Thomas Edison's first lightbulb which was
used in a demonstration at Menlo Park, NJ.
Which is worth more—the original lightbulbs that clinchedEdison's career as legendary inventor and launched the age ofartificial illumination or Eric Clapton’s guitar? At Christie’s firstscience-themed auction, held in London last December, appraiserslowballed Edison’s bulbs at $380,000, less than half of what Clapton’sStratocaster brought in a 2004 auction at Christie’s. Even at thatprice, they didn’t sell. “It’s surprising because the bulbs are sounique and historically important,” says Christie’s spokespersonMatthew Paton. They were used as evidence in a highly publicizeddecadelong trial that proved Edison invented the lightbulb. Lost for114 years, the bulbs recently turned up in an attic.
There were also no takers for a rare Enigma code-breaking machinefrom the 1940s or for one of the first X-rays of DNA, taken by RosalindFranklin's research assistant. Old reliables did draw some bidders: ahandwritten letter by a 16-year-old Einstein that alludes to ideasabout relativity was the top seller, going for more than $670,000, anda fresh first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species (yawn) topped$150,000. More surprising was the $140,000 bid for a technicalmanuscript from 1945 describing the creation of the atomic bomb, signedby Manhattan Project legends like Robert Oppenheimer and RichardFeynman.
Maybe next time Christie’s should put Edison’s phonograph on the block in an effort to attract the money of music fans.