On the High Cost of Ruffled Feathers

on May 18, 2017


Submitted by Helen Roser

Though two hundred year old wine needs a cool, dark place, the now famous “world’s most expensive bottle of wine” was on display in a sunny window with a spotlight beaming on it.

The hilarious true account of what happened at the auction in England was written by a wine expert who knew the men involved.  Christie's’ was going to auction a bottle of wine that had been owned by Thomas Jefferson. Its cork was covered by a wax seal and the J was on the label.

Malcolm Forbes, a rich American, cared nothing about wine, but he thought the bottle would look nice in his collection of Thomas Jefferson items in Virginia.  So Mr. Forbes sent his two men in  his Boeing 727 to buy the bottle.  His rule was “When I send you for something, I expect you to bring it home.”

Also attending the auction was a fledging wine merchant in Texas.  We will call him H for short.  He had spent his last cent for a coach seat to England, figuring he would borrow the money to pay for the bottle which he thought might go for as much as $10,000.

At the auction, H saw the Forbes men, whom he knew.  They told him, “We have come for the bottle,” then smugly added, “The plane is waiting.”  Remembering his coach seat, that the plane is waiting really ruffled H’s feathers.  With Forbes men here, he knew he didn't have a chance and took a seat at the back of the room.

Forbes men, in the center of the room, quickly outbid other bidders.  Thoughts from the back of the room:  "The plane is waiting."  Well, damn! If they are going to get it, they're going to have to pay for it. H raised his paddle and upped their bid.  The price zoomed upward.  They couldn't  see who was bidding against them.  At one point, one of the men said to the other:  "Do you think we are bidding too much?" The other one said:  "You know what he told us".

The bidding reached $100,000, then $150,000 followed by $152,000.   There was a pause and a sudden thought hit H as the auctioneer began, “Going once…”  Suddenly H was thinking, “What if $150,000 was Forbes’ cut-off price?  His men had bid $150,000 and I have just bid $152,000.  What have I done?  What if I get it?  I will be working the rest of my life to pay for it!”

The auctioneer saw the little finger of one of the Forbes men.  He had bid $154,000.  H was off the hook.  But, he had learned the almost-hard way the high cost of ruffled feathers at an auction.