Image Source: I09.
This is the start a series of blog posts on weird historical objects that are available now in online auctions. These are artifacts you could never normally find in the old days before the Internet, unless you knew great antique dealers, traveled a lot, and had a real gift for ferreting out rare and obscure collectables. It took dedication, knowledge, and blind luck. Now, you can find a world supply of any given curio with three mouse clicks. All the same, the online auction houses bring their own surprises. If you look carefully enough, you can find incredible things. For example, I recently saw an ancient Mayan cup in great condition up for sale online at Heritage Auctions with a reserve of about USD$4,000. It's odd to see something you'd expect to find in a museum, available via a process akin to eBay - or Amazon. Another example: there's an auction site devoted to original comic book art here.
Where these items get really interesting is when their virtual availability allows us to associate them with other objects, times or places that we normally wouldn't or couldn't. We can take the Mayan cup out of its context, especially when it's being auctioned off next to cowboy paraphenalia from a different era. You also see collectors building collections around the fact that they can find the elements of the collection online. Availability inspires certain kinds of collections.
For a great example of temporal and cultural mash-up and spontaneous free association, have a look at the recent I09 article on this topic. A collector, who collects images of dead people from the 1800s, found the above photo. The subject looks just like Nick Cage, somehow the seller of the photo also brought vampires into the mix, and labeled it the ultimate eBay auction:
Are you an unhinged billionaire? Are you a sucker for impulse buys? Do you sit around wondering if the fellow née Nicolas Kim Coppola is an immortal Confederate soldier who feasts on human blood? Then have I got an eBay purchase for you, pilgrim! Behold this recent auction titled "Nicolas Cage is a Vampire / Photo from 1870 / Tennessee":
Original c.1870 carte de visite showing a man who looks exactly like Nick Cage. Personally, I believe it's him and that he is some sort of walking undead / vampire, et cetera, who quickens / reinvents himself once every 75 years or so. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult, or a talk show host.
This is not a trick photo of any kind and has not been manipulated in Photoshop or any other graphics program. It's an original photo of a man who lived in Bristol, TN sometime around the Civil War.