Some things from the past are valued for their intrinsic worth (a diamond ring, set in gold) while others become valued for what they represent (the original Declaration of Independence) or who created them (any painting by Rembrandt.)
These 18th c mules, left, don't fall into any of those categories. They're faded and worn, they're not remarkable in design from many other surviving 18th c women's shoes, and their maker is long since forgotten. But because they were said to have been worn by the French Queen Marie-Antoinette, they recently were sold at auction in Toulon, France for a staggering 43,225 euros, or $54,800 - far exceeding the pre-sale estimates of 3000-5000 euros.
The provenance (history) of the shoes is unsubstantiated, and even the auction organizers admit that the pair only "may" have been worn by the queen. The main evidence seems to be that they're the same size (about a modern 36.5) that Marie-Antoinette is known to have worn. They're also reputed to have been worn to the Fete de la Federation on July 14, 1790, marking the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. While the first Fete was supposed to be celebrating the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in France, in time it came to be called Bastille Day, a holiday with very different connotations that supporting any sort of monarchy.
Even if none of this is true, there's an undeniable poignancy to the idea of these white silk shoes with their much-faded tricolor pleated ribbons being worn by Marie-Antoinette. None who attended that long-ago celebration could have imagined the horror of the coming years in France, or the significance that the tricolor ribbon would acquire. As symbols go, these shoes have it all: white silk mules with high heels perfectly exemplify the "let-them-eat-cake" decadent luxury of the ancien-regime, while the tricolor ribbon adds that innocent yet tragic foreshadowing. Just like the questionable legend that these shoes belonged to Anne Boleyn, another doomed queen, it's the story that gave this pair their value - all $54,800 worth.
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.