight toolkit for Apollo 17, flown The original NASA in-flight toolkit flown into space on the Apollo 17 command module (1972) sold for $102,400 at Julien’s Auctions on 17 July, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

The original in-flight toolkit flown into space on the Apollo 17 command module, America (CSM-114) in 1972, the last time humans landed on the Moon and the last flight of the Apollo Space Program. Most of the 16 number-engraved tools have been fitted with Velcro tabs to secure them in the zero gravity environment. Included is the original Beta cloth case, the parts removal tag (dated January 11, 1973) with matching serial numbers and official NASA stamps, and extensive paperwork documenting the testing of individual tools and the status of each tool having been flown on Apollo 17 for 304 hours, 44 minutes and 20 seconds. Part number V36-601135-501 … and yes, that is a shifting spanner.

$103,395 | Albert Einstein letter signed and dated 1950

ALS in German, signed “A. E.,” (Albert Einstein) one page letter to mathematician Ernst Gabor Straus, concerning Einstein's work on the Unified Field Theory measuring 8.5 x 11 inches, dated October 2, 1950. Sold for $103,395 at RR Auction on December 9, 2020
ALS in German, signed “A. E.,” (Albert Einstein) one page letter to mathematician Ernst Gabor Straus, concerning Einstein’s work on the Unified Field Theory measuring 8.5 x 11 inches, dated October 2, 1950. Sold for $103,395 at RR Auction on December 9, 2020

RR Auction

Auction House: RR Auction
Date Sold: December 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: RR Auctions

As one of the most revered people in history, and the best known and most respected scientist in history, Albert Einstein’s signature is pure gold. This is a single page 8.5 x 11 inch autograph letter in German by the gentle genius, signed “A. E.” And dated October 2, 1950. The letter is written to mathematician Ernst Gabor Straus, concerning Einstein’s work on the Unified Field Theory. In a highly technical letter, replete with mathematical field equations, Einstein discusses the progress of his work with his former assistant. Einstein is here at an early stage of formulating his final version of Unified Field Theory. Seeking to base the theory in an extension of his relativistic field equations for gravity, Einstein looks to find alternative spacetime metrics compatible with the field equations of General Relativity. Einstein’s efforts here ultimately resulted in his 1954 article on asymmetric field theory, Einstein’s last scientific work.

$103,930 | “Édition originale de l’inprétation d’Hippocrate” by Louis Duret, 1588

"Édition originale de l'inprétation d'Hippocrate" by Louis Duret, 1588, sold for $103,930 at Christie’s on May 27, 2020
“Édition originale de l’inprétation d’Hippocrate” by Louis Duret, 1588, sold for $103,930 at Christie’s on May 27, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: May 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 – c. 370 BC) is often referred to as the “Father of Medicine” in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of Medicine. This intellectual school revolutionized Ancient Greek medicine, establishing it as a discipline distinct from other fields with which it had traditionally been associated, thus establishing medicine as a profession. This is a dedication copy of this important Latin and Greek edition, of the works of Hippocrates, commented on by Louis Duret. Louis Duret was one of the main doctors of the French kings Charles IX and Henri III. Duret was a professor at the Royal College, one of the most famous medical practitioners of his time and was sometimes referred to as “the French Hippocrates.” Duret had a photographic memory and knew by heart the works of Hippocrates.

$104,271 | Special Effects Mechanical Alien Head from “Alien” (1979) designed by H.R. Giger

This is a Special Effects Mechanical Alien Head, designed by biomechanical artist H.R. Giger for the movie "Alien" (1979). It sold for $104,271 at Propstore in London on December 2, 2020

This is a Special Effects Mechanical Alien Head, designed by biomechanical artist H.R. Giger for the movie “Alien” (1979). It sold for $104,271 at Propstore in London on December 2, 2020

Propstore

Price in sale currency: £62,500
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore
The chances are that you will know Hans Ruedi Giger’s work even if you don’t know his name. Giger is a master of biomechanical art (a mashup of machine and anatomical forms) and this Special Effects Mechanical Alien Head from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror movie Alien (1979) was designed by Giger. The Alien stalked the crew of the Nostromo, picking them off one by one after bursting through the chest of executive officer Kane (John Hurt). The head was constructed for the production by David Watling, who also previously worked on the mechanical R2-D2 unit on Star Wars.

$104,271 | Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) Complete Costume ” from “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003)

Neo's (Keanu Reeves) Complete Costume " from "The Matrix Reloaded" (2003) sold for $104,271 (£62,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020
Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) Complete Costume ” from “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003) sold for $104,271 (£62,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020

Propstore

Price in sale currency: £62,500
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

Neo’s (Keanu Reeves) complete costume from The Wachowskis’ sci-fi action sequel The Matrix Reloaded. “The One” wore his costume in scenes set within the simulated Matrix universe as he embarked on a quest to save the human race from extinction. Neo sported the same costume in the next installment in the film franchise, The Matrix Revolutions.

One of the main factors costume designer Kym Barrett had to take into consideration was the practicality of the outfits and how they would withstand the complex stunt sequences. Several versions of Neo’s costume were produced, using different fabrics suitable for the action during particular scenes, from straightforward conversation to flying and fist-fighting with Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) in the storm-ridden City.

The black costume consists of a pair of micro sunglasses featuring green-tinted lenses; a full-length ecclesiastical-style textured woollen coat (labelled “Keanu Reeves., #1 Hero Coat-Matt Wool”); a cotton shirt which displays a mandarin collar (labelled “Neo”); a set of cufflinks; a Zimmerli T-shirt (labelled “KR” and size M); a pair of Trafalgar elasticated braces; a pair of trousers (labelled “KR 32”); and a pair of Andre #1 patent lace-up boots with Kevlar heels (labelled “KR*”).

$104,271 | Special Effects Mechanical Werewolf Transformation Bust used in “An American Werewolf in London” (1981)

This special effects mechanical werewolf transformation bust from An American Werewolf in London sold for $104,271 (£62,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020
This special effects mechanical werewolf transformation bust from An American Werewolf in London sold for $104,271 (£62,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020

Propstore

Price in sale currency: £62,500
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

In John Landis’ horror comedy An American Werewolf in London (1981), the scene where college student David Kessler (David Naughton) transforms into the Werewolf is considered one of the greatest special effects sequences in the history of cinema. This mechanism, which went to auction at prop store in 2020, is one of two “change-o” heads created to showcase the stages of the transformation. The lot comprises a fibreglass skull and hunched over shoulders, featuring protruding vertebrae at the back. The majority of the skin and fur have unfortunately worn away over time, but there is evidence of the original smooth-on urethane skin on the neck, and there are some sporadic hairs still adhered to the piece, notably on the lower jaw. The prominent jaw section displays a set of yellowed fangs.

When in use, the forehead and cheek sections of the piece move outwards and the jaw section extended forwards, opening the mouth. These actions would have been operated on set by a team of effects technicians using air-filled syringes. This mechanism has been sympathetically replicated using electric motors and cables, allowing the piece to cycle through a series of movements that recreate the motion seen in the film.

$106,250 | Xenomorph Queen Model Miniature Puppet from “Aliens” (1986)

This Xenomorph Queen Model Miniature Puppet from "Aliens" (1986) sold for $106,250 at Propstore on August 27, 2020
This Xenomorph Queen Model Miniature Puppet from “Aliens” (1986) sold for $106,250 at Propstore on August 27, 2020

Propstore

Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: August 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

One of the most terrifying of cinematic villains, the first time we saw the remorseless xenomorph was in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) where it hunted the crew of the Nostromo. It was eventually eliminated when Ellen Ripley launched it out of her shuttle. When the franchise returned to theaters in 1986, we were confronted with an army of Xenomorphs doing the bidding of their enormous Queen.

A full-sized queen was created for sequences where she is stationary atop her nest, but this 1:4-scale model miniature was used during the climactic battle between the queen and a cargo-loader-clad Ripley aboard the USS Sulaco. The 1:4-scale miniature was conceived by director James Cameron and constructed from foam latex, polyfoam, urethane, and resin components, all molded around a metal armature and painted black with the Queen’s signature blue highlights by Stan Winston Studios.

$112,500 | “History of the Indian Tribes of North America” by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. 1836-44

"History of the Indian Tribes of North America" by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. 1836-44 image sold for $112,500 at Christie’s on June 18, 2020
“History of the Indian Tribes of North America” by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. 1836-44 image sold for $112,500 at Christie’s on June 18, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: June 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

The History of the Indian Tribes of North America is a three-volume collection of Native American biographies and accompanying lithograph portraits, originally published in the United States from 1836 to 1844 by Thomas McKenney and James Hall. The majority of the portraits were first painted in oil by Charles Bird King. McKenney was working as the US Superintendent of Indian Trade and would head the Office of Indian Affairs, both within the War Department. He planned publication of the biographical project to be supported by private subscription, as was typical for publishing of the time.

Believing that Native Americans were threatened as a race, McKenney wanted to preserve a record of their leaders for government archives, as well as to share it with the American people. He commissioned Charles Bird King to paint portraits of leaders who came to Washington to negotiate treaties, and James Hall to write biographies of them.
The auctioned copy is a First Edition, Three folio volumes (506 x 350mm). 120 lithographed plates, hand-colored, map and 17-page subscriber list present. Half morocco.

$112,500 | “The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean” (1617) by Placido Caloiro Y Oliva and Joan Oliva

The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean by Placido Caloiro Y Oliva and Joan Oliva (1617) sold for $112,500 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020
The Portolan Chart of the Mediterranean by Placido Caloiro Y Oliva and Joan Oliva (1617) sold for $112,500 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Portolan charts are nautical charts, first made in the 13th century in the Mediterranean basin and later expanded to include other regions, which have been noted for their high cartographic accuracy. The word portolan comes from the Italian “portulano”, meaning “related to ports or harbors”, and which since at least the 17th century designates “a collection of sailing directions.”

The auctioned manuscript portolan chart is in ink and colors on vellum, measuring 921 x 627mm.

From the auction description, this portolan: “represents a committed attempt to adapt an honoured but by then obsolete tool, the medieval portolan, to the facts of early-modern navigation. It shows the features of a traditional portolan, with ample space for medieval bestiary and typified representations of places, but also a chart which records the relative positions of land masses more accurately than the traditionally-calculated angles. The main body of the chart is divided in two to show both the medieval and corrected views of the Mediterranean, enabling the owner to compare them directly. The corrected axis shows Crete and Cyprus aligned on the same parallel. Joan Oliva produced a very similar chart to this one the next year, in Livorno. The two charts have the same essential layout but the decoration in the present example is considerably richer, linking it more closely to the medieval tradition. The similarity of the 1617 and 1618 portolans has led scholars to surmise that even though this example is signed by Placido Caloiro y Oliva, it may rather be the work of Joan Oliva and then embellished by his family member after Joan Oliva departed Sicily.”

$113,279 | “De Groote Nieuwe Vermeerderde Zee-Atlas” (1685) by Johannes van Keulen

"De Groote Nieuwe Vermeerderde Zee-Atlas" (1685) by Johannes van Keulen sold for $113,279 at Sotheby’s on July 28, 2020
“De Groote Nieuwe Vermeerderde Zee-Atlas” (1685) by Johannes van Keulen sold for $113,279 at Sotheby’s on July 28, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £87,500
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

This is a very good early edition of the Zee-Atlas of 17th-century Dutch cartographer Johannes van Keulen (1654 – 1715). Folio (528 x 330mm.), engraved frontispiece and 40 double-page maps, all with contemporary hand-color, 12pp. text, contemporary Dutch vellum.

$117,144 | A pair of Regency 21-inch Library Globes (1818) by John And William Cary

A pair of Regency 21-inch Library Globes by John And William Cary, 1818 sold for $117,144 at Christie’s on December 9, 2020
A pair of Regency 21-inch Library Globes by John And William Cary, 1818 sold for $117,144 at Christie’s on December 9, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £87,500
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: December 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

From the Lot Essay: John Cary, the elder (1755-1835) was a prominent English cartographer, engraver, globe maker and publisher. With his brother William, J. & W. Cary were among the most successful of the thriving London map, globe and instrument trade of their day. This, their largest pair of globes, is finely engraved and hand-colored as issued.

The terrestrial sphere shows the routes of the eighteenth century circumnavigators and explorers of the north Pacific, James Cook and his followers; Vancouver, La Perouse, Phipps, Pickersgill, and Russian navigators including Rasmyloff. Important new information of the American northwest and Asian northeast coasts appears clearly on the scale afforded by this size globe. In advertisements for his 21 inch globes in various of his geographical works, Cary stated that he had availed himself of the voyages of Mungo Park (West Africa); “Clark & Lewis(!)” (Western U.S.); Humboldt (Latin America); Flinders (Australia); Elphinstone (maritime) and Capt. Ross (Arctic). Of further interest is the political border between the U.S. and Canada, indicating that the U.S. controlled lands well north of what the final resolution would proclaim a few decades later.

The celestial globe, with axis running through the celestial poles, was also kept current with the astronomical findings of scientists including the renowned British astronomer Caroline Herschel, who updated and corrected the “Observations of the Fixed Stars” of Flamsteed. “It contained some 3,500 stars, more than any previous globe.” (Kanas, 2007).

$120,216 | Volvaria

Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s Volvaria, a 2008 sculpture of fibreglass, resin and steel, painted with nail polish, weighing 450 kg, and measuring 80 x 350 x 350 cm. sold for $120,216 at Piguet on September 23, 2020
Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s Volvaria, a 2008 sculpture of fibreglass, resin and steel, painted with nail polish, weighing 450 kg, and measuring 80 x 350 x 350 cm. sold for $120,216 at Piguet on September 23, 2020

Piguet

Price in sale currency: CHF85,000
Auction House: Piguet
Date Sold: September 23, 2020
Official Auction Page: Piguet

Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s Volvaria, is a 2008 sculpture of fiberglass, resin and steel, painted with nail polish, weighing 450 kg, and measuring 80 x 350 x 350 cm … and it looks like a flying saucer. One of three beached flying saucers (named Volvaria, Pluteus and Chitonia) that featured in Toulouse during Les Printemps de Septembre 2008 and also MAMCO in Geneva, Chitonia is now part of the MAMCO collection while Pluteus is in a private collection. Fleury’s work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, and the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe.

$125,000 | “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776) by Adam Smith

This first edition of Adam Smith’s “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" (1776) sold for $125,000 at Swann Galleries on July 30, 2020
This first edition of Adam Smith’s “Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776) sold for $125,000 at Swann Galleries on July 30, 2020

Swann Galleries

Auction House: Swann Galleries
Date Sold: July 30, 2020
Official Auction Page: Swann Galleries

With the full title of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, this book was first published in 1776 at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and is regarded as the first great work in classical economics. Even today, it is still one of the most cited books in the social sciences published before 1950, behind only Karl Marx’s Capital.

It was a most unlikely best-seller in its time, which means first edition copies such as this are rare with one or two reaching auction each year, generally selling in the $100,000 to $200,000 range, with the dedication copy setting a price record by fetching $307,878 (£182,500) at a Christies auction in May, 2014.

$125,075 | Group of five scientific offprints, each signed and inscribed by Kurt Gödel and Oskar Morgenstern

This group of five scientific offprints, each signed and inscribed by Kurt Gödel and Oskar Morgenstern, sold for $125,075 at Bonhams on November 5, 2020
This group of five scientific offprints, each signed and inscribed by Kurt Gödel and Oskar Morgenstern, sold for $125,075 at Bonhams on November 5, 2020

Bonhams

Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: November 5, 2020
Official Auction Page: Bonhams

A group of five scientific offprints, each signed and inscribed by mathematician Kurt Gödel and economist Oskar Morgenstern.

Morgenstern is best known for his work with John von Neumann founding the mathematical field of game theory with their book Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, was, along with Albert Einstein, among Gödel’s closest friends at the Institute for Advance Studies, Princeton. Morgenstern held Gödel in high esteem. He wrote in a 1974 journal entry: “Gödel alone remains – perhaps the most wondrous man one can imagine. Hardly anyone knows him. If I were nearer his level (and what a distance that would be to cover!) I would write his life. Perhaps even so I should record some of his thoughts and doings, since the world will know little what kind of man he is. A man of whom von Neumann & Weyl have said to me more than once: the greatest logician since Leibniz or Aristotle.”

Signed and inscribed presentation copies of Gödel’s offprints are extremely rare on the market, much less to fellow Institute of Advanced Study colleagues.

$128,800 | 1966 Amphicar 770 – the world’s first commercial amphibious vehicle

This 1966 Amphicar 770 sold for $128,800 at RM-Sotheby’s on October 24, 2020
This 1966 Amphicar 770 sold for $128,800 at RM-Sotheby’s on October 24, 2020

RM-Sotheby’s

Auction House: RM-Sotheby’s
Date Sold: October 24, 2020
Official Auction Page: RM-Sotheby’s

Given that 90 percent of humanity lives near the water, it’s odd that amphibious vehicles have never been particularly popular. Indeed, there has only ever been one peace-time amphibious car that has sold in large numbers, and that’s the 1960s German-made Amphicar, which produced 3,878 cars, with 3,046 of them exported to the United States. In 2005 we looked closely at the fledgling auction marketplace for the Amphicar, and again in 2015, we surveyed all of the sales of the car to that point in time. In 2020, the Amphicar set a new auction record with the sale of this vehicle, beating out the previous record of $123,200 held by Barrett-Jackson.

$129,972 | A large Ichthyosaur fossil from the lower Jurassic

This very large Ichthyosaur fossil from the lower Jurassic period sold for $129,972 at Christie’s on October 28, 2020
This very large Ichthyosaur fossil from the lower Jurassic period sold for $129,972 at Christie’s on October 28, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £100,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

The Ichthyosaur was a marine reptile that lived in the time of the dinosaur (from 250 million years ago until about 90 million years ago) and today about 80 species are recognized. They take their name from the Greek for “fish lizards” and are an excellent example of convergent evolution. It is thought that they evolved from land based lizards moving into the sea, eventually converging on the shape of the fish upon which they preyed. The largest Ichthyosaur skeleton ever found measured 16-meters, so although the fossil offered in this sale measures 10ft 9 inches and is indeed large, it would indeed have been a small Ichthyosaur in its day.

