11 really gross collections (that actually made people money)

Contributed by
Nov 1, 2016, 5:47 PM EDT

It's hard for me to believe that anyone wants any of the disgusting stuff in this article, let alone that someone would want to pay exorbitant amounts of cash for something most people wouldn't even want to physically touch. But this just illustrates how different people have varying values when it comes to collecting. Some people like the elegant symbolism of meticulously displayed flayed corpses, but for others there is no amount of hand sanitizer one could sniff to adequately wash one's brain of such sights. Sure, this is a slightly gross way to kick off our collectibles theme month, but since it's the day after Halloween, it bridges the gap after Halloween.

Slightly NSFW content ahead, so be wary if you are at work and your boss is okay with you slacking off, but not okay with you slacking off by looking at statues of private parts. 


Celebrity Hair

There is a bustling market for strands of dead cells plucked from the skull of a famous person. In fact, a lock of Che Guevara's hair sold for $100,000 in 2007. I can sorta see why you'd want celebrity hair. Follicles contain DNA and so maybe one day you could clone your own world-class thinker or cultural guru. Ah, who am I kidding, it's only going to be used for sex clones.


Severed Heads

Sometimes we keep trinkets of family members that have moved on: Like photos of grandparents, or ashes of our ancestors, or junk mail delivered by the mailman who looked suspiciously like me. But if you asked a native New Zealander in the 1800s what was in the black box on the mantle, the answer would commonly be "a severed head." 

Outside of New Zealand, severed heads were not a popular souvenir item. They were hard to come by, difficult to preserve, and also pretty disgusting. However, as the rest of the world gradually learned more about Maori culture, it came to light that the heads were actually much more useful than just, like, as a paperweight or a bowling ball or whatever. It was common for native New Zealanders to tattoo their faces in ways which indicated their status and family line. Soon enough, museums started expressing interest in collecting severed heads for display. This was how Englishman Horatio Gordon Robley cashed in. A collector, perhaps the only one in the world, of Maori severed heads, Robley sold 35-40 of them to the American Museum of Natural History for a price which would be worth about $108,000 today. And yet, the American Museum of Natural History still hasn't responded to my request to sell them the 50 or so severed doll heads I have mounted on my bathroom wall.


Belly Button Lint

Long jealous of its uptown neighbors' ability to produce milk, the belly button has evolved to secrete fluff. In 1984, Graham Barker decided to collect belly button lint. He's a librarian from Australia, so I find the notion that he had nothing more exciting to do quite plausible. What is harder to believe is that Barker actually managed to sell his decades-old collection to a museum. I wish I would've come up with the idea to sell decades of belly button lint to a museum. Not because I actually would've done it, but because I would've just emptied a few dryer traps into a jar and passed it off as the real thing. Let's face it: How smart can these museum curators be if they're buying belly button lint?



All across the globe, opportunistic collectors are hunting down bugs, I presume with some sort of firearm. But Montanan Mike Fehr has a way better operation. He got special permission from the U.S. to import bugs from all over the world. He then sells pieces of his collection to other collectors and museums. It sounds like a pretty cush gig, until I realized that most of his day probably involves opening up sketchy packages that contain really gross bugs which he has to hope are fully dead.


Jars Containing Fake Fetus Parts

Freak show carneys barked "pickled punks!" at tourists to advertise they had formaldehyde jars containing fetus parts on display, in a manner similar to my pregnant coworkers saying "hey, who wants to see my ultrasound?" Even though the days of tented deformity displays are gone, a realistic (but obviously fake) pickled punk can fetch hundreds of dollars when traded between collectors. Hmmm, maybe I will make some money on all those severed doll heads, after all.


Paintings by Serial Killers

Even creepier than serial killers are people who collect the personal items of serial killers. There's an entire industry, called "murderabilia," revolving around the buying and selling of personal effects of famous criminals. It turns out that not-killing-people wasn't the only thing that John Wayne Gacy was bad at... he was also apparently pretty lousy at painting, as the pictured work of art illustrates. Yet people will pay big money for this and other works by the infamous multiple murderer. So if you're an aspiring painter with a rising urge to kill, maybe you could channel that constructively by inflicting multiple stab wounds on your probably horrendous artwork


Nail Clippings

When I see a paperweight, I can't help but think that it doesn't look gross enough. Well, that's actually not true: The truth is I've never actually seen a paperweight and am not entirely sure they exist. But apparently they do, and apparently suckers are willing to pay $300-$500 for a paperweight that has Mike Drake's fingernail clippings? Who is Mike Drake? Why he's the guy known for selling paperweights with his fingernail clippings in them, pay attention!


Animal Phalluses

What started as a totally-not-unhealthy private collection of members got a grant of 200,000 Iceland monetary units to become a museum. The Iceland Phallological Museum sports 280 specimens from over 90 animals. That means there were 190 times where these collectors thought, "wow, this animals' penis is so breathtaking, I've just got to get another." 


Flayed Corpses

Honoré Fragonard was a French anatomist of the 18th Century who really, really liked making horrifying exhibits out of carved-up cadavers. He was given his own museum as an add-on to a Parisian veterinary school. Turning his collection into a full-time job, he enjoyed a comfortable career chopping up dead stuff and putting it on display, until he was shockingly expelled for being a "madman." Yes, who could have guessed the innocent-looking Frenchman pulling the skin off of dead things was anything but on the level.


Plaster Casts of Sexual Organs

In the 1960s, a groupie named Cynthia had clear aspirations: Get to know rock stars more... intimately. Her solution was novel: She would make statues out of the sexual organs of famous musicians. Decades later, Cynthia Plaster Caster has become famous for her strange art. While she has never actually sold one of her exhibits, she has made a substantial sum from crowd-sourced fundraising and private grants from artists. This gives me an idea for the next time I encounter a patch of wet cement.


Chamber Pots

I recall once, when I was younger, I came up with the bright idea of swallowing a roll of nickels in order to get rich pooping quarters. Needless to say, the plan did not work out, and now I no longer drink bathtub gin. It turns out, based on history, my plan for profit was actually solid, but it wasn't the "what I excreted" so much as "where I did it." 

That's because collecting antique chamber pots is a bustling industry. Giant bowls for bowel stools can fetch prices in the thousands. With this in mind, I put my childrens' full diaper pail in a safe deposit box. This was partially because I expect it will one day fetch a large price from disturbingly eccentric historians, but also because I hate my bank.