Charles Dickens' toothpick sold at Bonham's-NY yesterday for $9,150, including the buyer's premium. The pre-sale estimate for the pick of the litterateur was $3000-$5000.
Exhibited at Chapin Library, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, in the Spring of 1970, the toothpick was sent to auction by its owners, the family collection of Barnes & Noble.
Bonham's catalog description noted: "Dickens' toothpick, manufactured by Sampson Mordan & Co. of London, ivory and gold with retracting mechanism, 60 mm long when closed, engraved with Dickens' initials, manufacturer's and inventor's names, together with Autograph Note Signed by his sister-in-law Georgina Hogarth, in custom green crushed morocco book-form box by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, upper cover with inlaid red morocco gilt Dickens monogram and lion, upper joint restored.
"The note from Georgina Hogarth [1827-1917], to whom Dickens left a large part of his effects, reads: "I certify that this ivory and gold tooth pick was always used by my brother-in-law Charles Dickens when travelling and on his last visit to America and until the time of his death at Gads Hill on the 9th June 1870."
$9,150 for a used toothpick? Sure, it's made of gold and ivory and it's Dickens' but it seems an awful lot for a pick so long in the tooth. Dickens' personal bacteria and, perhaps, a strand or two of his DNA presumably provided added value. The buyer, unsurprisingly, does not want to be identified.
I'm reminded of a scene in an apocryphal manuscript attributed to Dickens, The Chopperpick Papers:
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: Good God, woman, what a cavity! The last time I explored a cavern that large it had pre-historic paintings on the walls. Have you not been flossing?
Young Woman: Oh, doctor, they don't call me Flossie for nothing!
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: And what of the royal ivory pick I recommended?
Flossie: Did you say "pick?" I thought you meant Prince Albert.
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: Saucy wench! You'll be all gums if you're not more careful.
Flossie: You'd like that, wouldn't you?
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: My services are quite reasonable, I assure you.
Flossie: So are mine.
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: Slattern! Tell Dickens to write you out of this travesty, I shan't share a page with you again, it is beneath my dignity.
Flossie: For two and six, I'll get beneath your dignity.
Mockton Bridework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: Incorrigible! Here, take this brush and use it twice a day.
Flossie: Oh, you pervert!
Mockton Bridgework-Chopperpick, D.D.S.: Scrape your tongue! Rinse your mouth! And begone!
We eagerly await the sale of Herman Melville's scrimshaw'd cuticle scissors.
Image courtesy of Bonham's.