In the world of fine arts and antiques, there are plenty of grifters hoping to pass their forgeries off on museums and some who are so bold as to try to fool members of the royal family. But there are also plenty of people who are more than willing to spend bundles of cash on a grilled cheese sandwich from an old lady claiming that the Virgin Mary’s likeness is burned into its butter-toasted surface.
Yes, from wacky eBay list items (and one person who sold his forehead for ad space) to forged priceless artifacts, and some less than sanitary used celebrity memorabilia, here are 10 of the most expensive items that turned out to be worthless.
10. Ghost in the Jar?
The jar, of course, came with a disclaimer that the seller “would not be held responsible if the ‘black thing’ was released” and that “all sales are final.”
If you think this is a rare occurrence on eBay, you’d be wrong. We did a quick search for “Ghost in Jar” on the marketplace and discovered one seller offering their alleged trapped poltergeist for the low price of $5,000.
Though the item did manage to finally close for $55,000, the buyer never actually paid for their trapped ghost surprise. Maybe they had some intense buyer’s remorse?
Our question is, what would have happened if the buyer had completed their purchase? What would their reaction have been once they realized that all they’ve done is spent their hard-earned savings on a worthless mason jar?
9. Collector’s Bottle of Whiskey
An unlucky, and loaded, customer at the Waldhaus am See hotel in St. Moritz paid a whopping $10,500 for a glass of whiskey coming from a bottle of Macallan scotch whiskey marked with a label dating all the way back to 1878.
Experts expressed doubts of the scotch’s authenticity, after comparing the bottle’s label with those imaged in newspaper articles from the time the whiskey was allegedly made. The hotel and bar manager, Sandro Bernasconi, felt compelled to commission the help of analysts from Scotland to test the scotch’s authenticity.
When those tests came back, however, they proved that the bottle is actually a blend from 1970 and is basically worthless.
These analysts used carbon dating tests that suggested a 90-95% probability that the scotch was made between 1970 and 1972.
The hotel had no idea that the bottle was fake and gladly refunded the customer, who happens to be one of China’s highest-paid online fiction writers.
8. Real Pirate Treasure?
In 2015, an American explorer claimed he had discovered the remains of the ship belonging to infamous pirate Captain William Kidd off the coast of Madagascar, as well as his treasure.
The man, a marine underwater investigator named Barry Clifford declared his findings in May of 2015, stating that he’d found a 110lb silver ingot. This provoked a team from Unesco, the United Nations cultural body to visit the site of Clifford’s alleged booty to see if there was any weight to his claims.
Unfortunately for Clifford, the Unesco report showed that the “silver” ingot he was so proud of was just a lead weight. In fact, no ship remains were ever found. It turns out that what Mr. Clifford actually found was a broken part of the St. Mary port construction, a small island located just east of Madagascar.
It gets better, though.
Barry Clifford went so far as to film a television series based on his hunt for Captain Kidd’s ship and even presented the “ingot” to the Madagascan president and US and British ambassadors. The man even claimed that Unesco was wrong and that they were robbing Madagascar and the people of St. Marie of this “discovery.”
This wasn’t the first time Clifford has clashed with Unesco, though. In 2014, Clifford claimed to have found Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Saint Maria, off the coast of Haiti.
7. A Treasure Trove of Roman Coins
Treasure hunting pair Paul Adams and Andy Samson thought they’d hit it big when their metal detectors came across what appeared to be a trove of ancient Roman coins. The two of them danced around screaming “Roman gold! Roman gold!” in the field in which they found the coins, which they thought would be worth over $297,192.
The two went from being overjoyed, thinking they’d be able to pay off their mortgages, to having their dreams crushed after an expert told them the coins were total fakes.
The show’s first episode even shows the fake coins being buried in a Roman-style clay pot, and then being unearthed “2,000” years later.
6. Grilled Cheese Virgin Mary
Would you believe that a grilled cheese sandwich could fetch $28,000? Neither could I, but it’s true. In 2004, an internet casino confirmed that they had purchased a sandwich featuring what’s thought to be the image of the Virgin Mary, believing it to be worth the lofty price tag since (at the time) it had become a part of pop culture.
Dian Duyser, the original purveyor of the mystical sandwich claims that it has never molded in the 10 years since she made it.
The casino’s CEO said that they would use the sandwich to raise money for charity, but we haven’t been able to track any information down from after the purchase was made.
Maybe this is another case of buyer’s remorse?