$137,500 | Stormtrooper Helmet from “Star Wars: A New Hope”. 1977

This Stormtrooper Helmet from "Star Wars: A New Hope" (1977) sold for $137,500 at Propstore on August 27, 2020
This Stormtrooper Helmet from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977) sold for $137,500 at Propstore on August 27, 2020

Propstore

Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: August 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

Screen-worn Stormtrooper helmets have a spectacular history at auction over the last decade, with previous screen-worn helmets at auction having fetched $276,750, $245,000, $240,000, $196,756 (£159,900), $179,090 (£135,300), $126,800 (£65,000), $122,985 (£86,500) and $121,847 (£79,950), and there are plenty more that have sold above the $60,000 low estimate of this specimen. This helmet is a rare example that retains its original painted finish from the first film of the world’s most-watched film franchise. It was not repainted for The Empire Strikes Back as many others were. Though some of the original paintwork has cracked and worn, helmets with their original first-film paint finish and original ear pieces are exceedingly rare; less than five are believed to exist in private collections, including this never-before-offered example, which came in at a more-than-reasonable $137,500.

$137,575 | Autograph Letter signed Ludwig Wittgenstein to Moritz Schlick discussing Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and Philosophy Of Math

This autograph letter signed Ludwig Wittgenstein to Moritz Schlick discussing Gödel's incompleteness theorems and Philosophy Of Mathematics, was sold for $137,575 at Bonhams on July 10, 2020
This autograph letter signed Ludwig Wittgenstein to Moritz Schlick discussing Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and Philosophy Of Mathematics, was sold for $137,575 at Bonhams on July 10, 2020

Bonhams

Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: July 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Bonhams

This 13-page autograph letter in German is signed by Ludwig Wittgenstein and was sent to Moritz Schlick, discussing Kurt Gödel‘s incompleteness theorems and the Philosophy Of Mathematics. Bertrand Russell described Wittgenstein as “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius traditionally conceived: passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.” Wittgenstein letters of philosophical import are exceedingly rare in commerce. Evidencing Wittgenstein at his most essential, grappling extemporaneously with the most “astonishing” logical puzzle of modern times: Godel’s incompleteness theorem. The present letter is the most spectacular Wittgenstein autograph to appear at auction in the past 25 years.

$146,665 | “Principia Mathematica” (1910-13) by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell

This copy of “Principia mathematica” (1910-13 ) by Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), sold for $146,665 at Christie’s on July 30, 2020
This copy of “Principia mathematica” (1910-13 ) by Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), sold for $146,665 at Christie’s on July 30, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £112,500
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: July 30, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

First edition of all three volumes of Principia Mathematica – a work so important that it is a landmark of modern thought. This copy is exceptionally rare as a complete set and not ex-library. Principia mathematica is considered the greatest single contribution to logic to appear since Aristotle. Whitehead and Russell set out to show how “mathematics could be derived solely from logical concepts and by logical methods … [Principia] has had an influence, direct and indirect, of near Newtonian proportions upon the spheres of its chief influence: mathematical logic, set theory, the foundations of mathematics, linguistic analysis and analytical philosophy” (Grattan-Guinness).

$153,138 | Full Armour In Maximillian Style. Second half of the 19th Century

This full set of armour in Maximillian style, from the second half of the 19th Century, sold for $153,138 at Czerny's on December 19, 2020
This full set of armour in Maximillian style, from the second half of the 19th Century, sold for $153,138 at Czerny’s on December 19, 2020

Czerny’s

Price in sale currency:€125,000
Auction House: Czernys
Date Sold: December 19, 2020
Official Auction Page: Czernys

Military technology has always been of paramount importance because when it comes to armed conflict, failure is not an option. Flak jackets made of ballistic cloth with ceramic or metal plates are common among police and military forces these days, but personal armour is far from new, with the oldest known body armour dating from 1500 BC and the first chain mail from 500 BC. Regular advances in metallurgy, design and craftsmanship kept armour relevant for thousands of years, and led to heavy cavalry dominating the battlefield for centuries.

Maximilian armour is a modern term applied to the 16th-century German plate armour associated with, and possibly first made for the Emperor Maximilian I. This armour is made in plain steel, but it is decorated with many flutings designed to deflect the points and blades of assailants and increase the structural strength of the plates. This full set of armour in Maximillian style, though dating from the second half of the 19th Century, is fashioned with the characteristics and expert craftsmanship of the finest sixteenth-century specimens. It was clearly made by a true master gunsmith.

$156,000 | Super Mario Bros. 3 – Wata 9.2 A+ Sealed

This first production sealed copy of the 1990 Nintendo NES “Super Mario Bros. 3” game, graded Wata 9.2 A+, sold for $156,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020
This first production sealed copy of the 1990 Nintendo NES “Super Mario Bros. 3” game, graded Wata 9.2 A+, sold for $156,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: November 22, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

The collecting of Video Console games in general is on the rise, as is the collecting of Nintendo Video Game Console games and beyond that, the collecting of Super Mario games and memorabilia is also reaching unprecedented levels. On one hand it is surprising that prices entered the stratosphere so quickly in 2020, with such a steep price trajectory, but when you consider that Mario is the best-selling video game franchise of all-time with 653 million games sold, and the Super Mario series sold 348 million games on its own, the sheer magnitude of those numbers represents a sizeable chunk of humanity.

The only other games franchise with comparable numbers is Pokemon with 368 million games sold. In the modern era of mixed media franchises, it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the value of a brand and how much it has imprinted itself on the psyche of hundreds of millions of human beings.

Given that the most successful people with the largest amount of disposable income drive each individual collector marketplace, and a significant percentage of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs spent a significant percentage of their youth interacting with Shigeru Miyamoto’s lovable Italian plumber, then Mario will almost certainly smash more price records over the next few years.

Conjecture aside, Super Mario Bros. twice set world records in 2020 for the highest price paid for a video game at auction.

On July 10, 2020, Heritage Auctions sold the highest-graded copy of Super Mario Bros. to that time for a record $114,000.

At the same auction, the only-known sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 (Wata 9.0 A Sealed “Left, First Production”, NES Nintendo 1990 USA ) sold for $38,400. The variant’s “Left, First Production” moniker refers to the formatting of “Bros.” on the front of the box, which confirms that this copy is from the earliest production run of the title, effectively the equivalent to a “First Edition” in books. Sealed copies are unquestioned rarities, with the lot sold here believed to be one of fewer than 10 in existence.
Then, on November 22, another first production sealed copy of the 1990 Nintendo NES “Super Mario Bros. 3” game went to auction with a grading of “Wata 9.2 A+”, selling for $156,000 at Heritage Auctions. Just a short 35 years prior, you could have found one at a retail store for $49.99. If Mario Bros. isn’t your schtick, perhaps apply the same logic to what can now be purchased as commonplace but will be highly prized in 20, 30 or 50 years time.

$156,000 | Japanese Tin Litho Battery-Operated Machine Man Robot by Masudaya c. 1959

This Japanese Tin Litho Battery-Operated Machine Man Robot by Masudaya (circa 1959) is the rarest of the legendary “gang of four” robots. It sold for $156,000 at Dan Morphy Auctions on September 24, 2020
This Japanese Tin Litho Battery-Operated Machine Man Robot by Masudaya (circa 1959) is the rarest of the legendary “gang of four” robots. It sold for $156,000 at Dan Morphy Auctions on September 24, 2020

Dan Morphy Auctions

Auction House: Morphys
Date Sold: September 24, 2020
Official Auction Page: Morphys

While Japan was repurposing its manufacturing base post-WW2, it made a lot of Tin Lithograph toys for the children of rich countries, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s before the advent of plastics. The cream of that crop came from Masudaya, which manufactured a range of high quality Tin Litho battery-operated toys, including a range of 15-inch-tall toy robots and the world’s very first remote control toy – a toy robot named Radicon. Another of Masudaya’s toy robots is named Target robot and it comes with a target on its chest and a plastic pistol that shoots darts – the aim being to shoot the moving robot.

In the 1990s, the rarest of the five toy robots manufactured by Masudaya, a limited edition robot named Machine Man, began to make waves at auction. In 1996 the very first Masudaya Machine Man ever to go to public auction sold for $42,500 at Sotheby’s during the sale of the Matt Wyse Collection, and the following December (1997), Sotheby’s sold another Machine Man for $74,000.

In the intervening 23 years, the 15 known Machine Man robots have reached auction from time-to-time, and whenever one appears, records have been threatened. Morphys sold a Machine Man in 2010 for $45,600, Philip Weiss Auctions sold one in 2014 for $44,850, and the record was finally broken in 2019 when Morphy sold another Machine Man for $86,100, securing a spot in our end-of-year technology auction round-up.

This year, one of the prizes of the toy collecting trade came to auction: an “attic find” 16th Masudaya Machine Man with its original box sold for almost double the previous record.

$156,250 | Waldseemuller’s Tabula Terre Nove (1513) – the first obtainable printed map to focus on the New World

This copy of Waldseemuller's “Tabula Terre Nove” (1513) - the first obtainable printed map to focus on the New World - sold for $156,250 at Arader Galleries on December 6, 2020
This copy of Waldseemuller’s “Tabula Terre Nove” (1513) – the first obtainable printed map to focus on the New World – sold for $156,250 at Arader Galleries on December 6, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: December 6, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

Martin Waldseemuller’s Tabula Terre Nove is the first obtainable printed map to focus on the New World. Commonly known as the Admiral’s Map, it is preceded only by the small map of the Spanish Main by Peter Martyr in Seville, 1511 (12 surviving examples known) and Johannes Stobnicza’s map of 1512 (3 surviving known examples). The present work was the most important map included in Johann Schott’s edition of Ptolemy’s Geographia, published in Strasbourg in 1513. Given its radical role in asserting the existence of the New World, it was perhaps ironic that it appeared in an edition of Ptolemy, for it helped to shatter the traditional Ptolemaic conventions of geography.The Tabula Terre Nove was the most important map included in Martin Waldseemuller’s 1513 Ptolemaic atlas. Completed just twenty years after the discovery of America, it was without question the best representation of the New World to date.

$156,250 | Crystallized Gold from Pontes e Lacerda, Mato Grosso, Brazil

This 379 gram (12.18 oz t) lump of crystallized Gold from Pontes e Lacerda, Mato Grosso, Brazil measures 3.54 x 1.57 x 1.41 inches (9 x 4 x 3.6 cm) and sold for $156,250 at Heritage Auctions on March 14, 2020
This 379 gram (12.18 oz t) lump of crystallized Gold from Pontes e Lacerda, Mato Grosso, Brazil measures 3.54 x 1.57 x 1.41 inches (9 x 4 x 3.6 cm) and sold for $156,250 at Heritage Auctions on March 14, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: March 14, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

While gold mining has been common practice across the planet for 7000 years, the precious metal occurs in crystal form in only a few select locations and is still extremely rare. Formed at great depths, under enormous heat, beautiful natural crystals waited hundreds of millions of years to be found by sheer luck in a farm field in Brazil. This truly remarkable example features sharply crystallized, three-dimensional shapes considered extremely rare and desirable for Gold. Likely only 1 in 1,000 mines produces such incredible forms of the coveted crystallized Gold, and the specimen, weighing a substantial 379 grams, is very large for the type. The combination of size, rarity and aesthetics makes this striking example a superlative crystallized Gold. This offering represents 12.18 troy ounces (379 grams) of high purity gold in a supreme quality collector specimen, with measurements of 3.54 x 1.57 x 1.41 inches (9 x 4 x 3.6 cm).

$156,250 | Neil Armstrong And Michael Collins NASA Apollo 11 Translation Controller

This is the NASA Apollo 11 Translation Controller used by both Neil Armstrong And Michael Collins. It sold for $156,250 at Julien's Auctions on July 17, 2020
This is the NASA Apollo 11 Translation Controller used by both Neil Armstrong And Michael Collins. It sold for $156,250 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

One of a number of pieces of the controls of Apollo 11 to go to auction in 2020. This is the original T-handle translational control stick from the Apollo 11 command module Columbia (CSM-107) in 1969. This control handle, positioned near the left hand of astronaut and mission commander Neil Armstrong (located in the left couch of the command module) allowed changes to the spacecraft’s trajectory and direction with thrust and was used particularly while docking the command module with the lunar module, known as the Eagle, an operation carried out by Michael Collins. This control handle, when turned counterclockwise, also allowed Armstrong to abort the mission during the initial launch phase if the crew encountered any problems at lift-off.

$158,639 | Euclid’s Elements by 13th Century Polymath Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi (1274)

This copy of Euclid’s Elements was made by 13th Century Polymath Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi (1274). It sold for $158,639 at Sotheby’s on July 10, 2020
This copy of Euclid’s Elements was made by 13th Century Polymath Nasir Al-Din Al-Tusi (1274). It sold for $158,639 at Sotheby’s on July 10, 2020

Sotheby’s

Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria wrote Elementorum geometricorum libri XV around 300 BC, and it remained the primary textbook for teaching mathematics in general and geometry in particular, until the early 20th century. It is the only writing of classical antiquity to have a continuous history of textbook use from the pre-Christian era to the twentieth century. It was originally written by Euclid in Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt c. 300 BC, translated from the Arabic text 900 years ago by Adelard of Bath, edited 800 years ago by Campanus of Novara, and first printed in Venice on May 25, 1482. It was hence one of the very earliest mathematical works to be printed after the invention of the printing press and has been estimated to be second only to the Bible in the number of editions published since the first printing in 1482. Readers will recognize some of the diagrams in this book from the textbooks of their youth.

Each year a copy of Euclid’s Elements seems to manage a spot in our annual auction review of scientific documents. In 2018 Christie’s sold a first edition of this work, printed in Venice in May, 1482 for £284,750 ($376,905), making it the second most expensive copy ever sold, behind only another first edition sold by Sotheby’s in 2001 for $511,750.
This year, Euclid made his presence felt on our listing 2300 years after his earthly demise via a different route, when a copy of Euclid’s Elements by Nasir al-Din al-Tusi’s went to auction.

Persian polymath Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (A.D. 1201-1274) was responsible for editions of most of the Greek astronomical and mathematical works that had been translated into Arabic in the 8th-10th centuries. Al-Tusi based his recension on the translations of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf in the early 9th century and Thabit ibn Qurra at the end of the 9th century, preferring the latter.

Remarkably, though this lot sold for £125,000 ($158,639), it previously went to auction in 2009, when it fetched GBP193,250 (US$307,151 based on the exchange rates of 7 October 2009). Someone got a bargain!

$162,663 | E11 Stormtrooper Blaster from “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983)

This Stormtrooper Blaster from "Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (1983) sold for $162,663 (£97,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020
This Stormtrooper Blaster from “Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (1983) sold for $162,663 (£97,500) at Propstore on December 2, 2020

Propstore

Price in sale currency: £97,500
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

A stormtrooper blaster from Richard Marquand’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Stormtroopers carried their standard-issue E-11 imperial blaster rifles throughout the film, including the Death Star docking bay sequence and the battle of Endor.

While the first two Star Wars films used stormtrooper blasters made from blank-firing Sterling rifles, slightly redesigned E-11 blasters were specifically fabricated for Return of the Jedi out of non-firing Sterling L2A2 replicas made by Model Gun Corporation of Japan (MGC). No blank-firing stormtrooper blasters were used for Return of the Jedi.

$164,491 | “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI” by Nikolas Copernicus

"De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI" by Nikolas Kopernicus sold for $164,491 at Zisska and Lacher in Munich on July 23, 2020
“De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, libri VI” by Nikolas Kopernicus sold for $164,491 at Zisska and Lacher in Munich on July 23, 2020

Zisska and Lacher

Auction House: Zisska and Lacher
Date Sold: July 23, 2020
Official Auction Page: Zisska and Lacher

De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the revolutions of the heavenly spheres), by Nicolaus Copernicus was published less than 500 years ago, and for the first time presented compelling evidence that the Earth was not the center of the universe with Copernicus’ heliocentric theory. This book was published in 1543, though its core text was written at least 30 years prior, and Copernicus resisted publication for many decades due to its heretical implications. He was finally handed one of the first printed copies on his death bed.

More than just contradicting religious doctrine, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium threatened mankind’s self perception. As Sigmund Freud so eloquently put it in his A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (delivered as lectures between 1915 and 1917 and translated into English in 1920): “Humanity has in the course of time had to endure from the hands of science two great outrages upon its naive self-love. The first was when it realized that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a tiny speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable; this is associated in our minds with the name of Copernicus, although Alexandrian doctrines taught something very similar. The second was when biological research robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to a descent from the animal world, implying an ineradicable animal nature in him: this transvaluation has been accomplished in our own time upon the instigation of Charles Darwin, Wallace, and their predecessors, and not without the most violent opposition from their contemporaries. But man’s craving for grandiosity is now suffering the third and most bitter blow from present-day psychological research which is endeavoring to prove to the ‘ego’ of each one of us that he is not even master in his own house, but that he must remain content with the veriest scraps of information about what is going on unconsciously in his own mind. We psychoanalysts were neither the first nor the only ones to propose to mankind that they should look inward; but it appears to be our lot to advocate it most insistently and to support it by empirical evidence which touches every man closely.”

Three times a copy of this book has sold for more than US$1.0 million. The most valuable first edition copy of Copernicus’ master work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium fetched $2,210,500 at a Christie’s (New York), June, 2008 auction. Another copy sold for $1,295,767 (£825,250) at a Sotheby’s auction in November, 2011, and another for $1,069,805 at a Christies auction in December, 2013.

