Is there a $965k napkin sitting in your drawer? Don’t bet on it

A soccer relic commanded a pretty penny, uncommon for a historically significant napkin.

Earlier this month, a real human person paid $965k in real human money to buy a single napkin.

Two hands holding pens hover atop a pile of white paper napkins with a soccer ball sitting on it.

Granted, that napkin contained sports history — it outlines a 2000 deal in which FC Barcelona promised to sign a 13-year-old Lionel Messi — but still, a napkin. The thing Sam’s Club sells 1.2k at a time for just $12.

This was the “world’s most famous napkin,” though

Messi’s contract has been called that, but is it really?

There are an absurd number of napkins out there — table napkins are the fastest-growing segment of the $42B+ global household paper market, after all — and a few of them may be more consequential:

  • The Laffer curve, a precursor to trickle-down economics, was devised on a napkin.
  • Southwest Airlines’ founding story centers around a (perhaps embellished) napkin-drawn pitch.
  • A napkin deal altered the history of Chippendales, and ultimately led to a TV-depicted murder-for-hire scheme.
  • One famed business lunch yielded early napkin sketches of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and WALL-E.

Still, the Messi napkin will likely remain the most valuable: “The value placed on items associated with revered athletes and significant sporting moments often defies expectations,” per Artnet.

So this is an anomaly?

In all likelihood, yes — there is money in historical napkins, just not near-$1m money.

A (painfully) deep dive into challengers for the top-dollar napkin throne yielded interesting candidates, but none that could unseat Messi:

  • Lipstick-imprinted linens are mercurial: Margaret Thatcher’s lips drew $3k bids and Gloria Estefan’s will run you $6.5k, while a Marilyn Monroe hanky fetched $325k.
  • Same for celeb-autographed napkins: Elton John and Elvis Presley’s command ~$8.5k each, while an OJ Simpson one surprisingly only raked in $86. Fans of advice columnist Ann Landers need just $10.
  • Curated collections can top six figures: Sotheby’s napkin-related sales since 2020 top $117k, and an 80k-napkin hoard was valued at $380k+.
  • They’re less financially wowing, but sentimental favorites include a $600 centipede doodle by Luciano Pavarotti and a dirty $650 napkin maybe used by Julia Child, but nobody’s sure.

This being the internet, there are also trolls, even in the novelty napkin auction niche. Currently up for sale: a “napkin used by famous person” (no indication who) for $24k, an “old Taco Bell napkin” for $7.9k, and a “napkin used by Jesus Christ” for $12k. Happy shopping.

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