Last year one of the few pieces of jewelry known to have belonged to author Jane Austen was put up for auction by a descendant. The ring, left, is simple and unassuming in design - an oval odontalite (a less expensive substitute for turquoise) stone, set in gold - but it was the connection to that first owner that made it so special. Interest in the auction was high, and grew higher still when the final prize realized at the sale was £152,450 (or about $236,000), considerably more than the £20,000-£30,000 that was original estimate projected by the auction house. Our original post about the sale is here.
The winning bidder's identity wasn't known at first, (more about that here) but when it was finally revealed that American Idol winner and pop singer Kelly Clarkson was the buyer, the howls of outrage began in Britain. The government declared the ring to be a "national treasure," and a temporary export ban was put into effect. Ms. Clarkson was prohibited from taking the ring home to Texas, and the Jane Austen's House Museum - a disappointed bidder in the original auction - was given until the end of September to match the amount of the winning bid. A world-wide campaign successfully raised the funds, and graciously Ms. Clarkson gave up her prize - not that she had any choice. The Museum will soon be putting the ring on display, while Ms. Clarkson had an exact replica made to wear whenever and wherever she pleased - surely a somewhat bittersweet memento.
It's interesting to read how differently the story was presented by the media in America and the UK. While the facts are the same, the perspective certainly isn't. NBCNews.com's headline was Kelly Clarkson forced to sell $250,000 ring to Jane Austen museum, while the BBC.co went with Kelly Clarkson thwarted in bid to keep Jane Austen ring.
The policy of designating and restricting "national treasures" is a complicated one; every major museum in the world contains national treasures removed from other nations, treasures that are never going to be returned to their one-time owners. So what do you think - should Kelly have been permitted to keep the ring she paid for, or does it belong on display in the Jane Austen's House Museum?
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.