$171,875 | Cape worn by Christopher Reeve in Superman I, II and most likely III

This cape worn by Christopher Reeve in Warner Brothers Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) and possibly Superman III (1983) sold for $171,875 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020
This cape worn by Christopher Reeve in Warner Brothers Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) and possibly Superman III (1983) sold for $171,875 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s Auctions
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s Auctions

When a movie is filmed, most of the costumes and major props have two, three and sometimes more identical copies, because once a film crew and cast is assembled, it costs so much money per minute that delays are financially unacceptable. In December 2019 Julien’s Auctions sold the most expensive Superman cape ever auctioned, fetching $193,750. The cape was used in Superman (1978) and was one of six original capes made for and used in the film. This year another of Superman’s Cape worn by Christopher Reeve in Superman I, II and perhaps III, sold for $171,875 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020. The cape was primarily used for both studio blue screen traveling matte wire flying and studio ZOPTIC front projection flying.

$175,000 | “Il Disegno Del Discoperto Della Nova Franza” (1566) by Paolo Forlani

The Paolo Forlani map of North America (1565), the first separately published map of North America, sold for $172,200 at Arader Galleries on October 11, 2020
The Paolo Forlani map of North America (1565), the first separately published map of North America, sold for $172,200 at Arader Galleries on October 11, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

Il Disegno Del Discoperto Della Nova Franza, il quale s’e hauuto ultimamente dalla nouissima nauigatione de Franzesi in quel luogo (1566) by Paolo Forlani is the earliest printed map devoted to the continent of North America, and the first map to show the strait of anian which separates America from Asia. The John Rennie Short description of this rare map: “A great example of the golden period of Venetian mapmaking. In the sixteenth century a number of mapmakers were working out of Venice. Many employed the distinctive style of small copper plate engravings, Mapmakers included Giacomo Gastadi (1500-1565), Bolognino Zaltieri (1555-1576) and Paolo Forlani who flourished between 1560 and 1571). They drew on each other work and ideas to produce world maps and maps of the New World This map reveals the state of European knowledge of the time. The Spanish territories in the Caribbean ad Central America, and French claims in along the St Lawrence are better known than the vast interior of New France. The map reveals a New World only just being colonized. The vast interior still remains something of a mystery. The world has yet to be fully comprehended: the lonely island of Japan sits in the middle of Pacific yet to be fully integrated into an accurate world view.”

$174,503 | Majmu’at Al-Mutawassitat, (‘The Compendium Of Intermediate Books’)

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's Kitab al-Mutawassitat (1253-65 AD) sold for $174,503 at Sotheby’s on July 10, 2020
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi‘s Kitab al-Mutawassitat (1253-65 AD) sold for $174,503 at Sotheby’s on July 10, 2020

Sotheby’s

Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

Nasir al-Din al-Tusi‘s Kitab al-Mutawassitat was a compendium of works described by him as “intermediate”, (between Euclid’s Elements and Ptolemy’s Almagest) and it contained a group of treatises on mathematics and astronomy of which, in most cases, he had written commentaries or new editions himself. In the case of the present volume, several of the individual treatises have colophons, which refer to the dates of the editing of these texts and sometimes mention the “author”. In all cases these dates are between 651 and 663 AH (1253-65 AD).

$180,000 | Son of Frankenstein (1939) (22″ X 28″) Movie Poster

This Son of Frankenstein (1939) (22" X 28") Movie Poster sold for $180,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020
This Son of Frankenstein (1939) (22″ X 28″) Movie Poster sold for $180,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: November 22, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

Son of Frankenstein followed after Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) in the film series. The design of the half sheet Son of Frankenstein poster that appeared at auction in November 2020 is so rare that even Heritage Auctions, the largest auction house in America, had only sold one copy of this poster prior – a copy of the poster had sold in 2007 for $89,625. This was Boris Karloff’s last appearance in the role as the monster at 51 years of age.

$182,400 | The Invisible Man (1933) (27″ X 41″) Movie Poster

This 27" X 41" movie poster for The Invisible Man (1933) sold for $182,400 at Heritage Auctions on March 22, 2020
This 27″ X 41″ movie poster for The Invisible Man (1933) sold for $182,400 at Heritage Auctions on March 22, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: March 22, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

Sometimes referred to as the “Shakespeare of science fiction”, Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) was an English writer who gave us such classics as The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The First Men in the Moon, The Shape of Things to Come, When the Sleeper Wakes and The Invisible Man.

The 1933 Universal Pictures movie The Invisible Man is based on Wells’ 1897 novel of the same name, and is generally regarded as one of the greatest movies of all-time, having been selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Two different designs of One Sheet (27″ X 41″) promotional poster for this movie are among the most valuable movie posters of all-time, and near perfect examples of both designs went to public auction in 2020.

This is now the most valuable example of one of those designs and you’ll need to keep going down this list (down the page, up in price) to find the other.

$183,575 | The Holy Land (Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia) 1842-1849, subscribers’ copy, coloured by hand

This copy of The Holy Land: Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia (1842-1849) sold for $183,575 at Sotheby’s on November 17, 2020
This copy of The Holy Land: Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia (1842-1849) sold for $183,575 at Sotheby’s on November 17, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £138,600
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: November 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

Roberts’s Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia, was one of the most elaborate ventures of nineteenth-century publishing, providing the most comprehensive series of views of the monuments, landscape, and people of the Near East. It is one of the greatest of all the colour plate books published in the nineteenth century. This is a First Edition, deluxe subscribers’ copy, coloured by hand over six volumes and free of the spotting often found in the deluxe edition.

$192,000 | KITT Knight Rider 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am

This KITT Knight Rider 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from the Knight Rider (MCA TV, 1982-1987) television series sold for $192,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020
This KITT Knight Rider 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from the Knight Rider (MCA TV, 1982-1987) television series sold for $192,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

If James Bond’s gadget-festooned Aston Martin DB5 was the most recognizable car in the world during the 1960s, then the KITT Knight Rider 1982 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am from Universal Studios’ Knight Rider (MCA TV, 1982-1987) smash hit television series was most likely more recognizable during the 1980s … and technologically far more interesting. KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand) was, at least for screen purposes, an A.I. computer module inside a highly advanced robotic vehicle.

Between 1983 and 1986, Hollywood Productions Inc. was contracted by Universal Studios to promote Knight Rider with the appearance of KITT at select car shows across the United States. These cars were created by Hollywood Productions under a licensing agreement with Universal Studios and were then advertised on local television stations, newspapers, fliers, and all other media as “KITT from Knight Rider” coming to “a car show in your hometown!”

The heart of K.I.T.T. is a computer which gives scores of digital readouts to monitor every aspect of its physical state. It is also equipped with a surveillance scanner on its nose which can detect activity, interiors of structures, persons in the area, etc. The exterior of K.I.T.T. consists of an indestructible material whose nature is classified. The car has retro-rockets to boost it over roadblocks and a grappling hook. Other special effects include an ejection seat, a tear gas system, smoke screen and oil slick devices, automatic driving mode and a collision-avoidance system.”

$199,220 | E. Leitz New York Leica Gun RIFLE

This E. Leitz New York Leica Gun RIFLE was built circa 1938 for wildlife photographers. It is believed to be one of 12-14 extant and sold for $199,220 (€168,000) at the 37th Leitz Photographica Auction (formerly WestLicht Photographica Auction) in Vienna on November 21, 2020
This E. Leitz New York Leica Gun RIFLE was built circa 1938 for wildlife photographers. It is believed to be one of 12-14 extant and sold for $199,220 (€168,000) at the 37th Leitz Photographica Auction (formerly WestLicht Photographica Auction) in Vienna on November 21, 2020

Leitz Photographica

Auction House: Leitz Photographica
Date Sold: November 21, 2020
Official Auction Page: Leitz Photographica

The concept of using the same steady aim of a rifle form factor to point a camera has been with us since the very beginnings of the recorded image. Produced for just one year, and sold in very small numbers, the Leica Gun RIFLE is now rare and very valuable, as can be seen by the €168,000 ($200,000) result of this latest specimen at auction. Considering that there are thought to be only 12-14 such devices extant, the price seems to vary considerably. In 2016, two Leica Gun RIFLEs sold at auction, each fetching the same €168,000. Compared to recent sales though, this was a bargain, as the same Leitz Photographica auction in November 2019 saw a Leice Gun RIFLE sell for €264,000 ($290,970), and the original prototype sold for €288,000 ($324,400) in June 2015.

$200,000 | “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” by Charles Darwin

This copy of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” by Charles Darwin sold for $200,000 at Christie’s on July 18, 2020
This copy of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” by Charles Darwin sold for $200,000 at Christie’s on July 18, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: July 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Charles Darwin’s masterwork, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, is unquestionably one of the most important books ever published. Just 1200 copies were initially printed (that is, First Editions) and an outlier result in 2017 appears to have catalyzed many first editions to reach auction in 2018 and 2019. The outlier result was a copy of the third edition, complete with Darwin’s hand-written revisions, that sold for $1,054,100 (£788,75) at a Christie’s auction on December 13, 2017.

In 2018, first editions sold for MXN 5,551,200 ($288,662) by Morton Subastas in Mexico City, $284,839 (£212,500 at Sotheby’s on July 10), $162,500 (at Christie’s New York on December 4), $125,869 (€109,946 at Artcurial Paris on November 19) and $138,698 (£105,000 at Bonhams London on June 20).

The oversupply of 2018 continued in 2019 with the highest price of $564,500 at Hindman setting a new record for a first edition, and other results also very healthy: $500,075 at Bonhams (New York, on June 13, 2019); $280,403 at Christie’s (£225,000 in London on July 9); $266,475 Aguttes (€240,500 in Paris on November 17, 2019); $198,519 Lyon & Turnbull (£162,500 in Edinburgh on October 9); and $196,478 at Bonhams (£150,062 in London on December 4).

In 2020, the oversupply of First Editions dried up somewhat, with this copy the highest priced at $200,000, another at $168,825 in Bonhams’ Los Angeles History of Science and Technology sale, and $112,500 at Hindman Auctions in Chicago on October 8, 2020. Full copy available on the internet

$213,038 | The Skull of a Triceratops

This Triceratops Skull from the Maastrichtian, late Cretaceous (68-65 million years ago) has 38-inch horns to the brow and sold for $213,038 (£175,000) at Christie’s on May 22, 2020
This Triceratops Skull from the Maastrichtian, late Cretaceous (68-65 million years ago) has 38-inch horns to the brow and sold for $213,038 (£175,000) at Christie’s on May 22, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £175,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: May 22, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

The three-horned, beaked and frill-necked Triceratops was one of the largest creatures to have ever roamed our planet, growing up to nine meters long and 12 tonnes in weight. Triceratops was native to Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota, and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, becoming extinct in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago.

Despite one of the most fearsome profiles of any animal, the Triceratops was a herbivore and thanks to having such a sturdy skull, spectacular Triceratops fossils are relatively plentiful, given that 66 million years is a very long time.

Triceratops horns go to auction most years with Christies and Heritage seemingly doing the most Triceratops business, and prices ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 for a Triceratops horn and $2000 to $20,000 for a Triceratops vertebrae.

Triceratops skulls are by far the largest, most distinctive and impressive skull of any dinosaur. Triceratops skulls are often over 10 feet in length, which means that the brain immediately tries to imagine something big enough to have such a large head. Up close, a 10-foot skull is overwhelming in its presence. This skull sold for $187,500 at Heritage in November, 2017.
Triceratops skulls are by far the largest, most distinctive and impressive skull of any dinosaur. Triceratops skulls are often over 10 feet in length, which means that the brain immediately tries to imagine something big enough to have such a large head. Up close, a 10-foot skull is overwhelming in its presence. This skull sold for $187,500 at Heritage in November, 2017.

Heritage

Full Triceratops skulls are much rarer, but they represent the best bang-per-buck of any dinosaur in terms of sheer visual impact. Triceratops had an unusually large skull – roughly one third of its entire length was skull – so the skull is by far the most impressive and distinctive skull in fossildom. Triceratops skulls are often over 10 feet in length, with recent auction sales ranging from $180,000 to $300,000: £193,875 ($302,317) at Christie’s in September, 2013, $250,950 at Heritage in January, 2009, $ 242,200 at Bonhams in June, 2009, €177,800 ($188,106) at Binoche et Giquello in March, 2017 and $187,500 at Heritage in November, 2017.

The amount of effort required to produce a full museum-quality-display dinosaur skeleton from an archeological find is immense. The above Triceratops prorsus specimen was discovered in 2012 on a private ranch in Montana when pieces of dinosaur bone were found. These bone fragments were followed and eventually large bones indicated the presence of a large Ceratopsian dinosaur. Many of these bones needed to be excavated, meaning the entire process took many weeks as the specimen could be damaged if the work was not slow and careful. Each specimen was covered in plaster jackets and removed from the field to the lab. The bones were then carefully removed from their field jackets and prepared using hand tools. Broken bones were professionally repaired and restored while several missing elements were cast from other Triceratops skeletons to complete the skeleton. A custom mount has been created to support the bones and the skull; innovative bracket mounts were crafted for each bone so that no bones were damaged in order to mount them. The bones were mounted in osteologically correct positions. Each such creature devours hundreds of hours of patient, exacting labor.
The amount of effort required to produce a full dinosaur skeleton is immense. The above Triceratops prorsus specimen was discovered in 2012 on a private ranch in Montana when pieces of dinosaur bone were found. These bone fragments were followed and eventually large bones indicated the presence of a large Ceratopsian dinosaur. Many of these bones needed to be excavated, meaning the entire process took many weeks as the specimen could be damaged if the work was not slow and careful. Each specimen was covered in plaster jackets and removed from the field to the lab. The bones were then carefully removed from their field jackets and prepared using hand tools. Broken bones were professionally repaired and restored while several missing elements were cast from other Triceratops skeletons to complete the skeleton. A custom mount has been created to support the bones and the skull; innovative bracket mounts were crafted for each bone so that no bones were damaged in order to mount them. The bones were mounted in osteologically correct positions. Each such creature devours hundreds of hours of patient, exacting labor.

Bonhams

Full triceratops skeletons are extremely rare, with only a few having been to auction this century, and only one selling, such are the high expectations of vendors and hence high reserve prices. In April 2008, Christie’s took a 70 percent complete, 25 ft long Triceratops skeleton to auction in Paris, but the high bid of €490,000 ($780,000) fell short of the reserve price.

Similarly, in November, 2013, Bonhams took a 26-foot-long Triceratops to auction (65{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} bone, 24-inch horns, 10 foot tall) with an expectation of $700,000 to $900,000 but bidding failed to make reserve. Indeed, the only full (well, 75{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} bone) Triceratops skeleton to sell at auction fetched $657,250 at Heritage Auctions in Dallas in June 2011.

$218,777 | Letters from Charles Darwin to Professor Henslow 1835

The first edition of Darwin's first separately printed work, this compilation of letters from Charles Darwin to Professor Henslow (1835) sold for $218,777 at Sotheby’s on December 8, 2020
The first edition of Darwin’s first separately printed work, this compilation of letters from Charles Darwin to Professor Henslow (1835) sold for $218,777 at Sotheby’s on December 8, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £163,800
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: December 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

During his years on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin wrote regularly to the Rev. Professor John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), the Professor of Botany at Cambridge University. As an undergraduate, Darwin had been mentored by Henslow: it was the conversation at Henslow’s Friday soirées that inspired Darwin to pursue natural history. It was Henslow who encouraged Darwin to learn geology from the great Adam Sedgwick, and it was Henslow who recommended Darwin to Captain FitzRoy of the Beagle. Darwin’s letters to Henslow from the Beagle were full of botanical and geological observations and discoveries including unrecorded specimens and tantalizing fossils, conveying his enthusiasm and excitement in pellucid prose. When Henslow read excerpts from these letters at a meeting of the Cambridge Philosophical Society on 16 November 1835, they generated so much excitement that Henslow decided to reproduce them in a pamphlet for circulation with the Society. This lot is a First Edition of that compilation of letters and sold for $218,777 at Sotheby’s on December 8, 2020.

$227,679 | Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera 1840

This 180-year-old Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera (1840) is historically important for its introduction of the fast f:3.7 Petzval lens - it was 15 times faster than the lenses Daguerre used in his daguerreotype of 1839, which was the first publicly available photographic process. This camera sold for $227,679 (€192,000) at Leitz Photographica on November 21, 2020
This 180-year-old Voigtländer Daguerreotype Camera (1840) is historically important for its introduction of the fast f:3.7 Petzval lens – it was 15 times faster than the lenses Daguerre used in his daguerreotype of 1839, which was the first publicly available photographic process. This camera sold for $227,679 (€192,000) at Leitz Photographica on November 21, 2020

Leitz Photographica

Price in sale currency:€192,000
Auction House: Leitz Photographica
Date Sold: November 21, 2020
Official Auction Page: Leitz Photographica

The cannon-shaped camera is also one of the most recognizable constructions from the first days of photography. The focusing screen is positioned at the widest part of the camera, and there is a magnifier in the shorter of the two cones to aid focusing. Once the picture was sharp, the photographer had to go into the darkroom and swap the focusing screen for a daguerreotype plate.

The offered example is in fine, original condition and it has never been restored. Reportedly 600 of these cameras have been sold until 1842, but only around 10 are still known to exist. This is the first time a camera of this type is offered in a public auction. It is one of the most important cameras in the history of photography.

$228,000 | The Invisible Man (Universal, 1933) Movie Poster

This movie poster for the science fiction classic movie “The Invisible Man” (1933) sold for $228,000 at Heritage Auctions on July 26, 2020
This movie poster for the science fiction classic movie “The Invisible Man” (1933) sold for $228,000 at Heritage Auctions on July 26, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage Auctions
Date Sold: July 26, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage Auctions

Two different designs of One Sheet (27″ X 41″) promotional poster for the 1933 movie are among the most valuable movie posters of all-time, and near perfect examples of both designs went to public auction in 2020. The other design to this one that went to auction sold for $182,400 and is now the most valuable example ever sold and this poster is now the second-most valuable example of its type – the record price for this design is $274,850 achieved in 2017.

