Rebecca Armstrong: Why do bidders go bonkers for celebrity ephemera?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Earplugs for sale. One careful owner. It's not quite Ernest Hemingway's famous, poignant six-word story ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn") but when the owner in question is Sir Winston Churchill, there's a strange level of excitement about auctioning a set of sleeping aids. The wax pellets in question were sold in an auction on Friday for the prime-ministerial sum of £1,650, having had a reserve price of £2,000.

OK, so it wasn't just the beeswax, cotton and lanolin plugs that made up Lot 1317 (there were some spooky casts of Churchill's ears, too), and the money raised has gone to charity, but I'm still baffled as to why anyone would want to own any of it. Yes, our wartime leader was a famous cat-napper, and – who knows? – maybe a pair of these very lughole blockers could have helped a well-rested Winnie win the war. But no: the set for sale was unused. Box-fresh as they are, I can think of hundreds of thousands of things I'd rather splash out on, including a fridge, as mine has had one rather careless owner: me.

What is it with flogging the ephemera of the famous? Actually, given that in the past month, real, live people have happily purchased at auction a three-year-old chicken nugget that looks like George Washington for $8,100 and Justin Bieber's pet boa constrictor, the question should be, what's with the buying of it?

Michael Bennett, whose Cornish café houses the bizarre-as-it-sounds Museum of Celebrity Leftovers, was the subject of a short BBC film earlier this year. He explains that "it's about trying to own a small part of that celebrity, be part of their life, buy into it". His selection of partly eaten comestibles that show the knife-styles of the rich and famous (including Michael Winner's and David Bailey's crumbs) is part art installation and part eccentric seaside fun.

Rather more po-faced (but under the unassailable all-in-a-good-cause umbrella) is, where celebrities auction off their time (lunch with fashion designer Vera Wang! A day out with Bill Clinton!). Or there's where you can bid for your very own Christina Aguilera or George Clooney. No, wait, you can't do that – but you can donate to good causes they support and see what kind of thing they say they buy. Which is less fun, but also less stalkerish.

I don't have any desire to follow Christina's lead in shopping for modern art on eBay, I'm not in the market for a pop star's pre-loved reptile and I like my earplugs first- hand. But if anyone hears of an A-lister auctioning off their fridge, do give me a shout.