5. A Fake Collection of Chinese Relics
The Jibaozhai Museum in northern China’s Jizhou closed its doors for good in 2013 when it was revealed that its priceless collection of ancient Chinese relics were most likely all fakes. To put this in perspective, as many as 40,000 pieces in its collection are thought to have been forgeries. Though, one of its consultants, Wei Yingjun, insisted that the situation was “not that bad” insisting that it was a good thing that only about 80 pieces in its vast collection turned out to be the real deal.
One savvy internet user suggested that the Chinese museum reopen as “the museum of fakes,” with a winning slogan like, “If you can’t be the best, why not be the worst?”
We’re not talking about a small museum, either. Its 12 vast halls cost over $7 million to make. China has seen many of these kinds of museums pop up over the years following a cultural boom. But it would be difficult to fill all of those institutions with authentic artifacts, and China has a rich history of creating forgeries.
In fact, art factories in China export low-cost forgeries of famous Rembrandt and Van Gogh paintings, and some antique shops have been able to create replicas of Chinese artistic works that easily fool the eye.
4. Human Ad Real Estate?
Andrew Fischer, a web designer from Nebraska, sold his forehead as ad real estate on eBay for $37,375. The winning bid belonged to a company called SnoreStop, which offers a variety of snoring remedies in stores like CVS and Walmart.
Surprisingly enough, Andrew’s listing gained a lot of attention from various companies, and he went on to sell his forehead real estate again the following year, claiming he was going to use the money to put himself through college.
Andrew has since gone on to found a viral marketing company called NURV.com, but also regrets letting the stunt go to his head (literally), suggesting that maybe there’s more to being a successful businessman than being known for gimmicks.
Though, in the spirit of this list, we have to wonder how well other companies did in recouping their ad costs, considering that they wouldn’t have had the benefit of Andrew’s news coverage?
3. Worthless Diamonds and Sapphires
An audit of a Czech National Museum’s collection of diamonds and sapphires in Prague showed that many of the items within their collection were complete forgeries. Before the audit, the collection was thought to be worth millions, now it’s worthless.
One, a 5-carat diamond in its collection was revealed to be nothing more than cut glass. Another, a sapphire which was supposed to be 19-carats, revealed to be a synthetic forgery. The sapphire at least has been in the museum’s collection since the 1970s, and was originally purchased for around $10,000, and would be worth millions today if it weren’t a forgery.
In fact, this inspection only covers the museum’s first 400 out of 5,000 precious stones and minerals, and the museum curators are not pleased. At least half of their collection of rubies have also been revealed to be synthetics.
Museum officials are now considering the possibility that they might have been the victims of a con job, and the investigation is set to run through the end of 2020. But tracing those transactions may prove to be extremely difficult, as the person in charge of the collection back in the 1970s is already dead, and though the valuables were kept locked up, it will be difficult to figure out what might have happened.
Though, we’re probably not the only ones thinking that this sounds like an epic plot for a heist movie.
2. Britney Spears’ Chewing Gum
Right up there with celebrity bathwater, a fan of Britney Spears bought a wad of chewing gum which had allegedly been spit from the pop star’s mouth for an insane $14,000.
Normally, her used chewing gum wads go for $5 to $100 (a fact that is simply mind-boggling). But, unfortunately for that lucky bid winner, the eBay lister actively bid against himself in order to drive the price up so high.
The seller only offered a picture of the piece of chewing gum and a ticket stub to one of the pop stars ’ concerts where they allegedly found it. But there is no way to prove that the gum was chewed by Spears.
As an honorable mention, Spears’s used cigarette butts, Kleenex, and used bath towel were also at one time listed items, which the seller considered to be “priceless.”
1. Worthless Palace Furniture
In 2016, an antiques dealer in Paris, Bill GB Pallot, became the most infamous man in the field of French arts. Pallot admitted to police that he had orchestrated the forgery of four chairs built to look like exact replicas of those used by King Louis XV. Pallot also admitted to duping the Palace of Versailles when he sold the chairs to them for $1.9 million.
The government even classified two of the chairs peddled by Pallot to be national treasures.
Pallot’s business rival, Charles Hooreman, was the one who noticed that the chairs were forgeries. Hooreman noticed the work on the chairs to be of Pallot’s gilder and carver as he’d used those same people on restorations for years, claiming to be intimately aware of both their strengths and weaknesses as artists.
Pallot was later arrested and served four months in jail and was last reported as awaiting trial for fraud, money laundering, as well as tax evasion.
Charles Hooreman, however, is busy tracking down each and every one of Pallot’s forgeries, suspecting that he’s scammed numerous institutions.