$240,000 | Caille Triplet Musical Upright Slot Machine

This Caille Triplet Musical Upright Slot Machine circa 1900 sold for $217,800 at Witherells on January 16, 2020
This Caille Triplet Musical Upright Slot Machine circa 1900 sold for $217,800 at Witherells on January 16, 2020

Witherells

Auction House: Morphy’s
Date Sold: January 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Morphys

This is an ultra-rare Caille Brothers Triple Centaur musical upright slot machine, built between 1898 and 1905. The slot machine was invented in the 1890s, and represented the first time that a manmade machine could attract pathological addiction in a human being. As the average payout percentage globally of legal slot machines is 90.89{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} (that is, they keep 9.11{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of all money they ingest), they hence take all the money of players who continue to play indefinitely. The average slot player loses $380 every year while the average problem gambler loses $12,000 each year. Somewhere between 1.5{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} and 5.4{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of Americans experience pathological gambling. Today there are believed to be more than a million slot machines in service across the world and many Governments are as addicted to gambling revenues as the problem gamblers in their communities are to gambling. Though only two Caille triple machines are known to still exist, they both went to auction in 2020, with Witherells selling one for $217,800 on January 16, 2020, and Morphys selling the other for $240,000 on October 30, 2020.

$240,000 | Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein Front Endpapers Illustration Original Art

Bernie Wrightson Illustration Original Art (late 1970s) for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein - This illustration sold for $240,000 at Heritage Auctions on May 3, 2020
Bernie Wrightson Illustration Original Art (late 1970s) for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein – This illustration sold for $240,000 at Heritage Auctions on May 3, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: May 3, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

If you have never seen a copy of Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein, it is one of the most revered publications within the comics industry. It was a labor of love that Wrightson started in 1975, producing illustrations at a steady pace for seven years. Of all of the illustrations created for Wrightson’s Magnum Opus, this is one of the select few that gives a clear portrait of the noble but tortured soul that was known as “the Monster of Frankenstein.” This is one of the first images a reader would see when opening the publication, making it an iconic image!

$246,685 | Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light

This presentation copy of “Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light” by Isaac Newton sold for $246,685 at Forum Auctions on July 9, 2020
This presentation copy of “Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light” by Isaac Newton sold for $246,685 at Forum Auctions on July 9, 2020

Forum Auctions

Auction House: Forum Auctions
Date Sold: July 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: Forum Auctions

Newton’s work on pure mathematics was virtually hidden from all but his personal correspondents for many decades, and then a great international debate began with both Newton and Willhelm Gottfried Leibniz claiming the prize of having invented calculus. Mathematics is the language of the Gods, the Queen of Sciences, and it was not until we had calculus, which enabled us to explore the science of things that change, that science was able to move forward at the frenetic pace it has since the addendum to Opticks: a treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light . This final addition to Opticks, a tract on the quadrature of curves (integration) and another on the classification of the cubic curves, is one of Newton’s many attempts to assert his priority over Leibniz. The two “Treatises of the Species and Magnitude of Curvilinear Figures” included at the end of the text of Opticks are Newton’s first published mathematical papers. His Cambridge lectures, delivered from about 1673 to 1683, were published in 1707. It would be fair to say that both of these great men came up with calculus independently, as did the Persians five hundred years before them, and the Greeks went very close 2000 years before them too. Our view of scientific history is largely eurocentric and it is very sad that the scientific breakthroughs of the Chinese civilization are so poorly recognized, as we will only fully understand our heritage when it is fully documented.

Copies of this work go to auction most years with most times prices below $50,000. This is only the second copy to have fetched more than $100,000 since the record price in 2015: the other was a First Edition, first issue sold for GBP 81,250 ($108,740) at Christies, London in July, 2018.

This presentation copy of “Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light” by Isaac Newton sold for $246,685 at Forum Auctions on July 9, 2020 and the most valuable copy of this work to sell at auction was also a presentation copy, in that case, to his publisher, friend and Royal Society colleague, astronomer Edmund Halley. That copy sold for $1,330,000 at Sotheby’s (New York) in December, 2015.

Copies of this work go to auction most years with most times prices below $50,000. This is only the second copy to have fetched more than $100,000 since the record price in 2015: the other was a First Edition, first issue sold for GBP 81,250 ($108,740) at Christies, London in July, 2018

$250,251 | Light-Up Remote-control R2-S8 Droid from “Star Wars: Solo: a star wars story” (2018)

Light-Up Remote-control R2-S8 Droid | Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Price in sale currency: £150,000
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

This light-up remote-control R2-S8 droid was used in Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and was seen in the film displaying a hologram for a pair of Imperial stormtroopers at the Coronet Spaceport on Corellia, just after Han (Alden Ehrenreich) was separated from Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke).

Constructed by Stuart Bone, this droid was originally built for use on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although its scene was cut from the final film. It has a plywood frame and legs, with a fibreglass dome and a hand-cut aluminium outer skin. Its hand-painted finish is predominantly white, black and red, and the droid is intentionally distressed to look dusty, dirtied and well-used during its life at the spaceport.

$250,251 | Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) Hero Lightsaber STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)

Obi-Wan Kenobi's (Ewan McGregor) hero lightsaber from George Lucas' Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith sold for $250,251 at Propstore on December 2, 2020
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) hero lightsaber from George Lucas’ Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith sold for $250,251 at Propstore on December 2, 2020

Propstore

Price in sale currency: £150,000
Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: December 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

One of the most valuable Star Wars artefacts to reach auction during 2020 was Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s (Ewan McGregor) hero lightsaber from George Lucas’ Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan carried and used his lightsaber in various scenes throughout the saga, notably during a duel on the fiery planet of Mustafar with his former apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), by then known as Darth Vader.

In the Star Wars canon, Obi-Wan constructed his third and final lightsaber after earning the title of Jedi Master, and continued to use this weapon until he sacrificed himself during his confrontation with Vader aboard the Death Star in A New Hope. The lightsaber’s hilt design inspired Obi-Wan’s apprentice Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) when he created his second, green-bladed lightsaber, which featured in Return on the Jedi.

The lightsaber is made of a combination of machined aluminium and cast resin detailing, with a metal core running through the body of the weapon. Some parts of the weapon are vacuum-metallised, with sections of the pommel, controls section and blade projection plate displaying a mirror-silver chrome finish.

This hero lightsaber was gifted by the film’s producers to celebrated stunt coordinator and sword master Nick Gillard on completion of the prequel trilogy. Gillard was the lead lightsaber fight and stunt coordinator for the Star Wars prequel trilogy films (1999-2005).

$256,000 | Buzz Aldrin’s NASA Apollo 11 Space Flown Control Stick (RC#1)

The original secondary rotational attitude control stick (aka rotation hand controller - ROT or RHC) from the Apollo 11 command module Columbia (CSM-107) in 1969. Used by Buzz Aldrin during the most famous of all space missions. Sold for $256,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020
The original secondary rotational attitude control stick (aka rotation hand controller – ROT or RHC) from the Apollo 11 command module Columbia (CSM-107) in 1969. Used by Buzz Aldrin during the most famous of all space missions. Sold for $256,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

This control handle was originally located near the right hand of astronaut and lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin who was positioned in the center couch of the command module. This “joystick” enabled Aldrin to control the roll, pitch, and yaw of Apollo 11.

$268,400 | “Universalior cogniti orbis tabula ex recentibus confecta observationi” (1508) by Johannes Ruysch

This rare copy of “Universalior cogniti orbis tabula ex recentibus confecta observationi” (1508) by Johannes Ruysch sold for $268,400 at Arader Galleries on October 11, 2020
This rare copy of “Universalior cogniti orbis tabula ex recentibus confecta observationi” (1508) by Johannes Ruysch sold for $268,400 at Arader Galleries on October 11, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

This rare copy of “Universalior cogniti orbis tabula ex recentibus confecta observationi” (A Universal Map of the Known World, Constructed by Means of Recent Observations) (1508) by Johannes Ruysch is generally regarded as the first obtainable world map to show a printed depiction of America.

The first world map to show the New World was the 1506 map published by Francesco Rosselli in Florence, while another was included in Martin Waldseemuller’s map of the same year. Both of these works are known in a single existing example, meaning that Ruysch’s rare map is the earliest cartographic representation of the newly discovered lands that remains available to collectors. Drawn according to Ptolemy’s first (coniform, or fan-shaped) projection, Ruysch’s map was the first indication of America in any edition of the Geographia, and incorporated geographical discoveries from Portuguese, Spanish and English explorations in America.The nomenclature was particularly influential. South America is named “Mundus Novus” or “New World” from Vespucci’s published accounts asserting that this was a “fourth” or “new” corner of the globe, distinct from Europe, Asia and Africa.

This Composite Maximilian Suit of Armor circa 1510-1520 sold for $270,600 at Morphy Auctions in January 17, 2020
This Composite Maximilian Suit of Armor circa 1510-1520 sold for $270,600 at Morphy Auctions in January 17, 2020

Morphy Auctions

Auction House: Morphy
Date Sold: January 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Morphy

Every military force has its elite warriors. Today, those warriors are known as Special Forces, but 500 years ago, they were Knights – Knights were the dominant force of armies in 1500, when the armour auctioned here was made. Over time, the knights became increasingly supported by archers, pikemen, crossbowmen, and handgunners, but in this period the most lethal soldier was mounted on horse of strength and size, and fully armoured. A suit such as this weighed 40 to 50 pounds and if the provenance of the suit is well documented, it will forever appreciate in value. This armour has Royal DNA, and was last seen at auction at Christie’s in London in July 2002, where it fetched £94,650 ($140,000). Previous sale prices of the suit are also recorded in the provenance, being $475 on 14 October 1943 (Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York) and $66,000 on 23 November 1988 (Christie’s East, New York).

$275,000 | “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles” (1627) by Captain John Smith

This copy of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles” (1627) by John Smith sold for $275,000 at Sotheby’s on January 27, 2020
This copy of “The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles” (1627) by John Smith sold for $275,000 at Sotheby’s on January 27, 2020

Sotheby’s

Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: January 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

Despite a spectacular career as an adventurer, and his role in the establishment of first permanent English settlement in America, Captain John Smith is best known for his relationship with Native American Pocahontas. This First Edition, third issue of The Generall History is regarded as one of the foundation sources for the English settlements in America and Bermuda. It was partly compiled from Smith’s four earlier reports on the Virginia and New England colonies, of which all are very rare. The Generall Historie of Virginia contains Smith’s eyewitness account of the founding of Jamestown, his capture and rescue through the intercession of Pocahontas, his observations during his time spent in Virginia (1606-1609), and his explorations of the New England coast (1610-1617).

$287,500 | 1977/1978 Darth Vader Costume from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977)

This 1977/1978 Darth Vader Costume from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977) sold for $287,500 at Propstore on August 27, 2020
This 1977/1978 Darth Vader Costume from “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977) sold for $287,500 at Propstore on August 27, 2020

Propstore

Auction House: Propstore
Date Sold: August 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Propstore

Going by the numbers of eyeballs watching, Darth Vader is the best-known villain in history, courtesy of being the ultimate bad guy in the most-watched sci-fi movie franchise of all-time. Vader’s helmet, mask and entire costume from various Star Wars films have been to auction several times, but in 2019, the Darth Vader costume achieved its first million dollar result ($1.152 million by Profiles in History in September 2019), a new high watermark for any Star Wars costume or movie prop.

Now this isn’t a screen-worn Darth Vader costume, but the helmet was created from the same mold as Vader’s screen-worn helmet from the original film of the series and has clearly seen a lot of use. The entire costume was created for the promotional circuit that was used for the original Star Wars film, as the original screen-worn costume had been pressed into service in the subsequent promotions and was getting a bit tatty. The costume went past its $250,000 high estimate, which is an extraordinary result considering it is not “screen worn.”

$300,000 | “A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs” (1777) by Henry Pelham

A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, Including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin[e], Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, Parts of Malden, and Chelsea. With the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775. And 1776. London: Henry Pelham, 2 June 1777. This is Henry Pelham’s map of Boston under siege that was commissioned by British intelligence. This is the first complete copy to appear at auction in 25 years. It sold for $300,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020
A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, Including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin[e], Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, Parts of Malden, and Chelsea. With the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775. And 1776. London: Henry Pelham, 2 June 1777. This is Henry Pelham’s map of Boston under siege that was commissioned by British intelligence. This is the first complete copy to appear at auction in 25 years. It sold for $300,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 16, 2020

Official Auction Page: Christie’s
This map has the full title of A Plan of Boston in New England with its Environs, Including Milton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Brooklin[e], Cambridge, Medford, Charlestown, Parts of Malden, and Chelsea. With the Military Works Constructed in those Places in the Years 1775. And 1776. It was commissioned by British intelligence and was produced in 1777 by Henry Pelham. Pelham is best known for conceiving the Boston Massacre image made popular by Paul Revere’s 1770 engraving but there can be little doubt that Pelham had become a confirmed Loyalist by the time he took up this commission. According to Deák, there are fewer than a dozen recorded impressions of this map: “Topographically accurate and handsomely executed … It is an unusually fine and comprehensive survey and, as such, constitutes an important document of the Revolutionary period.”

$300,000 | The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America

This first edition of “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America” (1845) by John James Audubon sold for $300,000 on June 18, 2020 at Christie’s
This first edition of “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America” (1845) by John James Audubon sold for $300,000 on June 18, 2020 at Christie’s

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: June 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

This lot is a first edition of “The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America” (1845) by John James Audubon.

“Viviparous” means birthing young from within the body, so this book is essentially a study of North American mammalian wildlife, and like Audubon’s best-known Birds of America, each is superbly illustrated in its natural habitat. Equally as impressive and sweeping as his ornithological work, The Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America is the result of many years of field research, travel, and seemingly endless study and is the outstanding work on American animals produced in the 19th-century. The entire book has been digitized by the University of Michigan’s Special Collections Library and is available in high resolution for free download and use, with attribution.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of this great work is that Audubon, after achieving fame and fortune for the best bird book the world had ever seen, set out to do the same for America’s animals, at an age most people would have been retiring.

After an unsuccessful attempt to secure federal funding for his “Great Western Journey,” he determined that the commercial potential of the Quadruped book was worth funding himself: “To render [the Quadrupeds] more complete, I will leave the comforts of my home and beloved family, bound to the Rocky Mountains … I cannot tell how long I may be absent, but look to return loaded up with knowledge, new and abundant specimens on the shot and not from stuffed museums’ moth-eaten remains. I am told that I am too old to undertake such a long and arduous journey, but I reply that having the will, I will no doubt safely bear or even surmount the difficulties” (letter to C. Bonaparte, Feb. 1843, quoted in Rhodes).
Audubon left St. Louis up the Missouri in April of 1843 at the age of 58, traveling over the Rockies to the Great Plains so he could see all the animals first hand and draw them for this book.

Unlike the double-elephant edition of Birds of America, which was printed in London, this book was produced in the United States, becoming the largest and most significant color plate book produced in America in the nineteenth century. It was published in 30 parts, each containing five plates, and priced at $10 each. In total, just over 300 people subscribed to the book. The most expensive copy of John James Audubon’s second masterpiece to sell at auction was sold by Guernsey’s (New York) in December, 2012, fetching $793,000.
The heart-shaped World Map (1566) by Giovanni Paolio Cimerlinus, is based on a much rarer world map by the French cartographer Oronce Fine, of which just two examples are known. Cimerlinus’s world map is drawn on a single cordiform, or heart-shaped projection, allowing the depiction of the world in one hemisphere.

Only two copies of this map have appeared at auction this century: one sold for £145,250 ($229,600) at Sotheby’s London in 2011 and another for €236,000 ($298,257) at Christie’s Paris in 2006 (a proof before letters). The only other known copies of this map are held in the Harvard Library, the British Library, the Bibliothoque Nationale de France and The John Carter Brown Library.

$312,500 | “Cosmographia universalis ab Orontio olim descripta” (1566) by Giovanni Paolio Cimerlinus

The heart-shaped World Map (1566) by Giovanni Paolio Cimerlinus, is based on a much rarer world map by the French cartographer Oronce Fine, of which just two examples are known. Cimerlinus's world map is drawn on a single cordiform, or heart-shaped projection, allowing the depiction of the world in one hemisphere. This copy sold for $312,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
The heart-shaped World Map (1566) by Giovanni Paolio Cimerlinus, is based on a much rarer world map by the French cartographer Oronce Fine, of which just two examples are known. Cimerlinus’s world map is drawn on a single cordiform, or heart-shaped projection, allowing the depiction of the world in one hemisphere. This copy sold for $312,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

The heart-shaped World Map (1566) by Giovanni Paolio Cimerlinus, is based on a much rarer world map by the French cartographer Oronce Fine, of which just two examples are known. Cimerlinus’s world map is drawn on a single cordiform, or heart-shaped projection, allowing the depiction of the world in one hemisphere.

John Rennie Short description: The stunning world map by Giovanni Paolo Cimerlino (1534/35-1609 after) is a cordiform, from the Latin cordatus, meaning heart. After the publication of Ptolemy’s Geography in 1475 mapmakers experimented with all manner of map projections. In just the period from 1480 to 1560, the orthographic azimuthal, oval and globular projections of the world were employed to depict the world. Other world map projections included the trapezoidal, azimuthal equidistant, azimuthal orthographic cordiform, pseudo-cordiform and double cordiform. It was a time of rich experimentation as if mapmakers were trying to see what worked, what looked better and after 1492, what could accommodate all the new discoveries. Cordiform maps were part of this experimentation. From 1511 to 1566 over 18 cordiform maps were produced by the leading mapmakers including Peter Apian, Oronce Fine, Mercator and Ortelius.

Only two copies of this map have appeared at auction this century: one sold for £145,250 ($229,600) at Sotheby’s London in 2011 and another for €236,000 ($298,257) at Christie’s Paris in 2006 (a proof before letters). The only other known copies of this map are held in the Harvard Library, the British Library, the Bibliothoque Nationale de France and The John Carter Brown Library.

