Everyone has a price, so they say—and as it turns out, so does everything. A taxidermied sperm whale penis from the late 19th century? That’ll set you back nearly $6,000, according to the precedent set by yesterday’s second annual “Out of the Ordinary” auction at Sworders in the United Kingdom.
Mark Wilkinson, a specialist at Sworders, says he was very excited when this item was consigned to the auction house by a private collector, who had it for about 20 years. “It’s basically the height of myself,” Wilkinson says. At 167 centimeters, it’s nearly five-and-a-half feet long, and nearly one foot wide at its thickest part. Luckily, it’s not so heavy—just 18 pounds—allowing Wilkinson to pose comfortably for a once-in-a-lifetime photo op. “You can see that I’m not struggling with the weight,” he says, relieved.
That’s probably because the phallus is stuffed with hair—likely horse hair, according to Wilkinson—and not something heftier. The vendor informed him that, in days of yore, sailors were said to store tobacco in whale penises like this one, to keep the tobacco moist and fresh over the duration of a long journey.
Pricing the penis was a challenge, says Wilkinson, as there was simply “nothing to go on”—no previously auctioned analogs. “I did look,” he insists. The only similar items he was able to find, at the Icelandic Phallological Museum, were not for sale. One could easily think that Sworders wasn’t even selling a penis at all: “The word carrot has come up,” along with “parsnip,” says Wilkinson, describing what some thought the item looked like. Sworders ultimately set the estimate around the donor’s suggestion, at between $4,500 and $5,800; the penis sold yesterday for just over $5,900.
Wilkinson’s other favorite items from yesterday’s Out of the Ordinary sale include a stage outfit from Michael Jackson’s 1992-1993 Dangerous tour, vintage French postcards depicting a Witches’ Sabbath, wing tips from a Cathay Pacific 747, an Ice Age cave bear skeleton from Romania or Austria, and a Victorian watercolor of two men dressed in drag. Perhaps next year’s installment will break still newer ground in the clearly fruitful penile taxidermy market.