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Spectacles See Far Beyond Estimate

September 11, 2020

gold rim glasses

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948), a lawyer and activist for Indian civil rights, was best known for his leadership of the peaceful resistance movement that lead to India’s independence from British rule. Over the years, some items once belonging to Gandhi have made it across the auction block, so for a man of modest means, these items were small personal possessions.

During his lifetime, Gandhi was known for giving a pair of his old spectacles to those in need, or to those who may have helped him. A pair of those spectacles just came up for auction and made a surprisingly spectacular price. The consignor was an older man that had received the glasses from his uncle, who worked for British Petroleum in South Africa sometime between 1920-1930. According to the consignor, he believed that his uncle received the glasses as a thank you gift, and although he didn’t think they would be worth much, he placed them in an envelope and left them in a mailbox at an auction house. The auction house called him to get more information, and by the end of the call, the consignor told the auction house to just throw them away if they were worthless. Well, I am sure he was shocked when the auction house called him back to tell him that after doing some research, the glasses might be worth as much as $20k!

With an estimate of £10-15k ($13-19.5k), the gold-rimmed glasses caused a bit of a bidding battle among potential buyers from around the world. After just 6 minutes of bidding, the hammer came down, and the estimate was smashed as the spectacles sold for £260k (£307k w/p – $340/$401k]. The auction room reported that the new owner is an American.

I know, a crazy price for a pair of glasses? Well, back in 2009, a pair of glasses, sandals, a bowl and plate (believed to be the last ones he ate from), and his pocket watch were auctioned in New York and sold to billionaire Vijay Mallya for $1.8M. Mallya then returned all the items to India for public display.