$325,000 | “Astronomicum Caesareum” by Petrus Apianus

The Astronomicum Caesareum has traditionally been found in the collections of royalty, the elite nd affluent, where they have remained for centuries. Copies this good, in the original bindings, appear for sale but once every decade or so. This rare near-complete copy sold for $325,000 at Heritage Auctions on October 16, 2020
The Astronomicum Caesareum has traditionally been found in the collections of royalty, the elite nd affluent, where they have remained for centuries. Copies this good, in the original bindings, appear for sale but once every decade or so. This rare near-complete copy sold for $325,000 at Heritage Auctions on October 16, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: October 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

One of the rarest, most ingenious and most beautiful scientific books of all-time. This book is not only rare, but is one of the few copies still in existence that is textually complete. Books have a high mortality rate when they were printed nearly 500 years ago, and less than 10 percent of the approximately 135 extant copies contain all of the originally printed text leaves.
A mathematician, astronomer and scientist, Apianus was also a master printer and scientific instrument maker, and it was these two latter interests which saw him become famous for the complex paper calculators (known as “volvelles”) that he included within his books.

This book contains many such volvelles, each designed as an analog scientific computer with which to complement, demonstrate and illustrate this elaborate treatise on Ptolemaic astronomy.

Apianus was seemingly a master craftsman at anything he turned his hand to, and he used his deep mathematical prowess to conceive and manufacture scientific instruments in brass in his workshop in the German university town of Ingolstadt – he had been called to the university there in 1527, and it was there that he began a small print shop.

Once he had a printing press, it wasn’t long before the innovative young humanist began manufacturing instruments from paper.

Using the printing press to create rotating volvelles enabled him to make analog calculators and computers of incredible complexity, and the imagination he showed in conceiving such paper machines and then creating the mathematical framework for their manufacture is truly breathtaking and represents a milestone in human achievement.

It isn’t known when Apianus began creating his volvelles, or when he created some of his most complex paper inventions (one had 19 rotating leaves) but this particular book contained 35 such instruments that calculated dates, the positions of constellations etc. No known copy contains all of the calculators as the book evolved over the nine years it took to produce and many of the calculators were so useful that they were removed from the books they originally resided within to make them more accessible. It took Apianus more than a month to produce some of the plates for his paper computers.

The magnitude of Apianus’ conceptual leap over the gestation period for this tome (1532 to 1540) is arguably of similar cerebral achievement to Charles Babbage and his Difference Engine of 1821 and Analytical Engine of 1834. Babbage was more than a century ahead of his time, but Apianus was 80 years prior to John Napier’s invention of the logarithm, 90 years prior to the slide rule, 150 years prior to calculus, 200 years prior to the sextant and three centuries prior to Babbage. The inventiveness of Apianus was truly prodigious.

By “manufacturing” paper computers, Apianus significantly reduced their cost, enabling analog calculators to be produced in this book that would never have been viable to manufacture in brass – one example is a single purpose volvelle that uses the time of birth of a child and the phase of the moon at that time to calculate the time of conception of the child.

Many of the volvelles in the book are designed to calculate astronomical and chronological phenomena but most of them are designed for astrological calculations so that people could for horoscopes. Two of the volvelles in the book are designed specifically for such calculations for the dedicatee of the book, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, (hence the name, “the emperor’s astronomy”) and the Emperor’s brother.

Astrology like alchemy, was a pseudo science commonly practiced by the greatest minds of the time, and many of the greatest scientists in history explored areas of science that have subsequently been proven to be nonsense.

Hence this book, which represents Apianus’ Magnum Opus and was created offers a spellbinding beauty once referred to as “the most spectacular contribution of the book-maker’s art to sixteenth-century science.”

This book describes five comets – among them one we would come to call Halley’s comet. Apian observed that a comet’s tail always points away from the sun, a discovery for which he is credited. As the University of St. Andrews in Scotland notes on its website, “Astronomicum Caesareum delighted Charles V who, on the strength of the work, appointed Apian court mathematician and he knighted Apian and his three brothers.”

Though the book does not contain all of its original volvelles, it is nonetheless regarded as one of the more complete existing copies and previous near complete copies have fetched spectacular prices.

In period, famous astronomer Tycho Brahe recorded that he had purchased a copy of Astronomicum Caesareum for twenty florins, roughly equivalent to US$3,000 today.
In 1985, a copy of this book became one of the most valuable scientific manuscripts ever sold at auction when it fetched US$80,000.

The record price for Astronomicum Caesareum was achieved by Koller auctions in Zurich, Switzerland on 20 September, 2014 when a copy sold for CHF 660 000 (US$701,613). A first edition copy of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica sold for CHF 408 000, (US$433,750) on the same day.

Another copy of Astronomicum Caesareum went to auction at Sotheby’s London on 14 November 2017 with an estimate of £500,000 to £700,000 ($660,000 to $920,000) but failed to make reserve.

This copy is one of the very few known copies in private hands. Most of the 135 known copies are in libraries, museums and universities.

The Astronomicum Caesareum has traditionally been found in the collections of counts and countesses, the elite and affluent, where they have remained for centuries. Copies this good, in the original bindings, appear for sale but once every decade or so.

$336,000 | King Kong (RKO, 1933) (41″ X 80.5″) Movie Poster

This King Kong (1933) Movie Poster sold for $336,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020
This King Kong (1933) Movie Poster sold for $336,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: November 22, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

This King Kong (1933) Three Sheet Style B Movie Poster measures 41″ X 80.5”. It sold for $336,000 at Heritage Auctions on November 22, 2020, becoming one of ten most valuable movie posters in history. Remarkably, there are now two identical copies of this poster in the top ten, with another selling for $388,375 at Heritage Auctions in 2012.

$360,000 | Nintendo Play Station Super NES CD-ROM Prototype, made by Sony and Nintendo c. 1992

This Nintendo Play Station Super NES CD-ROM Prototype, made by Sony and Nintendo c. 1992 sold for $360,000 at Heritage Auctions on March 8, 2020
This Nintendo Play Station Super NES CD-ROM Prototype, made by Sony and Nintendo c. 1992 sold for $360,000 at Heritage Auctions on March 8, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: March 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

This is the only remaining Play Station prototype, developed by Nintendo and Sony during the 1990s.

Collectors cast 57 bids in an effort to own the prototype, which is believed to be the only surviving example of 200 pre-production consoles that spawned from a once promising partnership between Sony and Nintendo. Also known as the Super NES CD-ROM System, the prototype has a slot for Super Famicom and Super Nintendo games as well as a disc drive to play a proprietary CD-ROM “Super Disc” based format.

At one time, this reportedly single-surviving unit was owned by Olaf Olaffson, the founder, first president, and chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc., and eventually found its way into the hands of a private owner by pure chance.

“Reportedly, the other 199 prototypes were destroyed when the partnership between Nintendo and Sony was officially severed, and, though it isn’t certain, it is entirely possible this unit narrowly missed that fate,” said Valarie McLeckie, Consignment Director, Video Games, at Heritage Auctions. “While there are vast differences between this 1990-1992 prototype and the PlayStation console that was eventually released to consumers by Sony in 1994, it is technically the earliest existing prototype for Sony’s first home console video game console and an invaluable piece of video game history.”

$360,000 | Superman #1 (DC, 1939) CGC VG/FN 5.0

The copy of Superman #1 (1939) at left sold for $456,000 on May 16, 2019, the centre copy fetched $360,000 on July 9, 2020 and the copy at right fetched $288,000 on March 5, 2020 with all sales via Heritage Auctions. The Comic marketplace turned over $1.2 billion in 2019 in the United States.
The copy of Superman #1 (1939) at left sold for $456,000 on May 16, 2019, the centre copy fetched $360,000 on July 9, 2020 and the copy at right fetched $288,000 on March 5, 2020 with all sales via Heritage Auctions. The Comic marketplace turned over $1.2 billion in 2019 in the United States.

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: March 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

The most expensive Superman comic is Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1 (1938) with a CGC 9.0 copy of having sold for $3.2 million and numerous other copies having fetched more than $1 million. The next most valuable Superman comic is Superman #1, the first stand-alone comic for the scifi superhero which launched in 1939. The size of the comic collector marketplace is gargantuan. The most valuable copy of Superman #1 to sell in 2020 fetched $360,000 but copies also sold for $348,000 (CGC VG+ 4.5) and $288,000 (CGC VG- 3.5), and the record stands at $507,500 for a CGC 5.5 copy, set at Comiclink in 2017.

$368,167 | “Civitates Orbis Terrarum” (1612-18) by Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg

This copy of the Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg city atlas Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1612-18) was the most valuable sold during 2020. It fetched $368,167 (£275,000) at Christie’s on December 9, 2020, surpassing a previous copy that fetched $250,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020.
This copy of the Georg Braun and Frans Hogenberg city atlas Civitates Orbis Terrarum (1612-18) was the most valuable sold during 2020. It fetched $368,167 (£275,000) at Christie’s on December 9, 2020, surpassing a previous copy that fetched $250,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020.

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £275,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: December 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

The work of Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum is considered to be the first true atlas, in that it consisted of a collection of uniform map sheets for which copper printing plates were specifically engraved, rather than a collection of maps from various sources. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum contained 53 bundled maps of other map makers, all attributed, but all maps were redrawn to the same style and standardised to the same size, then arranged in order by continent, region and state. This was hence the first time that the entirety of Western European knowledge of the world was brought together in one book. Logically, this made it a “killer app” of the time, and subsequent to being first published on May 20, 1570, three Latin editions, one Dutch, one French and one German edition were published before the end of 1572 – given that translation, typesetting and printing were not digital in 1570, one can only guess at the difficulty of accomplishing this 450 years ago. 25 editions of this book were published before Ortelius’ death in 1598.

This lot is interesting in that while it is the most expensive copy of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum to sell in 2020, it was by no means the only copy, and copies also changed hands at il Ponte for €16,000 ($17,755 – for a 1584 edition), €68,750 at Ketterer Kunst ($80,437 – for a Latin mixed edition covering from 1st to 8th edition) and $173,240 at Arader Galleries (1584 edition). A copy also sold for GBP 62,500 at Christie’s in 2019, with another fetching $218,750 at Arader Galleries in New York in January 2019, and becoming one of the most valuable books listed in our 2019 auction year coverage. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum almost always seems to manage a spot in our overview of each year, with an incomplete set selling for $365,000 at Christies in April 2016 and becoming one of the most valuable books listed in our 2016 auction year coverage, and for another sold for $253,217 (£193,750) at Sothebys in 2017 to become one of the most valuable scientific documents sold in 2017.

There’s a full copy available for free to be read on the internet

$370,000 | Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Control Stick

The rotational attitude control stick from Apollo 11 sold for $370,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020
The rotational attitude control stick from Apollo 11 sold for $370,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

This is the original rotational attitude control stick (for adjusting the spacecraft’s attitude using roll, pitch, and yaw ) from the 1969 Apollo 11 command module Columbia (CSM-107) and positioned under the right hand of mission commander Neil Armstrong.

$370,000 | The spacesuit and helmet of Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) from “2001: A Space Odyssey”

The spacesuit and helmet of Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), sold for $370,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020
The spacesuit and helmet of Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), sold for $370,000 at Julien’s Auctions on July 17, 2020

Julien’s Auctions

Auction House: Julien’s
Date Sold: July 17, 2020
Official Auction Page: Julien’s

The value of movie memorabilia is invariably linked to the importance of the film it comes from, with key props from the greatest films of all time always bringing auction prices commensurate with their time in the spotlight.

Hence the space suit used in the Stanley Kubrick masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (MGM, 1968) was always going to be one of the most important technology auctions of the year. Central to the movie is this suit, which is comprised of various parts of different suits used throughout the movie. Some helmets were reused and repainted throughout the production and this helmet has four layers of paint – one or more layers of white, then green, then yellow, and then white, its present color. This indicates that it was used in different scenes by multiple actors and hence used by more than one character.

The near complete costume has a silver body suit, blue back pack and white helmet, but the helmet appears to have been used as a lunar type (white), then as two Discovery type helmets (green and yellow). Most notably, the base green layer of paint seen in chips, cracks, and green overspray throughout the helmet surface suggests that it may have been the helmet worn by Keir Dullea, who portrayed Dr. Dave Bowman, the lead astronaut on the film’s Discovery mission to Jupiter.

The helmet is believed to have been used in the sequence in which Bowman reenters the antechamber of the Discovery surrounded by banks of circuit breakers leading to the “brain room” and logic center to “kill” HAL in one of the most famous science fiction scenes of all time.

This is the helmet Bowman was wearing as Hal spoke the words, “Stop Dave. Stop Dave. I am afraid. I am afraid Dave.” Keir Dullea’s Dr. Dave Bowman is the only character to wear a green helmet in the film, and the green helmet is only worn in that sequence. A yellow suit and matching helmet was worn by Gary Lockwood as Dr. Frank Poole as he is left floating into space. Full story

$375,000 | “Il Disegno Delta Terza parte dell’Asia” (1559 – 61) by Giacomo Gastaldi

Giacomo Gastaldi's 4-sheet wall map of Southeast Asia, China and India sold for $375,000 at Arader Galleries in New York on December 6, 2020
Giacomo Gastaldi’s 4-sheet wall map of Southeast Asia, China and India sold for $375,000 at Arader Galleries in New York on December 6, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: December 6, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

Giacomo Gastaldi‘s Il Disegno Delta Terza parte dell’Asia (The Design of The Third Part of Asia) is a four-sheet wall map of Southeast Asia, China and India. It began with the publication of a section in 1559, with a section added in 1561, and another two sections in 1565, in order to show Indonesia and islands as far south as Java Minor.

$375,000 | “Carte générale du territoire d’Orléans comprenant aussi la Floride Occidentale et une portion du territoire du Mississipi” (1806) by Barthélémy Lafon

This copy of Barthélémy Lafon’s Carte générale du territoire d'Orléans comprenant aussi la Floride Occidentale et une portion du territoire du Mississipi sold for $375,000 at Arader Galleries on December 6, 2020
This copy of Barthélémy Lafon’s Carte générale du territoire d’Orléans comprenant aussi la Floride Occidentale et une portion du territoire du Mississipi sold for $375,000 at Arader Galleries on December 6, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: December 6, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

Barthélémy Lafon’s map ranks as the earliest comprehensive survey of Louisiana and its adjacent regions and is one of the most important maps of the Gulf Coast, Texas, and Louisianna to come on the market in 50 years.$522,750 | Pierre-Joseph Redoute Watercolors for “Les Liliacees”.

$375,000 | Redoute Watercolors for “Les Liliacees”

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

Pierre-Joseph Redoute (1759 – 1840) was an artist so talented that he has been called “the Raphael of flowers” and has been called the greatest botanical illustrator of all time.. Redoute had as pupils or patrons five queens and empresses of France, from Marie-Antoinette to Empress Josephine and her successor, Marie-Louise. Despite many changes of regime in a turbulent epoch, he worked without interruption, a testament to his greatness as an artist. Les Liliacees, Redoute’s largest and most ambitious work, is generally considered to be the artist’s masterpiece.

Les Liliacees is not just a work of exquisite beauty, but one of immense size. It contains 486 scientifically accurate plates of flowers grown in the gardens of the Empress’s residences of Malmaison, St. Cloud, and the palace of Versailles. The entire master work comprises 16 volumes, weighs 320 pounds, and just 18 copies were published. In 1985, Sotheby’s sold Empress Josephine’s personal copy of Les Liliacées for $5,500,000 to a syndicate headed by Graham Arader.

In 2020 a number of the original watercolors used in the preparation of Les Liliacees went to auction at Arader Galleries, with the top sellers being the watercolor for plate 456: Bromella ananas (Cultivated Pineapple) and the watercolor for plate 444: Musa paradisiaca (Banana) that both sold for $522,750 (including buyers premium).

$388,256 | “Speculum nauticum super navigatione maris” (1586) by Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer

This first Latin 1586 Edition of “Speculum nauticum super navigatione maris”, the very important sea atlas by Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer sold for $388,256 (€325,000) at Ketterer Kunst on November 30, 2020
This first Latin 1586 Edition of “Speculum nauticum super navigatione maris”, the very important sea atlas by Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer sold for $388,256 (€325,000) at Ketterer Kunst on November 30, 2020

Ketterer Kunst

Price in sale currency:€325,000
Auction House: Ketterer Kunst
Date Sold: November 30, 2020
Official Auction Page: Ketterer Kunst

This copy of Speculum nauticum super navigatione maris is a first latin edition of the earliest printed maritime atlas, following its first appearance in Dutch in 1584-85. It was the first of its kind in the history of nautical cartography, and created such demand for Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer‘s charts that it was translated into this Latin edition and English, German and French editions soon followed. The excellence of this atlas was such that all other published charts of the coasts of Europe were based on it for at least a century, and all such later collections of sea charts were called after the author “wagheners” or “waggoners” or (in French) “chartiers”.

$422,410 | A Large Iridescent Ammonite

This 22-inch Iridescent Ammonite sold for £325,000 ($422,410) at Christie’s on October 28, 2020
This 22-inch Iridescent Ammonite sold for £325,000 ($422,410) at Christie’s on October 28, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £325,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Fossilised ammonoids are fetching ever increasing amounts at auction, with some of the highest prices ever paid occurring in 2020 for iridescent ammonites, the highest being this specimen selling for $422,410 and another fetching £150,000 ($194,959) at Christies on October 28, 2020.

Both of these large iridescent ammonites come from the Upper Cretaceous period and both were found in the Bearpaw formation (75-72 million years ago) in Montana. The $422,410 22-inch Placenticeras meeki is one of the most visually spectacular specimens ever seen, measuring 22 x 25 x 10 ½in. (56 x 64 x 17cm) and displaying iridescent red, green, yellow, orange, blues and purples to both sides.

$431,250 | U.S. Colt Model 1890 Gatling Gun on an Original Carriage

This U.S. Colt Model 1890 Gatling Gun on an original carriage sold for $431,250 at Rock Island Auction Company on September 11, 2020
This U.S. Colt Model 1890 Gatling Gun on an original carriage sold for $431,250 at Rock Island Auction Company on September 11, 2020

Rock Island Auction Company

Auction House: Rock Island
Date Sold: September 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Rock Island

150 years ago, Richard Gatling’s famous multiple barrel weapon became the scourge of the battlefield with its fearsome firepower used the world over to subdue rioters, strikers and third world nations resisting European colonization. Ironically, its American inventor Dr. Richard J. Gatling created the gun to reduce the number of deaths by combat and to show how futile war is. He achieved neither and from the time the gun was first used during the American Civil War, it simply killed more and more people. During the American charge up San Juan and Kettle hills during the Spanish–American War, three Gatlings with swivel mountings were used with great success against the Spanish defenders, firing 18,000 .30 Army rounds in ​8 1⁄2 minutes (an average of over 700 rounds per minute per gun) against Spanish troop positions along the crest of both hills, wreaking terrible carnage.

