Image: John Lennon's customised Rolls Royce.

The economic cliché that we hear today, constantly parroted by politicians, shock jocks and current affairs presenters is that “people are doing it tough”. With a nationwide rental crisis and soaring food prices, for many Australians the statement is painfully true. But not everybody is feeling the pinch. Take those currently bidding on the number plate “NSW 1”, a so called heritage vehicle number plate being offered for sale via public auction for the first time in 110 years. Bidding has now passed $10 million and you have to wonder what motivates the super rich to fork out for what is essentially a tiny piece of tin or aluminium.

The original ‘NSW 1″ licence plate. Image: commons

Rarity, prestige, snobbery or simply “look what I’ve got that you don’t” could all be factors in the feverish bidding but what it does demonstrate is that the mega rich have extremely deep pockets. Throughout history the rich have had no qualms about spending obscene amounts of money on all manner of indulgences, be they palatial residences, highly prized art works, super expensive cars or solid gold everything. Not only are today’s filthy rich getting even richer (and filthier) while worldwide poverty abounds, they are spending their unlimited loot on items that seem ridiculously overpriced.

So with an open check book, an insatiable desire to acquire and a questionable degree of intelligence, what could the mega rich be shopping for this Christmas. A new painting never goes astray, especially when it’s considered an investment item at the same time. Bugger the insurance premium when you have just coughed up a record breaking $139 million (US) for Picasso’s “Femme à la Montre” at a Sotheby’s auction. Once it’s unwrapped on Christmas day it will probably end up in a bank vault for much of its life. Personally I would rather hang a $30 print of dogs playing poker by Arthur Sarnoff but I guess there is no accounting for taste.

Picasso’s “Femme a la Montre” sold at Sotheby’s. Image: Sky News

That’s certainly the case when it comes to movie music and memorabilia. I can’t say I was ever a Nirvana fan and to my mind Kurt Cobain was a very average guitarist. Nevertheless, the guitars he left behind have reaped huge prices at auction, including one sold for $8.8 million to an Australian collector. If a Cobain guitar is your choice as a Christmas gift then perhaps you might include some of the following as stocking stuffers – John Lennon’s tooth, some strands of Michael Jackson’s burnt hair, a piece of Britney Spears chewed up chewing gum, William Shatner’s kidney stone and Jerry Lee Lewis’s nose ointment – all sold at auction for crazy prices in the last couple of decades.

What this stuff will be worth in a hundred years or more when memories of popular culture often elapse in a couple of generations is anybody’s guess. A safer bet are the historical knick knacks like Marie Antoinette’s pearl pendant, a steal at $32 million or a set of Queen Victoria’s underwear, used of course, but nothing that a good dash of Vanish Napisan couldn’t bring up to scratch. The problem here is that the rich are often competing with cashed up trusts and museums to grab these gems of history. And beware the numerous fakes that have recently flooded the market, like a pickle bottle allegedly containing Napoleon’s testicles, surfacing rather suspiciously at the same time as the blockbuster movie.

Kurt Cobain’s Fender Mustang guitar. Image Valerie Macon

Finally when the NSW 1 number plate eventually secures a new owner I’d like to suggest that they just don’t stick it on some boring run of the mill Lamborghini or Ferrari. John Lennon’s Rolls Royce, which last sold for well over $2 million (US), would be the ideal motor car. I’m sure a good healthy offer could secure it and let’s face it, excessive wealth is all about being conspicuous. Imagine rattling through Double Bay on a Sunday morning with your $10 million number plate tacked to your psyched out Roller, drawing the immediate plaudits of the latte set. It could be all your Christmases come at once!

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