Are you looking for a smart place to invest some money? Can't help you. Are you looking for an exciting place? You're in luck. I'm selling two items from a lively niche of the collectibles market known as "exploration artifacts"—a term for the equipment, journals, and other goods used by people like legendary polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, Himalayan climbing great Sir Edmund Hillary, and 19th-century African bwana Sir Henry Morton Stanley.
This old stuff can be shockingly valuable. Last September, Christie's London, which has held special Exploration & Travel sales since 1996, auctioned off a 1,000-item collection of Stanley objects, books, maps, and photos. The entire lot went for more than $1.4 million, with individual items like the "water-stained map" he carried on the 1874-78 Anglo-American trans-Africa expedition selling for $120,000.
Also hot: anything used by the intrepid men who first explored the Arctic and Antarctic, thanks partly to ongoing fascination with Shackleton and his travails on and off the Endurance, his doomed, icebound ship. Last year, Christie's sold the Endurance's flag for $180,000. In 1999, it auctioned a notable collection of artifacts used by Capt. Robert F. Scott, the brave Englishman who died during a hellish 1912 return trip from the South Pole. Among other things, Christie's sold two briar pipes that belonged to Scott (for $13,976), eight linen ration bags ($17,700), and one dried biscuit—essentially, a saltine—for $6,336.
Given those numbers, the artifacts I have should fetch a hefty price when I auction them off for charity starting today on eBay—especially since they're Mount Everest-related, and the 50th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's epochal first ascent arrives with a bang on May 29. Both are items carried to the top of Everest in 1996 by climber and writer Jon Krakauer, who immortalized that year's disastrous, deadly season into a feature for Outside magazine and then his 1997 best seller, Into Thin Air.
One (1) Charlet Moser 12-point crampon, complete with an attached name tag ("KRAKAUER") and a signed note from the author—who generously donated this item—attesting that he wore it to the summit. (Crampons are toothy boot attachments that help climbers crunch along safely on snow and ice, and this one looks pretty much like you'd expect: battered.)
One (1) scraggly pelt of white rabbit fur originally purchased at Hobby Lobby for a dollar. Krakauer took this to the top of the world as a souvenir for friends of his at Outside. After completing his ascent, he signed it with a black Sharpie pen like so:
SUMMIT OF MT. EVEREST
May 10, 1996
BROTHERS OF THE WAPITI (ASPIRING MEMBER)
Potential buyers should be aware that the fur, not unlike a cuddly pet, has a name: the Patch. It also has a few minor defects. It smells like a cat who slept on wet dirt too long, the leather side is dry and starting to crack (Mt. EVEREST now reads Mt. EV), and there's a pretty good chance that it carries a deadly curse.
Now then, on to the big question: How does one go about putting a price tag on—