The Gatling gun auctioned here is the finest known example of a Colt Model 1890 Gatling Gun extant, and is mounted on an original field carriage. The Model 1890 was essentially an improved version of the Model 1883. In 1889 Gatling returned to the well proved classic design of the exposed barrels as used in the Indian Wars. This model features ten 32-inch 45-70 barrels, and has a rate of fire of 525 rounds per minute.

$437,812 | “Liber Chronicarum” (1493) (“Book of Chronicles” but better known as “The Nuremberg Chronicle”) by Hartmann Schedel

Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: December 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Bonhams

This extremely rare first edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle, hand-colored by contemporary artists and bound for the publisher in Nuremberg by the Weltchronik-Meister, set a new world auction record for the book. A pictorial history of the world, the Nuremberg Chronicle was written over several years by the doctor and book collector Hartmann Schedel, who was commissioned by two Nuremberg merchants. It was originally published in Latin in an edition of around 1400-1500, of which 400 are thought to have survived. It came in two formats; unbound and uncolored and, at a considerably higher price, hand-colored and bound – this copy was hand-colored and bound in the original first binding.

As a biblical paraphrase, Liber Chronicarum is not exactly a scientific document, but it does contains some important maps, so we’ve included it as an “artifact.” The book includes two important double-page maps: a fine world map based on Mela’s Cosmographia of 1482, and a map of northern and central Europe by Hieronymus Münzer. The world map is one of only three 15th-century maps showing Portuguese knowledge of the Gulf of Guinea of about 1470. The map of Europe is closely associated with Nicolas of Cusa’s Eichstätt map, with which it is thought to share a common manuscript source of c.1439-54. It is therefore claimed to be the first modern map of this region to appear in print.

$438,214 | 1944 WW2 Four-Rotor Enigma Cipher Machine

This 1944 Four-Rotor Enigma Cipher Machine by Olympia Büromaschinenwerke AG sold for £347,250 ($438,214) at Christie’s on July 16, 2020
This 1944 Four-Rotor Enigma Cipher Machine by Olympia Büromaschinenwerke AG sold for £347,250 ($438,214) at Christie’s on July 16, 2020

Christie’s

Price in sale currency: £347,250
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: July 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

In 2005, I wrote about a German Enigma machine for sale for $22,950 and marveled that I could “hardly believe such an important piece of mathematical, military and encryption history can be sold for such a (paltry) sum.” Just 15 years later, I sincerely wished I’d put my money down, because in the subsequent 15 years we’ve seen prices climb, to $365,000 in 2015, to $463,500 in 2016, to $547,500 in 2017, to $800,000 in 2019.

There are only around 100 known machines extant from the original 1600 produced, and the magic of encryption has become front-of-mind as Cryptography (aka cryptology) is now a critically important science thanks to the ubiquity of the internet, plus the impact of the blockbuster movie, The Imitation Game, which highlighted the mathematical legacy of Alan Turing, Arthur Scherbius, Marian Rejewski, the importance of Bletchley Park and the ingenuity of the Enigma machine. In 2020, the high mark was $438,214, but don’t bet against the first million dollar Enigma selling in 2021.

$470,430 | “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” (First Edition, 1687) by Sir Isaac Newton

The most expensive copy of Newton’s Principia to sell in 2020 fetched £375,000 ($470,430) at Sotheby’s on July 14, 2020
The most expensive copy of Newton’s Principia to sell in 2020 fetched £375,000 ($470,430) at Sotheby’s on July 14, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £375,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 14, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

First Editions of the foundation work of modern science regularly crop up at auction, and with only 150 copies extant from that first print run of 400 copies, they regularly sell amongst the top lots of each year. In 2016, Christie’s sold a copy of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica for $3,719,500, beating its own record of $2,517,000 set in New York in December 2013 for a presentation copy to King James II.

$470,791 | 1947/48 Nikon L Prototype Camera

This 1947/1948 Nikon L11004 prototype was “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN” and sold for €397,984 ($470,791) at Wetzlar Camera Auctions on July 16, 2020
This 1947/1948 Nikon L11004 prototype was “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN” and sold for €397,984 ($470,791) at Wetzlar Camera Auctions on July 16, 2020

Wetzlar Camera Auctions

Price in sale currency: €397,984
Auction House: Wetzlar Camera Auctions
Date Sold: July 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Wetzlar Camera Auctions

The name Nikon now represents the highest quality in the field of optics and cameras. At the time this camera prototype was made, the Nikon name was brand new. This 1947/1948 Nikon L11004 prototype was valued between €250,000 and €300,000 before becoming the focus of a bidding war between collectors that ended in a record-setting sale of €397,984 ($470,791). An “historically significant” camera, this experimental Nikon L 35mm body may be the earliest example of a Nikon prototype featuring a Leica screw thread, before the manufacturer settled on using the Zeiss Contax mount.

$475,000 | The complete “editio princeps” by Aristotle, 1495-1498

The Pembroke copy of the “editio princeps” of the works of Aristotle, the most important Greek printing project of the 15th century. This copy sold for $475,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020
The Pembroke copy of the “editio princeps” of the works of Aristotle, the most important Greek printing project of the 15th century. This copy sold for $475,000 at Christie’s on October 16, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

This is the “Pembroke copy” of the editio princeps of the works of Aristotle. In classical scholarship, the editio princeps of a work is the first printed edition of a work that had previously existed only in manuscripts, and could only be circulated by being copied by hand. “The complete works of Aristotle, printed by Aldus between November 1495 and June 1498, would have secured Aldus’s fame as a printer had he printed nothing else. The entire publication, issued separately but often bound in five or six volumes, represented more leaves of Greek type than had cumulatively been printed since the time of Gutenberg” (Clemons and Fletcher). The Aldine edition restored to posterity the polymathic works of Aristotle in their original language—and the scientists and philosophers of the next several centuries would make their reputations by either expanding on or disproving their contents. The project was an international tour-de-force, employing agents to search throughout Europe for manuscripts and gathering Greek scholars from across the continent (and England) to edit them. In the words of Aldus from the preface, “humanity may at last, after six hundred years and more of a diet of acorns, feed on fruits.”

$486,095 | Double Diamond Texel Lamb

The Texel Sheep Society auctions on August 27, 2020 saw the sale of this six-month-old ram lamb for £367,500 ($486,095)
The Texel Sheep Society auctions on August 27, 2020 saw the sale of this six-month-old ram lamb for £367,500 ($486,095)

Texel Sheep Society

Price in sale currency: £367,500
Auction House: Texel Sheep Society
Date Sold: August 27, 2020
Official Auction Page: Texel Sheep Society

This Texel six-month-old ram lamb now holds the world record for the most expensive sheep ever sold at auction. Named Double Diamond, the lamb’s elite genetics and the popularity of the breed in the United Kingdom saw a bidding war break out between rival consortiums at the August auction, with the price finally settling on 350,000 guineas, (£367,500). The Texel breed dominates the U.K. sheep industry, and is known for its extreme muscling and high lean meat yields.

$487,500 | Map of Philadelphia c 1752 by Nicholas Scull and Geroge Heap

This “Map of Philadelphia, and Parts Adjacent with a Perspective View of the State House” was created by Nicholas Scull and George Heap. Only three such maps are known. This copy sold for $487,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This “Map of Philadelphia, and Parts Adjacent with a Perspective View of the State House” was created by Nicholas Scull and George Heap. Only three such maps are known. This copy sold for $487,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

When first issued in 1752, the famous Scull and Heap plan was intended to promote William Penn’s new city on the Delaware. When the events of the American Revolution began to heat up, illustrations of the center of the revolt, Philadelphia, began to be in great demand in Europe. This demand was soon met by publishers in England, Germany and France with the reissue of the Scull and Heap map, still the most up-to-date cartographic treatment of Philadelphia then available.

Holmes’ grid plan for the city is shown situated between the rivers, and numerous outlying ‘country seats’ are placed and named, with the primitive road system also indicated. Lotter updated from the first edition to take into account the changes in the place names and environs of the city since the middle of the century, and Heap’s elevation of the statehouse was moved from the top to the bottom center of the plate. The result of all this is a highly attractive and historic map that shows Philadelphia at the time of the Revolution.

$504,870 | Sir Isaac Newton Autograph manuscript notes on the Great Pyramid of Egypt, c. 1680s

Autograph manuscript notes by Sir Isaac Newton on the Great Pyramid of Egypt, ancient units of measurement, and Biblical prophecy, probably c.1680s. Sold for $504,870 at Sotheby’s on December 8, 2020
Autograph manuscript notes by Sir Isaac Newton on the Great Pyramid of Egypt, ancient units of measurement, and Biblical prophecy, probably c.1680s. Sold for $504,870 at Sotheby’s on December 8, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £378,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: December 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s
The pyramids at Giza were the greatest architectural marvels to survive from the ancient world, and Isaac Newton thought they could be the key that could unlock profound secrets.

Newton was certainly not alone in believing that the ancient Egyptians had access to profound knowledge that was lost to the modern world. The searching out of ancient occult secrets was a central trope of alchemy, a subject which Newton studied deeply – approximately 10 percent of all known Isaac Newton manuscripts deal with the study of alchemy.

Newton felt the Great Pyramid could help him glean an understanding of Biblical prophecy; it could lead him to a knowledge of the timing of the Apocalypse; he also is likely to have hoped that it could provide the proof for his Theory of Gravity.

These notes reveal Newton seeking out an underlying structure to the pyramid: the unit of measurement used by its builders. Drawing on a range of ancient and contemporary sources, especially John Greaves’s Pyramidographia (1646), he compared a wide range of measurements including external dimensions, the lengths of tunnels or galleries, the height of chambers, and the size of individual bricks. He aimed to prove that all of these had been calculated from a common unit of measurement: the royal cubit.

$512,000 | The original Flash Gordon comic strip from January 7, 1934

The original Flash Gordon comic strip sold for $512,000 at Profiles in History on March 31, 2020
The original Flash Gordon comic strip sold for $512,000 at Profiles in History on March 31, 2020

Profiles in History

Auction House: Profiles in History
Date Sold: March 31, 2020
Official Auction Page: Profiles in History

The space opera genre began in 1928 when Buck Rogers made his first appearance in Amazing Stories, a science fiction magazine, featuring in a story entitled Armageddon 2419 A.D. by Philip Francis Nowlan. Buck went on to stardom, at first in a globally syndicated newspaper comic strip (1929) then a radio program in 1932 and finally a television series. The popularity of the Buck Rogers comic strip meant rival newspaper comic strip syndicates had to produce their own space operas in order to compete.

In late 1933, King Features Syndicate tasked Alexander Raymond with creating a Sunday comic page to compete against Buck Rogers and the result was Flash Gordon who quickly developed an audience far surpassing that of the Buck Rogers franchise.

Raymond’s first Flash Gordon strip debuted on January 7, 1934, introducing the handsome “Flash Gordon, Yale graduate and world-renowned polo player” and his lovely companion, Dale Arden, who parachute out of a crashing plane and are Shanghaied by Dr. Hans Zarkov aboard his rocket ship launched to intercept the threatening planet Mongo hurtling towards Earth.

Thus began the fantastical space opera that, by the late 1930s, was published in 130 newspapers across the globe, translated into eight languages, and read by over 50 million people each week. Quite soon, Flash Gordon was the star of novels and comic books. This was the strip that began the space opera franchise. Full story

$531,250 | Mitchell Map of America, 1755 First Edition

This first edition copy of the Mitchell Map of America (1755) was sold for $531,250 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This first edition copy of the Mitchell Map of America (1755) was sold for $531,250 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

This monumental first edition first issue engraved map of North America is regarded by many authorities as the most important map in the history of American cartography. The map is in eight sheets, each sheet being 26 x 18.5 inches. This is one of only two known examples of the first issue of the first edition, the other being in the Library of Congress.

This map is the primary political treaty map in American history with twenty-one editions and impressions of the map appearing between 1755 and 1781. John Jay used a copy of the third edition during the negotiations of what would become the Treaty of Paris (1783). It continued to be consulted in boundary disputes throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and even into the twentieth. It was used in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842, the Quebec boundary definition of 1871, the Canada-Labrador case (1926) and the Delaware-New Jersey dispute (1932), among others. During the middle years of the eighteenth century, numerous maps were created as tensions over dominance in North America were leading up to the French and Indian War. “During those years, British and French cartographers were each claiming large, overlapping territories for their respective colonies in America. Cartographic warfare reached its peak in 1755, when several of the most enduring maps of North America were published. It was during ‘the year of the great maps’ that Dr. John Mitchell published this map. The next year, Britain was fighting a war with France that many historians consider to be the most decisive in history. At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, France surrendered more territory to the British than has changed hands in any other conflict before or since.

$563,157 | “Description de l’Égypte” First Edition (1809-1822)

The “Description de l'Égypte” was published in Paris between 1809 and 1822. This first edition, 23 volumes set is housed in a custom made cabinet and sold for £435,000 ($563,157) at Sotheby’s on July 28, 2020
The “Description de l’Égypte” was published in Paris between 1809 and 1822. This first edition, 23 volumes set is housed in a custom made cabinet and sold for £435,000 ($563,157) at Sotheby’s on July 28, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £435,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

This publication is close as we have to a time machine, at least for now, the Description de l’Égypte (full title: Description De L’Egypte Ou Recueil Des Observations Et Des Recherches Qui Ont Été Faites En Egypte Pendant L’expédition De L’Armée Française) was a series of publications, begun in 1809 and continuing until 1830, which offered a comprehensive scientific description of ancient and modern Egypt.

The “Description de l’Égypte” was published in Paris between 1809 and 1822. This first edition, 23 volumes set is housed in a custom made cabinet and sold for £435,000 ($563,157) at Sotheby’s on July 28, 2020.

It is the collaborative work of about 160 civilian scholars and scientists who accompanied Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt in 1798 – 1801 as part of the French Revolutionary Wars, as well as about 2000 artists and technicians, including 400 engravers, who would later compile it into a full work. The full set (pictured above) is breathtaking in its beauty and comprehensiveness. This full collection of books and the myriad illustrations is available online as part of the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Sadly, all of the original manuscripts for this historically significant masterpiece were lost in 2011 when a fire engulfed Egypt’s Institute for the Advancement of Scientific Research, destroying 166,000 of the historical manuscripts on hand.

$625,000 | Fairfax Lands Potomac River Source Manuscript Maps

Three Manuscript Maps delignating the Land of Lord Thomas sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1693-1781) sold for $625,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
Three Manuscript Maps delignating the Land of Lord Thomas sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1693-1781) sold for $625,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

These manuscript maps are the first accurate and detailed survey of the Potomac river. They were drawn to determine the bounds to Sir Thomas Fairfax’s claim, but the most important product of these efforts were the most important early maps of this area in American History. From these preliminary charts, pivotal maps such as A Map of Pensilvania, New-Jersey, New York, and the three Delaware Countries (1749) by Lewis Evans, Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson’s A Map of the inhabited part of Virginia (1751).

$630,273 | Steve Wozniak’s Hand-Drawn Apple II Schematics

Steve Wozniak’s hand-drawn and handwritten schematics and programming instructions for a prototype of the Apple II home computer, consisting of 23 total pages of work-in-progress notes and diagrams for the Apple II breadboard. Sold for $630,273 at RR Auction on December 18, 2020
Steve Wozniak’s hand-drawn and handwritten schematics and programming instructions for a prototype of the Apple II home computer, consisting of 23 total pages of work-in-progress notes and diagrams for the Apple II breadboard. Sold for $630,273 at RR Auction on December 18, 2020

RR Auction

Auction House: RR Auction
Date Sold: December 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: RR Auction

Steve Wozniak’s hand-drawn and handwritten schematics and programming instructions for a prototype of the Apple II home computer, consisting of 23 total pages of work-in-progress notes and diagrams for the Apple II.

As Woz hand-wired the Apple II prototype, he meticulously added notations, circuit changes, and programming notes to these remarkable working pages, documents that not only helped change computers from building-sized behemoths to friendly desktop devices, but likewise ushered in the personal computer revolution in April 1977. Woz’s historic schematics and notes truly represent the genesis of mainstream personal computing that changed how the world forever works, plays, and communicates.

Accompanied by a signed letter of provenance from Wozniak: “These documents, circa 1975, are my original Apple II prototype schematics and programming instructions. They are precious. On these work-in-progress diagrams, you can even see my breadboarding technique, where I’d go over drawn connections in red as I soldered the wires in. At the time, I favored using a purple felt tip pen for writing, so it’s interesting to see these notes decades on. The prototype was hand-wired while I was still an engineer at Hewlett-Packard’s Advanced Product Division, where I was involved in the design of hand-held calculators.”

$656,250 | “Nouvelle France” (Canada c. 1711) by Jean-Baptiste de Couagne

This map of “Nouvelle France” (Canada c. 1711) by Jean-Baptiste de Couagne (1687-1740) sold for $656,250 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This map of “Nouvelle France” (Canada c. 1711) by Jean-Baptiste de Couagne (1687-1740) sold for $656,250 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

This map of “Nouvelle France” (1711) by Jean-Baptiste de Couagne (1687-1740) is the first map of America drawn by an American in America. De Couagne was born to French parents in North America in 1687, and he trained there as a draftsman and surveyor.

As usual, John Rennie Short’s description puts this map in perspective: “For centuries, North America was the crucible of conflict between the English/British and the French. They both wanted to exploit, control and monopolize the valuable fur trade, and build alliances with Native-American allies. French parties traveled up the St Lawrence through the river basins of the interiors. The British power base was on the eastern seaboard. This map by Jean Baptiste Couagne highlights the area of French control and the border region with the rival British in New England. Waterways were the main form of transport in the interior. For the French, the St Lawrence was the major route that gave the access to the interior. A system of portage was used by which boats were carried overland between navigable waters. This is how the French made their way into the interior along the Mississippi and ultimately to New Orleans That is why the lakes and connecting riverways play such an important element in this map. We are looking at a riverine transport system.”

