Bones’ Bones

On January 22, Christie’s will auction 0ff a ballot box made from a human skull. The artifact, expected to fetch between $10,000 and $20,000, once belonged to the Skull and Bones society and is being sold by “a European art collector,” according to ambiguous auction-house publicity.

The skull, etc.

The skull is fitted with hinges and a panel on its top, which opens into the brain chamber, and is believed by Christie’s to have been used by the Yale University secret society during voting procedures. It may have also been displayed in the Bones tomb in New Haven during the nineteenth century; photographs from that time show it laid out amongst posing Bonesmen.

Bonesmen, with skull.

Former Bonesmen include public intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., both Presidents Bush, President William Howard Taft, and businessman Averell Harriman. Brown Brothers Harriman, the investment banking firm founded, in part, by Harriman, still manages the society’s money under the guise of the Russell Trust Association. In fact, of Brown Brothers Harriman’s 16 founding partners, 11 were graduates of Yale and eight of those were members of Skull and Bones.

The skull ballot box is believed by Christie’s to have been the property of Edward T. Owen, an 1872 graduate of Yale who then taught linguistics at the University of Wisconsin. The skull is to be sold with a black book bearing Owen’s name, the year 1872, and the mysterious number 322. The book includes the names and photographs of 50 Bonesmen, including President Taft.

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