This is one of just four known copies of De Couagne’s map, with two copies in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and one in the Bibliotheque du service historique de la Marine.

$687,500 | “Forma y Levantado de La Ciudad de Mexico” (Mexico City, 1628) 1628 by Johannes Vingboons

This panoramic bird's-eye view of Mexico City in 1665 by Johannes Vingboons sold for $687,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This panoramic bird’s-eye view of Mexico City in 1665 by Johannes Vingboons sold for $687,500 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

The first chorographic image of Mexico City, done almost 400 years ago by Dutch cartographer Johannes Vingboons. This copy is one of only four examples known of vingboons’ “birds eye view” image of the Mexico City, “Forma y Levantado de La Ciudad de Mexico”, or “Plan and Elevation of the City of Mexico.”

The John Rennie Short description of this map is as follows: “Cities were the backbone of economic growth and social change in early modern Europe. The creation of a money economy, the emergence of merchant class, the growth of manufacturing and trade and colonial control points are all intimately linked to the city. The formal mapping of the city coincides with the development of perspective and printed images appeared soon after the invention of printing. Urban maps were drawn for a variety of reasons: celebrations of specific events; surveillance, an element of national inventories, to announce European colonization. When combined, they reveal a world economy of urban nodes , a trading world of connected cities and imperial systems held together by city control points. This map of Mexico City is a bird’s eye view that depicts the colonial center of Spanish rule in Central America. The tight grid of the city was a symbol of Spanish urbanization and colonial control throughout the New Worlds.”

Vingboons work is quite remarkable in that although he created around 240 such “birds eye view” images of the major trading cities used by the Dutch, he lived his entire life in Amsterdam, and drew these images based on his research plus very rich source material provided by the Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company. Vingboons made city elevations, plans, coastal profiles and sea charts, combining them until he had produced a unique series of birds-eye-view images that gave an accurate image of the urban nodes of the world then known to Dutch trade. For many of these areas, Vingboons created the earliest images.

Vingboons’s work was a melding of cartography with perspective and great detail and subtle watercolours that gave such a vivid image of a city that it became a sought-after collector’s item in his own lifetime. The largest batch, a series of 130 watercolours bound in three atlases, was purchased in 1654 by queen Christina of Sweden. After her death these atlases came into the possession of Pope Alexander VIII, and now rest in the library of the Vatican. The next largest collection, more than hundred works, is in the possession of the National Archives in the Hague. A small number of watercolours are in the Medici library in Florence. Four signed parchment world maps form part of the collection of the Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum in Amsterdam.

$691,200 | The best known American tomahawk in existence

“The most important, most historic, most well decorated and best known American tomahawk in existence” sold for $691,200 at Dan Morphy Auctions on May 28, 2020
“The most important, most historic, most well decorated and best known American tomahawk in existence” sold for $691,200 at Dan Morphy Auctions on May 28, 2020

Dan Morphy Auctions

Auction House: Morphy
Date Sold: May 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Morphy

A tomahawk is a single-handed axe used by many indigenous peoples of North America. The term entered the English language in the 17th century as an adaptation of the Powhatan “tamahaac”. Prior to European settlement, the tomahawk had a stone blade, with metal blades soon introduced to the natives, and the other side of the blade fashioned into hammers, pikes and tomahawk pipes such as the auctioned lot became common diplomatic gifts. This tomahawk has a wonderful provenance.

$723,722 | Victorian Heritage Number Plate “26”

The most expensive numberplate sold in the world in 2020 was Victorian Heritage Number Plate “26” which fetched AUD$1,110,000 ($723,722) at a Shannon's auction on March 2, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia
The most expensive numberplate sold in the world in 2020 was Victorian Heritage Number Plate “26” which fetched AUD$1,110,000 ($723,722) at a Shannon’s auction on March 2, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia

Shannon’s

Price in sale currency: AUD$1,110,000
Auction House: Shannons
Date Sold: March 2, 2020
Official Auction Page: Shannons

Next to ourselves, the automobile we drive is the most visible display of who we wish to show to the world, and in car-centric societies, vast money has always been spent on prestige automobiles. From the time the first license plates were issued 125 years ago, the most desirable plates have been fashion accessories, but with the advent of personalized plates, they have become a potent statement of individuality, a gold chip investment, and a lucrative revenue stream for government. These days, what began as a system to keep track of road users is now a gargantuan personalisation industry and Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and some American States boast the most robust number plate marketplaces. In 2020, the most expensive number plate sold in the world was for a Heritage Plate sold in Victoria (an Australian State) for AUD$1.11 million.

$736,863 | Apple-1 Computer with Original Box Signed by Steve Wozniak

This Apple-1 Computer in its original box and signed by Steve Wozniak, sold for $736,863 at RR Auction on December 18, 2020
This Apple-1 Computer in its original box and signed by Steve Wozniak, sold for $736,863 at RR Auction on December 18, 2020

RR Auction

Auction House: RR Auction
Date Sold: December 18, 2020
Official Auction Page: RR Auction

The Apple-1 computer was the first personal computer sold with a fully assembled motherboard and was the product that catalyzed the formation of Apple Computer. Apple has been integral to the computer revolution and has directly changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people. It’s hence natural that the computer that started it all should be a sought-after item, being massively historically significant by almost any measure. Around 85 Apple 1 computers are thought to still exist, (58 verified, 20 almost verified plus up to 10 others which might existaccording to the Apple I registry. With such limited supply it is not surprising that the price of the original Apple I has skyrocketed over the last two decades, though it seems that almost no-one saw it coming because 20 years ago an Apple I could be procured for less than $10,000.

There have long been reports that an Apple I sold at auction in 1999 for US$50,000, but we can’t verify that price or the occurrence of the auction – most likely an erroneous report that was copied and regurgitated. In 2000, the Vintage Computer Festival auctioned an Apple I for US$14,000, with another auction at VCF in 2002 seeing another Apple I fetching the same $14,000 price.

Over the next decade to 2010, another half dozen Apple I computers sold at auction, with the highest known price during this period for an Apple I being $50,000 for an auction on eBay in 2009. The first sign that the Apple I would become hyper-valuable was in 2010, just nine years ago, when Christies sold an Apple-1 motherboard for GBP 133,250 (US$210,864). It was the first recorded sale of an Apple computer for more than $50,000 and since that sale, there have only been three Apple I sales for less than $100,000.

Prices increased dramatically in the period directly after Steve Jobs death in October, 2011, with Sotheby’s selling an Apple I for $374,500 in June, 2012, then Köln-based Auction Team Breker selling an Apple I in November 2012 for $640,000, and another in May, 2013 for $668,000.

The record price for an Apple I computer at auction is $905,000, set by Bonhams in October, 2014, with Charitybuzz since selling two Apple I computers at undisclosed prices in the same price bracket – one sale known to have been $815,000 in 2016, and another in June, 2018 for an undisclosed price.

In 2019, only one Apple 1 went to auction, fetching $470,189 at Christie’s in May 2019, and in 2020, two Apple 1 computers went to market, one at RRAuction in March for $458,711, and this Apple-1 Computer sold for $736,863 at RR Auction on December 18, 2020. It could easily have sold for more, having its original box and being signed by Steve Wozniak.

$750,000 | An 1819 Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory by John Hamilton Robinson

This “1819 Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory” by John Hamilton Robinson, sold for $750,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This “1819 Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory” by John Hamilton Robinson, sold for $750,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

The first issue of a seminal map of the American southwest, John Hamilton Robinson’s 1819 Map of Mexico, Louisiana and the Missouri Territory was the first to delineate the border of Texas and Louisiana as established by the Adams-Onis treaty of 1819. It is thought that around ten copies of this map are extant, and this copy is one of three copies deposited by Robinson in the Library of Congress in order to secure copyright.

$855,000 | Greek Bronze Corinthian Helmet Circa 525-475 B.C.

This Greek Bronze Corinthian Helmet Circa 525-475 B.C. is one of the most valuable helmets ever sold at auction. It fetched $855,000 at Christie’s on June 16, 2020
This Greek Bronze Corinthian Helmet Circa 525-475 B.C. is one of the most valuable helmets ever sold at auction. It fetched $855,000 at Christie’s on June 16, 2020

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: June 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Protection of the head in battle was a killer app, quite literally, and from the times metal could first be fashioned into a helmet, it became the most distinctive medal of male warrior privilege, both on and off the battlefield. The Corinthian helmet was perhaps the most successful helmet type during the Archaic period in Greece. It became the most popular choice by the late 7th-early 6th century B.C, shutting out its competitors due to its combination of elegant form with maximum protection, leaving just a small area of the warrior’s face exposed.

Corinthian coins leave little doubt about how the Corinthian state saw the bronze Corinthian helmet as a technological edge
Corinthian coins leave little doubt about how the Corinthian state saw the bronze Corinthian helmet as a technological edge

Google Images

The Corinthian helmet was worn permanently by soldiers, being angled upwards like a cap when mixing with the population, and became such a statement of rank and privilege that it is featured on many coins from antiquity. Interestingly, this sale involves the most expensive Corinthian helmet ever sold at auction by a fair margin – the previous record for a Corinthian helmet was $270,000 set by Sotheby’s in New York in 2007. That’s most likely because Corinthian helmets are far more commonplace than other high-priced helmets at auction, such as Chalcidian ($1,039,500), Cretan ($842,500 and $508,800) and Illyrian ($435,000).

$875,000 | La Harpe Manuscript Map of Louisiana

This “Carte Nouvelle De La Partie De L'ouest De La Louisianne” (c. 1722-1725) by Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe, sold for $875,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020
This “Carte Nouvelle De La Partie De L’ouest De La Louisianne” (c. 1722-1725) by Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe, sold for $875,000 at Arader Galleries on October 10, 2020

Arader Galleries

Auction House: Arader Galleries
Date Sold: October 10, 2020
Official Auction Page: Arader Galleries

According to the Arader auction description, “the most important 18th century map of the American Southwest”, this particular copy of Jean-Baptiste Benard de la Harpe’s Carte Nouvelle De La Partie De L’ouest De La Louisianne (c. 1722-1725) is from the collection of America’s greatest map collector, Dr. Seymour Schwartz. It is also very rare, with only one other copy extant. That copy is in the Library of Congress and is in relatively poor condition.

$1,100,000 | Leica 0-Series Prototype Camera

The Leica 0-Series Prototype Camera from 1921 is one of three known to exist, and was expected to sell for between €800,000 and €1,000,000 ($900,000 and $1,125,000). The century-old camera failed to meet reserve in the auction at Leitz Photographica on June 13, 2020.
The Leica 0-Series Prototype Camera from 1921 is one of three known to exist, and was expected to sell for between €800,000 and €1,000,000 ($900,000 and $1,125,000). The century-old camera failed to meet reserve in the auction at Leitz Photographica on June 13, 2020.

Leitz Photographica

Price in sale currency: no sale
Auction House: Leitz Photographica
Date Sold: June 13, 2020
Official Auction Page: Leitz Photographica

This camera actually failed to sell, with bidding falling short of the reserve price, but it is listed because of its rarity and technological importance, being a precursor of the Leica I launched in 1925 by the Optical Works of Ernst Leitz, the first commercially marketed photographic camera. The Leica 1 series can be regarded as the basis of modern 35mm photography and hence the prototypes are coveted by photography enthusiasts and collectors. Leica 0-series prototypes have held the world’s most expensive camera title for at least 15 years, selling for €362,413 in 2007, €1.32 million in 2011, €2.16 million ($2.78 million) in 2012 and €2.4 million ($2.97 million) in 2018. There are thought to be less than a dozen remaining prototypes.

$1,200,000 | “Princess of Mars” Original Art (1970) by Frank Frazetta

"Princess of Mars" Original Art (1970) by Frank Frazetta sold for $1,200,000 at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2020
“Princess of Mars” Original Art (1970) by Frank Frazetta sold for $1,200,000 at Heritage Auctions on September 13, 2020

Heritage Auctions

Auction House: Heritage
Date Sold: September 13, 2020
Official Auction Page: Heritage

Possibly the most famous of all of the John Carter of Mars covers by Frazetta, the artist actually painted two versions in 1970, with the first being published as a Doubleday hardback dustjacket cover. Fearing that the original art would not be returned from the publisher, Frazetta immediately painted a version for himself as he was so proud of the image. Frazetta personally related to Joe and Nadia Mannarino (see below), and presumably others, that he loved this second painting even more than the original (which he actually sold in the early 1970s). We’re showing the two paintings side-by-side online for review. Regardless of which version you prefer, both represent the quintessential heroic fantasy image, with the bold, strong hero, the voluptuous female at his legs, and surrounded by a dangerous alien environment.

$1,512,388 | Philippe Dufour Simplicity 20th Anniversary

This 2020 Philippe Dufour Simplicity 20th Anniversary sold for CHF1,361,000 ($1,512,388) at Phillips in Geneva on November 8, 2020
This 2020 Philippe Dufour Simplicity 20th Anniversary sold for CHF1,361,000 ($1,512,388) at Phillips in Geneva on November 8, 2020

Phillips

Price in sale currency: CHF1,361,000
Auction House: Phillips
Date Sold: November 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Phillips

Philippe Dufour (born 1948) is a Swiss-born independent watchmaker widely considered the greatest master of modern watchmaking. In many ways, the sale of this watch, the highest price yet paid for a Dufour watch, marks the point at which Dufour hit the public consciousness. In October 2020, Dufour announced a limited edition run of 21 pieces (numbered 00 to 20) for the 20th anniversary of his most famous watch, the Simplicity. This auction was for the first of those watches and the importance of the auction and the watch are well captured at Robb Report and Hodinkee. There is no official Phillippe Dufour site, but there’s an unofficial one which has myriad links.

$1,785,364 | 608-pound (276-kilogram) Bluefin Tuna

This 276-kilogram bluefin tuna, became the second most expensive fish of all-time when it sold to Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Corp., operator of Japanese sushi chain Sushizanmai for JPY193,000,000 ($1,785,364)
This 276-kilogram bluefin tuna, became the second most expensive fish of all-time when it sold to Kiyoshi Kimura, president of Kiyomura Corp., operator of Japanese sushi chain Sushizanmai for JPY193,000,000 ($1,785,364)

Kiyomura Corp

Price in sale currency: JPY193,000,000
Auction House: Toyosu Fish Market
Date Sold: November 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: Toyosu Fish Market (no link)

The world’s most expensive fish in 2020 was a 608-pound (276-kilogram) bluefin tuna, the first fish sold at the New Year auctions at the famous (though recently relocated from its old site, Tsukiji) Toyosu fish market. The auction is almost always won by Japan’s “tuna king” Kiyoshi Kimura, the owner of popular sushi restaurant chain Sushizanmai in Japan – Kimura has won seven of the last eight auctions for the first fish of the new year, and holds the record for the most expensive fish of all-time, a 278-kg (613-pound) Bluefin Tuna for which he paid 333.6 million yen ($3.1 million) in 2019.

$1,895,118 | Two-year-old Belgian racing pigeon “New Kim”

“New Kim” became the most expensive racing pigeon of all-time when it sold for €1,600,000 ($1,895,118) at a Pigeon Paradise auction on November 16, 2020
“New Kim” became the most expensive racing pigeon of all-time when it sold for €1,600,000 ($1,895,118) at a Pigeon Paradise auction on November 16, 2020

Pigeon Paradise

Price in sale currency: €1,600,000
Auction House: Pigeon Paradise (PIPA)
Date Sold: November 16, 2020
Official Auction Page: PIPA

The most expensive bird sold anywhere on Planet Earth in 2020, or any other year for that matter. This two-year-old racing pigeon named New Kim was regarded as the pick of the entire stable of renowned Belgian Pigeon Breeder Hok Van De Wouwer which was up for auction. Indeed, because bidding was online over a two week period, New Kim actually broke the world record within two hours of the auction opening on November 2. With just short of two weeks to go with this auction, a South African bidder had bid €1.3 million and the world had to wait 14 more days to see what madness might happen in the final few minutes of bidding. No-one was disappointed, as two anonymous Chinese bidders punched and counter-punched the price a further €300,000. In the end, it is believed that the same Chinese industrialist buyer who already held the world record (Armando sold for €1,252,000 in March 2019, a racing pigeon so dominant he was dubbed “the Lewis Hamilton” of the sport).

$1,975,808 | 1808 Breguet Gold Four Minute Tourbillon Watch made for the King of England

This Breguet Gold Four Minute Tourbillon Watch was made for King George III of England in 1808. It sold for £1,575,000 ($1,975,808) at Sotheby's on July 14, 2020
This Breguet Gold Four Minute Tourbillon Watch was made for King George III of England in 1808. It sold for £1,575,000 ($1,975,808) at Sotheby’s on July 14, 2020

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: £1,575,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: July 14, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

George III (1738-1820), King of Great Britain and Ireland, was a fan of science and technology. He assembled an unparalleled collection of mathematical and scientific instruments that is now owned by King’s College London and housed in the Science Museum, London. George had the King’s Observatory built in Richmond-upon-Thames for his own observations of the 1769 transit of Venus. When William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781, he at first named it Georgium Sidus (George’s Star) after the King, who later funded the construction and maintenance of Herschel’s 1785 40-foot telescope, which was the biggest ever built at the time.

George had such an interest in horology that in 1770, he purchased the first watch with a lever escapement from its inventor Thomas Mudge. Hence, when French-Swiss watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon (patented June 26, 1801), King George apparently went to quite extraordinary lengths to obtain one of the first, if not the first watch to include a tourbillon. The sale was somehow completed despite the fact that England and France were at war – behavior that would have been scandalous if his subjects had known. George III paid £700 in 1808 for this watch when it was new and unique, and the only time it has ever been offered at public auction, it fetched £551,500 ($895,000) at Sotheby’s London in 1999.

$2,208,000 | 1969 Tag Heuer Steve McQueen Monaco Ref. 1133

This Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watch was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of the 1971 movie Le Mans. While other watches among the original six were almost all worn by McQueen at some stage, this watch is most definitely one of those that was worn during racing and filming and it sold for $2,280,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020
This Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watch was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of the 1971 movie Le Mans. While other watches among the original six were almost all worn by McQueen at some stage, this watch is most definitely one of those that was worn during racing and filming and it sold for $2,280,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020

Phillips

Auction House: Phillips
Date Sold: December 12, 2020
Official Auction Page: Phillips

This Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watch was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of the 1971 movie Le Mans. Indeed, it is one of six Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watches that were used during the movie and the third of these six watches to go to public auction in the last 50 years. In 2009, one of these watches fetched $87,600 at Antiquorum, which was considered an astonishing result at the time. In August, 2012, another of the six Tag Heuer Monacos used by McQueen during the film sold at a Profiles in History auction for $799,500.

This Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watch was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of the 1971 movie Le Mans. McQueen gave the watch to his personal mechanic Haig Alltounian at the conclusion of filming. That's Alltounian in the red overalls behind McQueen in the Le Mans poster above. While other watches among the original six were almost all worn by McQueen at some stage, this watch is most definitely one of those that was worn during racing and filming and it sold for $2,280,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020
This Tag Heuer Monaco Ref. 1133 watch was worn by Steve McQueen during the filming of the 1971 movie Le Mans. McQueen gave the watch to his personal mechanic Haig Alltounian at the conclusion of filming. That’s Alltounian in the red overalls behind McQueen in the Le Mans poster above. While other watches among the original six were almost all worn by McQueen at some stage, this watch is most definitely one of those that was worn during racing and filming and it sold for $2,280,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020

Phillips

There’s another factor this watch has that authenticates it more so than the other watches. While other watches among the original six were almost all worn by McQueen at some stage, this watch is most definitely one of those that was worn during racing and filming. McQueen gave the watch to his personal mechanic Haig Alltounian on the final day of filming, saying “thank you for keeping me alive all these months.” Alltounian at first refused to accept it, but McQueen told him it already had Haig’s name on it. This story was recounted by Alltouonian in the 2015 documentary, “Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans.”

Storied objects that have an exceptionally good story (aka “provenance”) sell for more, and the story made this particular watch worth $2,280,000 at Phillips New York on December 12, 2020.

$3,332,500 | 1907 Renault Vanderbilt Grand Prix Racer

This 1907 Renault Vanderbilt Grand Prix Racer sold for $3,332,500 at Bonhams on July 11, 2020
This 1907 Renault Vanderbilt Grand Prix Racer sold for $3,332,500 at Bonhams on July 11, 2020

Bonhams

Auction House: Bonhams
Date Sold: July 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Bonhams

Not technology in a traditional sense, but 114 years ago, this was Grand Prix technology for the road. In 1907, William K “Willie” Vanderbilt brokered a deal for 11 Renault factory racing cars to come to America. Just four of those cars remain and one went to auction in 2020. It was a car so lavish and extravagant that it was one of the most exclusive, fastest, most capable automobiles in the world when 11 were unleashed on American roads in 1907. It was a fearsome brass-era replica of the car that had won the world’s first Grand Prix in 1906. Vanderbilt negotiated a batch of 11 35/45hp Renault factory racing cars for himself and ten of his American friends. Full story

$3,565,843 | 1948 Patek Philippe Jean-Claude Biver Pink Gold Ref. 1518

This 1948 Patek Philippe Jean-Claude Biver Pink Gold Ref. 1518 sold for CHF3,380,000 ($3,565,843) at Phillips on June 28, 2020
This 1948 Patek Philippe Jean-Claude Biver Pink Gold Ref. 1518 sold for CHF3,380,000 ($3,565,843) at Phillips on June 28, 2020

Phillips

Price in sale currency: CHF3,380,000
Auction House: Phillips
Date Sold: June 28, 2020
Official Auction Page: Phillips

Patek Phillippe Reference 1518 was the first serially produced perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch when it was introduced in 1941, and it became the foundation for a long line of highly sought-after complicated wristwatches: the references 2499, 3970, 5970 and 527Sold for 3.4 million guineas, this yearling filly (foaled January 23, 2019) by Galileo out of Shastye is the most expensive female yearling to sell at auction in 2020. If there’s ever a family get-together, she’ll find herself amongst some high achiever siblings. Her full brothers and sisters have achieved 3.6 million guineas, 3.4 million guineas. 1.35 million guineas and 1.3 million guineas at auction and champion racehorse Mogul is a full brother.

Only 281 examples were manufactured before production of the Ref. 1518 ceased in 1954, and only 13 examples were produced with a pink dial, making it one of the rarest and most exclusive complicated Patek Philippe wristwatches. This present watch displays special blued steel hour and minute hands, a special request from the original owner, making it unique and one of the most valuable wristwatches on the planet. A stainless steel Ref.1518 was the world’s most expensive wristwatch at CHF11,002,000 ($11,136,642 at Phillips in Geneva) prior to the 2017 sale of Paul Newman’s “Paul Newman” Rolex Daytona Ref. 6239 for $17,752,500 in 2017 and the 2019 sale of the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 for CHF31,000,000 ($31,200,000).

$4,621,766 | Unnamed Yearling filly

Lot 436 at Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, this Galileo filly out of Shastye sold for £3,570,000 ($4,621,766)
Lot 436 at Tattersalls October Yearling Sale, this Galileo filly out of Shastye sold for £3,570,000 ($4,621,766)

Tattersalls

Price in sale currency: £3,570,000
Auction House: Tattersalls
Date Sold: October 8, 2020
Official Auction Page: Tattersalls

Sold for 3.4 million guineas, this yearling filly by Galileo out of Shastye is the most expensive female yearling to sell at auction in 2020.

$4,756,577 | Unnamed Yearling Colt

This Unnamed Yearling Colt (Lot 114) at the JRHA Select Yearling Sale on July 13, 2020 sold for JPY510,000,000
This Unnamed Yearling Colt (Lot 114) at the JRHA Select Yearling Sale on July 13, 2020 sold for JPY510,000,000

JRHA

Price in sale currency: JPY 510,000,000
Auction House: JRHA
Date Sold: July 13, 2020
Official Auction Page: JRHA Select Yearling Sale

This unnamed yearling colt is the most expensive male yearling to sell at auction in 2020. It has never raced, but its pedigree suggests that when it does, it will be very very good. The price is unlikely to ever be earned back on the racetrack, but its impeccable genetics suggest it will be a huge earner at stud. According to Business Insider, horse semen is now one of the most expensive liquids on earth, with a champion racehorse capable of producing sperm worth $20 million during each eight month stud season.

$5,475,000 | Paul Newman’s Rolex ‘Big Red’ Daytona ref. 6263

Paul Newman’s Rolex ‘Big Red’ Daytona ref. 6263 sold for $5,475,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020
Paul Newman’s Rolex ‘Big Red’ Daytona ref. 6263 sold for $5,475,000 at Phillips on December 12, 2020

Phillips

Auction House: Phillips
Date Sold: December 12, 2020
Official Auction Page: Phillips

Beginning at age 10, Paul Newman starred in nearly 100 different roles as an actor across television, movies, and Broadway and won every major award available. It was his role as a racing driver in the 1969 film, Winning, where his passion for auto racing developed, spawning an entirely new career at the age of 47 when Newman realized how much fun racing was. Newman wasn’t the best driver in the world, but he wasn’t far shy of the mark either, with a second-place finish in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1979 his best result, driving a Porsche 935. Newman remained active in endurance racing, making his last start at the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway in 2006 at the age of 81. In October 2017, Phillips sold Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona wristwatch for $17,752,500 in New York. This watch is an ever-so-slightly different Rolex Daytona to that watch, and had also been gifted to Newman by his wife Joanne Woodward and similarly inscribed (“Drive slowly, Joanne”).

$5,500,000 | Rushing Fall

FTKNOV20_205_RUSHING FALL

Auction House: Fasig-Tipton
Date Sold: November 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Fasig-Tipton
The second most valuable living creature sold at auction in 2020 was Breeders’ Cup champion and five-time Grade 1 winner Rushing Fall.

Ten times a graded stakes winner, Rushing Fall’s first Grade 1 score came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) at two. At three, she added the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup S. (G1), and at four, she won the Jenny Wiley S. (G1) and Just a Game S. (G1). In 2020 at five, she defended her title in the Jenny Wiley S. (G1) in style, covering the 1 1/16 miles on the turf in a track record 1:39.02. Rushing Fall was a Grade 1 winner at two, three, four, and five, a feat previously accomplished by only two other mares – Lady Eli and Beholder.

$5,553,471 | Patek Philippe World Timer Ref. 2523/1

This Patek Philippe World Timer Ref. 2523/1 sold for CHF4,991,000 ($5,553,471) at Phillips on November 6, 2020
This Patek Philippe World Timer Ref. 2523/1 sold for CHF4,991,000 ($5,553,471) at Phillips on November 6, 2020

Phillips

Price in sale currency: CHF4,991,000
Auction House: Phillips
Date Sold: December 12, 2020
Official Auction Page: Phillips

On October 1, 1884, the International Meridian Conference established the Greenwich Meridian as zero degrees longitude, Planet Earth was divided into 24 time zones of 15° each, one hour apart with a universal time for each individual zone. It might seem an inordinately long time until we had a world time wristwatch (1931), but this was before jet travel and free VOIP and “culturally or technologically speaking, prior to 1885, there wasn’t really a good reason to standardise times across the globe. Mankind possessed neither the need or the ability to traverse vast distances which made inconsistent time standards between cities and towns relevant.” (Recommended reading: History of the World as told by World Time Watches).

But the world was speeding up between the wars and when Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier displayed the first world time clock in 1931, watchmaking had a new killer app – nothing evoked international citizenship, adventure, travel and serious business than a watch displaying the time in key cities across the planet’s 24 time zones.

Patek Philippe made Cottier’s invention a staple in its collection, creating a variety of models in different case shapes, pocket and wristwatches with simple dials to enamel or lavishly guilloché like the present example.

Launched in 1953, the reference 2523 featured a new two-crown system, one for winding the watch and the other at 9 o’clock controlling the city disc. Two versions were available, reference 2523 with larger lugs sitting above the bezel and reference 2523/1 with a slightly larger diameter and thinner lugs no longer sitting above the bezel.

When introduced to the market this new double crown world time was not a commercial success resulting in very few pieces manufactured. In fact the movement of the present watch was made in 1954 but only cased in 1966 and finally sold in 1973.

The present piece is one of the most breathtaking specimens of the iconic reference 2523/1, by far the most appreciated, elegant, collectible and sought-after world-time model ever produced by any manufacturer. This watch is one of just four known pink gold Patek Philippe Ref. 2523/1 with guilloché dial, with another in the Patek Philippe museum.

$9,500,000 | Monomoy Girl

Monomoy Girl sold for $9,500,000 at Fasig Tipton Auctions on November 11, 2020, becoming the most valuable living creation of nature sold at auction during the year.
Monomoy Girl sold for $9,500,000 at Fasig Tipton Auctions on November 11, 2020, becoming the most valuable living creation of nature sold at auction during the year.

Fasig Tipton Auctions

Auction House: Fasig-Tipton
Date Sold: November 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Fasig-Tipton

As a racehorse, Monomoy Girl is one of the greatest ever, and although she will saddle up again in 2021, most of the value of the $9.5 million paid on November 11 that made her the most valuable living creature sold anywhere in the world in 2020 is because of her potential as a brood mare. The day before this sale, she won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff to remain unbeaten for the season, and overall, she has won 13 of 15 starts, finished second twice and earned more than $4.4 million.

#FasigFeature: Monomoy Girl (The November Sale 2020)

The mare’s price ties her for second place in the all-time list of racing or broodmare prospects sold at public auction in North America. That record is held by Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, which fetched $10 million in 2012 at the same November Fasig Tipton auction. Two-time Eclipse Award champion Songbird also sold for $9.5 million at the Fasig Tipton November sale in 2017.

$15,685,621 | 102.39-carat D color flawless diamond

This 102.39-carat D color flawless diamond sold for HKD121,562,000 ($15,685,621) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on October 5, 2020
This 102.39-carat D color flawless diamond sold for HKD121,562,000 ($15,685,621) at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on October 5, 2020

Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Price in sale currency: HKD121,562,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: October 5, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

Another of nature’s masterpieces, (though significantly enhanced given it was cut from a 271 carat rough), this flawless diamond is just the eighth D-color internally flawless or flawless white diamond to sell at auction in three decades. The world record price for flawless d-color diamonds is held by Christie’s at $33.7 million for a 163.41-carat diamond sold in Geneva in 2017.

“In the gemstone industry, as in most other luxury markets, the rarity of an object directly correlates with its desirability. Less than one in 200 stones over one carat submitted to GIA annually are D, Internally Flawless, or D, Flawless. It is rare for any diamond to possess D-color and flawless clarity, let alone one of 102.39 carats. The 102.39ct Oval brilliant diamond’s stunning appearance cannot be attributed to nature alone. Transforming bulky rough into a graceful, glittering gem is indeed an exacting art, requiring experience, vision, and a tremendous amount of patience. In this regard, the 102.39ct Oval Brilliant diamond is as much a work of human ingenuity as it is of nature. Its spectacular fashioning has coaxed the best out of this massive gem, which consequently displays the finest color and clarity.”

$15,791,369 | Coloured diamond and diamond ring with 12.11 carat blue diamond

This 12.11 carat internally flawless, marquise-shaped and brilliant-cut fancy intense blue diamond sold for $15.9 million (HK$122 million) at Christie’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels auction on 9 July, 2020
This 12.11 carat internally flawless, marquise-shaped and brilliant-cut fancy intense blue diamond sold for $15.9 million (HK$122 million) at Christie’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels auction on 9 July, 2020

Christie’s Hong Kong

Price in sale currency: HKD122,385,000
Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: July 9, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

Unless nature provides an “accidental” colouring agent, diamonds in their purest form are white. Approximately one in 10,000 gem-quality diamonds possesses colour, each acquiring its hue from an accident of nature. Blue diamonds contain trace amounts of boron in their composition, green diamonds acquire their colour from radiation, yellow diamonds have nitrogen in their chemical composition and the jury is still out on exactly what gives red and pink diamonds their colours, with the most commonly agreed-upon explanation being a distortion in the lattice structure. The rarest and most expensive per carat coloured diamonds are red, but they are extremely rare and have only ever been found in small sizes.
Auction results suggest blue diamonds are the most treasured of all large gemstones on a per carat basis. Some spectacular recent results for Blue diamonds at Sotheby’s include the Farnese Blue ($6,720,938), the world’s most expensive earrings (one pink, one blue, $56,290,627), the De Beers Millennium Jewel 4 ($32,007,945), the Blue Moon of Josephine ($48,440,619) and the Zoe diamond ($32,645,000).

Christie’s sold the most expensive gemstone in history in 2016 when the Oppenheimer Blue sold for CHF56,837,000 ($57,853,380) in Geneva. The price of that 14.62-carat emerald-cut blue diamond has since been surpassed by the 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut Fancy Vivid Pink Star as the most valuable gemstone to sell at public auction. When it comes to exquisite beauty, nature still rules!

$26,564,004 | Largest Purple-pink Diamond Ever Sold

The largest purple-pink diamond ever sold changed hands at Sotheby’s on November 11, 2020, fetching CHF24,393,000 ($26,564,004)
The largest purple-pink diamond ever sold changed hands at Sotheby’s on November 11, 2020, fetching CHF24,393,000 ($26,564,004)

Sotheby’s

Price in sale currency: CHF 24,393,000
Auction House: Sotheby’s
Date Sold: November 11, 2020
Official Auction Page: Sotheby’s

One of nature’s finest creations, at least in terms of perceived value, is this unmounted brilliant-cut fancy vivid purple-pink diamond weighing 14.83 carats. The rough diamond from which it was cut weighed 27.85 carats, and was discovered in July 2017 in Yakutia, in the northeast of Russia.

Pink diamonds were first discovered in India during the early 17th century, in the Kollur mine, which was part of the legendary Golconda kingdom. French merchant and adventurer, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, made reference in his travel book to a pink rough diamond weighing over 200 carats, shown to him by Moghuls in the Kingdom of Golconda in 1642. This diamond, named ‘The Grand Table’ is still considered to be the largest pink diamond ever recorded.

Look up the definition of “pink diamond” and in the first paragraph it mentions that there is only one known flawless pink diamond – the Pink Star. In 2017, the Pink Star went to auction on April 4, and needless to say, records tumbled. It fetched $71.2 million to set several new auction records, the most impressive of which is that it is now the world’s most valuable gem stone. We featured the Pink Star in our rundown of the 2017 auction year.

Sothebys sold the Pink Star for HK$553 million (US$71.2 million), more than doubling the record for a fancy vivid pink diamond that was set at $31.56 million in Geneva in May 2016 for the 15.38-carat “Unique Pink” diamond.

$31,847,500 | Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton

This Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton sold at Christie’s on October 6 for $31,847,500
This Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton sold at Christie’s on October 6 for $31,847,500

Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s
Date Sold: October 6, 2020
Official Auction Page: Christie’s

One of the largest, most complete and most famous Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons went under the auctioneer’s hammer in 2020, becoming the most valuable dinosaur fossil in history. The dinosaur, nicknamed “Stan,” stands 13 feet (4 m) high at the hip and stretches 40 feet (12 m) long from snout to tail. Stan weighed between 7 and 8 tons, putting him not far behind Scotty as one of the largest Tyrannosaurs ever found.

Made up of 188 original bones, Stan is also the fifth-most complete T-rex, behind other celebrities like Sue and Trix. He does however sport the most complete skull of his kind, packing 58 dagger-sharp teeth up to 11 inches (28 cm) long. Life at the pinnacle of the food chain is not without its problems, and Stan still sports the battle scars of a violent life. He has puncture marks on his rib, under his jaw and on the back of his head, which appear to have been inflicted by other Tyrannosaurs. Amazingly, Stan even suffered a broken neck at some point in his life and survived, with two of his vertebrae fusing together as it healed. Full story

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